Monthly Archives: December 2015

Donald Trump is a Misogynist; Bill Clinton is Not

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Bill Clinton may have once been a hound, but I always get the impression that he genuinely likes women. Donald Trump says he respects women but he is actually a misogynist.

It is true that Bill Clinton seems to have cheated on his marriage on more than one occasion. He was “busted” for his infidelity very publicly and I bet it was pretty humiliating and painful, although he kept an exterior demeanor of male deniability. And it is possible that Monica Lewinsky, although young, was involved in a scheme to entrap the then President Bill Clinton, which meant that he had a reputation. But of course, we know of no other male politician who used his charisma and power to attract women, young and old, do we?

Bill Clinton never blamed Lewinsky, although he split hairs in order to technically avoid lying when he said “I never had sex with that woman.” He and Hillary have already gone through whatever public and private hell they had to get through. Hillary must have expected to go through this again when she decided to run for the Presidency. But this is old news and Bill Clinton has also shown compassion when it comes to the plight of the women and children around the world who live without hope.

I’m guessing that Bill Clinton still carries a good deal of charm and charisma with him. While I’m not sure that he is the lady-killer he once was, he never, ever says anything, at least I can’t think of anything he has said, that degrades women, either as a group or individually.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has told us that he finds women who confront us, in any public way as biological entities to be disgusting. He says he loves women and that he respects women, but apparently he only really loves “Barbie”. Real women don’t all come with nipped waists, long locks, perfect features, and exotic accents. Apparently Trump wives don’t have to use the bathroom.

At least when speaking about his wives or his daughters he would never give just enough fictional and generic detail to hook into our bathroom schema and make us imagine Hillary sitting in a place that no truly civilized person of this century would call attention to. He did this to degrade her, to make her seem like an animal, a peasant, to strip away any elegance she might portray. Hillary may not have even been in the ladies room. She could have been getting a last minute refresher in make-up.

Who is disgusting – Hillary for possibly doing something we all have to do, or Donald Trump for painting a just-graphic-enough picture of something he only made up. How low can you go, Mr. Trump? This has nothing to do with political correctness, this has to do with acting civilized.

As if this were not gross enough we get treated to a trifecta of intolerance when Trump told the crowd he was addressing about Hillary getting “schlonged” by Obama. A “schlong” in Yiddish is a penis. Schlonged is not a real verb although the word can be used as an adjective as in long-schlonged. Here is anti-Semitism (cultural appropriation), Racism (if you don’t know I just can’t tell you), and Sexism all in one handy dandy, Freudian, ungrammatical package (oops, double-entendre). Have we ever been treated to such a trashy display, such a bonanza of male-degrading-female schlonging in our whole lives? We can all do gross and disgusting I suspect; we just don’t. It makes life seem too savage, animalistic, primitive, and mean.

Why would we elect a President who takes us to those places? We want a real grown-up with good social skills and someone who genuinely wants to bring about our visions of a future where people live well and where basic needs are met or exceeded. We would like a life to perhaps include something that makes that life seem meaningful, even if on a very simple scale.

Donald Trump doesn’t make me feel that any of these goals are important to him, a man who seems to wish to leave his opponents naked and shivering in a grimy corner somewhere stripped of all the accouterments that give our lives a veneer of progress. I just never hear him paint a rosy picture of the America and the world he would like to leave for those who come after. He thinks that wealth and power are the only things that matter on this earth. Poor Donald. Poor us if we fall for this huckster.

By Nancy Brisson

The Democratic Ticket

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Single payer health care, expanded Social Security, paid family leave, free quality public colleges, lowered tuitions at private colleges, cheaper college loans that don’t hound you all the way to the grave, equal pay for equal work, $15 minimum wage – I want these things, however unreasonably expensive they sound. We are the people of America and these things would make our lives easier. Only one candidate offers to fight for these things and that is Bernie Sanders.

This is problematic because, although I like Bernie Sanders and feel he would make a fine President, he is not a woman (and this is only the first problem with Mr. Sanders.) It is high time we had a woman President in the U.S. and as fate would have it we have an experienced female, Hillary Clinton, who would also make a fine President. She, of course, has a problem because so many men want this job and they don’t like to see it opened up to women. They (men) keep trying to weigh Hillary down with responsibility for political upheavals that occurred when she was Secretary of State.

Here Ted Cruz gave us the most apt logical fallacy in this blame game. ‘Just because an arsonist and a fireman are both at the scene of a fire does not make them equally to blame for the fire.’ Hillary may have been Madame Secretary when Libya (the new cry now that Benghazi is not as effective) looked ready to emerge from a totalitarian state to a fledgling Democracy during that much touted “Arab Spring”, but I doubt that she caused these earth-shaking events or that she caused the “Arab Spring” to fail. She was guilty, perhaps of celebrating Libyan freedom prematurely as did many other people at the time who were ahead of the actual pace of historical change. We have forgiven many, many such misapprehensions in our male leaders.

Hillary is, on the other hand, not as progressive as I would like her to be. She is much more towards the center of the left. She will not try for single payer health care, I am betting, nor will she fight against income inequality through reforms to the tax code with the passion of Bernie Sanders, or even Elizabeth Warren for that matter. I doubt that she will make the fight to expand Social Security a high priority and she is not inclined towards free quality public college degrees. She is pragmatic which is both good and bad. She knows the make-up of our current Congress. She suspects that each of these laws that must be passed to help Middle Class Americans will be hard fought in this Congress, if they are brought up for a vote at all.

Bernie Sander’s goals are audacious given the fact that Congress is so “red” right now, so Republican. Hillary will not go for audacity. She will approach her agenda more mildly and in a spirit of compromise. Would she perhaps accomplish more if she went after an ideal middle class agenda with great passion? I don’t know the answer to that. Perhaps passion will be made to look foolish by those who currently inhabit our government houses and who are diametrically opposed to the Progressive agenda.

We have the further problem that our elected representatives seem to be using public office as a road to riches. If you can make a career in Congress and get elected over and over again you will be worth a fortune by the time you leave (and have a great pension to boot). Clearly it is not your government salary that will make you rich; it is your ability to wheel and deal while you “serve”. The people can see that this happens but we are not sure how to change it or even if it is advisable.

Do people who are lining their pockets serve us better than less greedy people would? If greed no longer motivates public service will talented people choose to serve? If there isn’t as much non tax-payer money in government will there be less to “trickle down” to us in the form of “earmarks”? Will frugal pay make our tax dollars serve us better?

Hillary is unlikely to tackle the issue of career politics or the fat proceeds to be had in a Congressional career. She, again, is too pragmatic. She is not a revolutionary in this sense. She herself is a career politician and turned a tidy profit within the system (no wrong-doing suggested). Bernie Sanders is far more likely to try to find ways to stop the political plundering that has become de rigueur in Washington. But I do not believe that Bernie can win the Presidency or that he could achieve much of his agenda even if he did win. And I want a woman in the Presidency before I am too old to appreciate it.

I therefore recommend that if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic primary she should choose Bernie Sanders as her Vice President. If anyone can nudge Hillary further left it would be Bernie. So that’s my choice for the Democratic ticket; Hillary Clinton for President, Bernie Sander for VP. Soon I will see if anyone else agrees with me.

By Nancy Brisson

The Media, Part 2

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Once you perceive the important role the media plays in our society then it becomes clear, I would think, that those in the media bear a heavy burden of responsibility. Journalists can try to be as truthful as personal perceptions allow, they can twist and spin the facts by pretending that commentary is news, or they can even lie.

Propaganda can be subtle or it can be obvious. Journalists can pick a focus group of people, such as middle class white folks, figure out what they think (profile them) and then feed them an interpretation of the news that exploits their mindset. The propaganda can be organized on behalf of any group that sponsors it, such as the GOP or the Tea Party. This is not necessarily new, but, given a news cycle that repeats hour after hour, day after day, is probably more effective at “brainwashing” a target audience in a more casual, folksy way than ever before.

Is this wrong? Should people in the media, who are almost our sole source of news and information, bear a moral responsibility to be as objective and factual as possible? If someone in the media is actually offering commentary on the news should there be a disclaimer? If people agree with the way commentary is slanted are they always more likely to believe it is factual?

There are so many citizens commenting on mainstream media articles and on social media websites who seem brainwashed, who parrot, almost word for word the same nasty insults if anyone disagrees with them, who quote the same right wing sources as if they were Bible verses. Does this signify that there are propaganda strategies that are so effective that if might be immoral to use them, even in a society that holds free speech as dear as we do? How could people listen to blatantly skewed commentary and come to passionately defend such information as straight-forward news?

The reason people mention Hitler so much these days is that they believe that what I just described is exactly how a creepy little man like Hitler was able to create a mass movement in Germany. He told a disillusioned but proud group of people that if they joined him they could win back their national pride. In America both sides have accused the opposition of leading Americans astray in the manner of Hitler. Are our leaders acting in the twisted manner of a master manipulator as the media often claims? The answer depends on who you ask. The GOP accused Obama of acting like Hitler. FOX news has hinted that Obama acts like Hitler. However it is a common tactic on the right to accuse someone else of acting the way you are actually acting as a sort of deflection.

If the media will not act in a moral fashion and tell us when we are getting news and when we are hearing opinions should we pass laws that require them to label their content? I don’t think we would be happy doing that because it would curtail freedom of speech. Obviously all we are left with is appealing to the better instincts of our media outlets and their journalists. But as long as money and profit play such large roles in our culture I suspect some in the media do not feel their better instincts, not so much.

All an educated citizenry can do is analyze what they hear and try to consult sources that slant all different ways. It is interesting that the same people who are trying to use media to exploit the downturns and disillusionment of the white middle class are arguing against free public education and against teaching things like critical thinking. You cannot hang on to freedom if you are not educated to read, write, and understand all the language and the intent of the language that is constantly being broadcast to your brain. We should be learning a lot about propaganda and manipulation because we have been subject to large doses of each. Hopefully we will be less susceptible in the future. Perhaps, perhaps not. Seduction is powerful even when it uses only words.

By Nancy Brisson

The Media

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We may not always like the media, or parts of the media, or certain voices within the media, and we are certainly offered a lot of choices. Some Americans like to collapse everyone in the media into one cynical package and pretend that they do not have to rely on the media, in some form, to draw conclusions about everything under the sun. And this is especially true in politics.

When you buy a piece of electronics you might solicit personal advice from friends or read the possibly unreliable online reviews or talk to a salesperson in a big box store who is there to drive up the store’s profits. We eventually learn that totally objective advice on any subject is almost impossible to come by. And we learn to accept that in some areas we have only the media to rely on.

In the earliest days of our nation some people probably only knew candidates for government through broad sheets or news sheets, although America was quite small and there may have been large numbers of citizens who actually knew the candidate much as we know candidates running for local government today.

We have seen old movies and newspapers that show candidates taking trains (once trains were available) out to small towns and larger cities all across America, waving to voters, stopping to give a stump speech and moving on. Many citizens got to see a candidate in person in this way. Some even got to shake his hand (there were no female candidates although there were sometimes wives of candidates).

Today few of us have seen a candidate in person unless we live in an early primary state. I saw Dan Maffei in person when he was running for Congress. I saw Bill Clinton in person but only after he was no longer President. I saw Joe Biden when he was actually VP. I did not meet them or shake their hands but I heard them speak on behalf of Mr. Maffei who eventually lost his seat to a Republican that most voters did not even know, but who was endorsed in the local newspaper.

So we rely on the media and there is lots of it. We have print newspapers, online newspapers, magazines, online magazines, and online commentary sites like Slate, Politico, Daily Kos, Salon, and many, many more. We have cable television media sources like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, C-SPAN and network media on ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, and we have all of our local news channels. We have radio media used by people who are on-the-go and cannot access TV all of the time.

Candidates are swamped by media. There are so many microphones pointed at them we can barely see them. Donald Trump is just about the only candidate who is meeting large numbers of Americans in person and this could be one reason his followers defend him beyond what most of us consider reason. It also tends to make him look sort of fearless, or it would if any dissenters were not at the mercy of his followers. But however often Donald harangues the media and excoriates anyone who dares to critique him in any way, he too must and does rely on the media to take his message to most Americans.

Oddly, while we have this proliferation of national media, we are losing media in the local market because our print newspapers are folding. I like the way Rachel Maddow always brings this to our attention. This is a bad thing. It will put candidates for our Federal government even more out of reach for voters. Will online news sites that are local find the funds to pay reporters so that we continue to get news that focuses on regional concerns? When the print equivalent of a website goes out of business does the online version suffer?

All our online media is disappearing behind the pay wall. Keeping track of all those electronic fund transfers, even if you can afford them, is a real headache. These EFT’s do not always occur on the same date making budgeting even more difficult. Most of us cannot afford to read every source we would like to. In the old days we could go to the library to read the big newspapers and magazines. If print sources keep going out of business this may not always be the case. News might become the province of the wealthy.

Skewed media is certainly not new, but it has had a profound effect on political discourse in America in the last several decades. I still contend that the right wing in America would not be so united in fringe extremism if it were not for Talk Radio and FOX news. Left wings talkers were nowhere near as effective in riling up their voters because possible they did not understand the angst of the audience they were addressing.

In these days when there is an invisible ideological line that separates the American people it is especially easy to see how dependent we are on our media people to create our national spirit or even to pit our spirits against one another. I don’t see any way the media will become less important in sharing information, opinions, and even disseminating propaganda unless we devolve into anarchy or evolve into a totalitarian state. Most of us will never get to know our political candidates as friends, neighbors, part of our social group.

We only have the media. If we could rely on their professional objectivity it would be easier for us all to take in facts and make reasoned decisions. Too bad we are not all computers. We are people and we like a little emotion in our news. Our very nature as humans encourages the media sources to outdo each other in order to catch our attention or sway our minds into sharing their passionately-held beliefs.

This is the legacy of a free press. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we hate it but, hopefully, we always treasure it, continue to wend our way through the conflicting messages, and never give into the temptation to turn it into one clear, sanitized and leadership-approved voice. Freedom is hard but it is too wonderful to ever give up without a fight.

By Nancy Brisson

Books I Read in 2015

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Here is the list of books I read this year. Since I write about each book I read Goodread.com keeps track for me and this year they sent me an attractive summary of my book list. I tried to use the document they created because it had a lot of graphic appeal and even some statistics like how many pages I read in total, what was the shortest book I read, what was the longest book I read, what overall rating I gave to the books I read this year, but it was not transferrable. If you’re a reader you ought to sign in to goodreads.com and share your titles with them. Of course, I also wrote about each of these books in my blog and you can find them in the archives. Another great year for books and I missed so many great titles. You can only read so much if you also want to have a life. There is always next year.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Paris by Edward Rutherford

The Dead Key by D. M. Pulley

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Broken Dreams by Rissa Blakeley

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

Early Warning by Jane Smiley

Euphoria by Lily King

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Queen of the Trailer Park by Alice Quinn

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

The Bourbon Kings by J. R. Ward

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

Young Babylon by Lu Nei

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

Young Eliot by Robert Crawford

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving – Book

Avenue of Mysteries

Avenue of Mysteries is a Chagall. John Irving has painted a Chagall with words, a Catholic Chagall (not sure how Marc Chagall who was Jewish would feel about that). Of course the Chagall made most famous in the movies is the one with the goat and the wedding couple defying gravity. Irving has geckos, Virgin Marys, “dump” children, a gay couple, lots of Jesuits and some skywalkers in this very Chagall-esque novel. It’s a complicated story line with plenty of whimsy and deep philosophical contemplation.

Juan Diego and Luce live with the “dump” master on the outskirts of Oaxaca, Mexico. Some children survive by pulling things that are worth money from the dump to sell. Juan Diego and his sister have it better than other “dump” kids because they live with Rivera and they have a mom, who although beautiful is a prostitute and, oddly, also a cleaning lady for the Jesuits. Juan Diego shines above the other “dump” children because he is a “dump” reader. He taught himself to read using old Jesuit texts that were sent to the dump to be burned. In addition he knows how to speak English and he can interpret his sister Luce’s mysterious language. Luce is a mind reader, not a fortune teller. She is not as good at knowing the future.

Father Pere takes a special interest in Juan Diego and so Juan Diego and Luce get very mixed up with the Catholic Church, although they are not believers. These two children are obsessed with the Marys – the one the Spanish conquerors brought over and the one discovered at Guadalupe whose likenesses both reside in the nearby church and more.

The Catholic Church is, in fact, at the center of this Irving novel but the relationships people have with the church are anything but simple. Choosing between the rules and what seems like common sense creates a dilemma for many good Catholics.

“Your rules! What do the rules have to do with the way people actually live?” Vargas asked him.”

“Of course the Church was ‘genuine’ in its love of poor people, as Clark always argued – Juan Diego didn’t dispute this. Why wouldn’t the Church love poor people? Juan Diego was in the habit of asking Clark. But what about birth control? What about abortion? It was the ‘social agenda’ of the Catholic Church that made Juan Diego mad. The church’s policies – in opposition to contraception! – not only subjected women to the ‘enslavement of childbirth’ as Juan Diego put it to Clark, ‘the Church’s policies kept the poor poor and made them poorer. Poor people kept reproducing, didn’t they?”

Sounds a bit preachy but it isn’t. You know where the author (and the main character) stand but you are not obligated to stand in the same place as long as you don’t care about the author’s respect. This novel is not as cheerful as Chagall’s painting but it has plenty of symbolism to unravel (everything that happens in the Philippines, for example and those two strange women, Miriam and Dorothy) and it has its lighter moments as well as its profound moments. My unrequited love affair with John Irving continues.

By Nancy Brisson

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Government, Economics Not Flawed: We Are

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If you have read any of my stuff you may be convinced that I am a Communist or a Socialist because I always seem to be “bad mouthing” Capitalism. But I actually have nothing against any of these business models. I do have a problem, however, when a way to conduct economic activity gets mixed up with a way to govern.

If a nation’s government is not the same as a nation’s economy then Communism and Socialism seem to be in trouble because both combine the two spheres. Capitalism also becomes problematic in this regard as we have seen, because it allows individuals to amass wealth which in turn seems to confer power on them which they can then abuse to interfere in government.

There is nothing inherently wrong in any of these economic models of course. The flaws, as usual, are in us. We are basically animals, competitive and “red in tooth and claw”. We are still wired to be hunters and gatherers and perhaps that conquer-all nature is the only way we survive.

But we are also no longer primitives. We are civilized (although sometimes it doesn’t seem so). We live in societies which originally were formed also for survival and still function that way. We have learned, but don’t all admit, that societies call for some communism, some socialism, and some free enterprise or capitalism. Societies function best when all members are educated, all share certain basic amenities, and when they incorporate some tolerance for individual differences. We also see societies that have survived for centuries that do not require that all individuals are educated and share the basic amenities. These societies often do not tolerate much or any deviant behavior. But if I had to choose between the two I know which one I would choose.

It is impossible, I think we must all agree, to have a perfect government, a perfect economy, a perfect society because these are all human innovations, human constructs run by humans who we all seem to understand are imperfect. Every religion or culture I know of encompasses an acknowledgement of our flawed nature. The seven deadly sins as currently enumerated are: pride, greed, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth and are alive and well the world over.

Our intimate familiarity with our failings is perhaps one reason humans have come to realize that totalitarian governments are problematic for everyone but the leader. There is no way to place any check on whatever flaws the leader may possess. We know that no matter how infallible the head of state claims to be infallibility is not a trait humans possess.

Communism, rule by the people, arrived at in bottom-up fashion, was not structured to succeed, and perhaps never could be. Leadership is spread among too many without sufficient scaffolding to keep people from constant power struggles and, in addition, offers no useful structures to untangle those struggles fairly. The Communist governments we have seen seemed to produce a suppression of rights for most members of the society that turned life into a gray, grim existence without producing the promised worker’s paradise of equality for all.

Capitalism (not a system of government contrary to the current popular beliefs of some) is not able to produce a perfect society where all prosper either. Capitalism depends on the business relationships of us – people – imperfect people. America has almost slipped over the edge into total Oligarchy and therefore can teach us (before it is too late) what Capitalism in the hands of humans can do to a society when it becomes too entwined with government.

Our wealthy citizens are destroying our Democracy, bending it to their will. What they don’t seem to see is that they are just headed in a direction that will take us back to somewhere human societies have already been, the old aristocracy and serf model, with perhaps a small merchant class able to survive. And while the wealthy may want to go there – after all things seemed pretty hunky dory for those at the top (although they had to pay for all the wars), things in this antique model should not look too appealing to the rest of us. These Capitalists have brought the American people low by showing us that their patronage is portable. They can simply remove their largesse and apply it elsewhere.

Now we have to prove that we are not mere factory fodder. We must not let wealthy people take away our rights and our privileges and our civil progress. Living materialistically simpler lives would help the planet but how we do this should be a choice Americans make together, not a series of decisions of a wealthy few at the top who would amend our government so that it maintains their economic advantage even if it must be at the expense of the rest of us.

The Americans who want to keep the economic scales tipped their way, who are turning our Democracy into a Corporatocracy (owned by corporations we no longer work for) are not the only citizens trying to adjust the design of our government. We also have the Evangelicals who are trying to convince us that America is immoral and that only a Theocracy that keeps our laws acceptable to their God can keep America from the fate of Greece and Rome – “decline and fall”.

All governments are flawed because they are made by flawed beings. All economies are equally prone to excess for the same reason. Our government was created with built-in checks and balances to overcome these excesses our natures are prone to. What we are experiencing right now is that familiarity with how government actually works has allowed these checks and balances to be short-circuited or muffled. This is what Republicans have been doing. They have been playing with fine-tuning aspects of governance, doing things like drawing skewed voting districts, suppressing non-Republican votes, buying state governments, using the Hastert rule and the filibuster to block legislation, stuffing the courts with Conservatives and then not allowing new positions to be filled with Liberals, and holding the Presidency hostage until they gain control of the entire system of checks and balances, which finally will happen if they are able to get us to elect a Republican President.

It makes me very unhappy to see these folks disrespect our Democracy like this and it does great harm. It teaches the rest of the world that Democracy can be vulnerable to the same human flaws as any other form of government. That does not just affect my mood and make me blue, it scares me, because if Democracy cannot help us hold a middle line, cannot help us guarantee rights and benefits to all, cannot enforce a degree of tolerance for a range of “normal” behavior, then no government can. I had hoped that Democracy would serve as a model for governance on our entire planet, but if bad human behavior is allowed to twist Democracy away from its ideals then we are left with no governmental model with which to face the future.

I ask the Republicans, the capitalists, the wealthy, and the religious to stop messing with our Democracy. You have made your point. You can possible take over the whole nation and have your way but only if you change our government so much that it is no longer a Democracy at all. You get your way in the now, but you turn the future into chaos. Please take the long view and stop all your machinations.

By Nancy Brisson

 

“Cowboy Capitalists” and the American Dream

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Our forefathers, educated in the classics and the writings of their contemporaries in the fields of economics, philosophy, science, farming, and trade, created a government for our nascent America that surprised the world. It wasn’t that it was unprecedented. It borrowed from ideologies as antique as those of Greece and Rome. But just consider how amazing our Democracy is since it was created in an age of monarchs, of nobles, of serfs.

Do you think those kings and queens, who claimed “divine right” to rule, wanted anyone to spread the credo that “all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights” – the very rights we hold dear – life – liberty – the pursuit of happiness.

Our forefathers started a trend. Their modern anachronism went, as we would say these days, “viral”. Western Europe became mad for Democracy. They went to war for it, they demoted their kings and queens for it.

This trend, as we know, did not catch on so much on other key continents. And so we inherited today’s situation where countries with differing ideas about governance have to coexist. We haven’t had to respect theocracies for some time. They existed but they kept the rest of the world away.

As with every culture we have come to value our form of government so highly that we often have been guilty of acting almost like missionaries, wanting to spread our Democracy (and, still, for some, our Christianity) everywhere. Even now I hold the belief that someday people everywhere on our planet will enjoy Democracy in one form or another. Except, not everyone is so gung ho to have their traditions replaced. And we have come to understand that respect for others means letting them chose their own government (but not letting them choose ours). As for religion, I believe that our forefathers, many fleeing religious persecution, were quite adamant in their belief that people should be free to worship as they please and that the only way to insure this was to keep religion separate from government.

Today many argue that our forefathers were only thinking about freedom to pursue different forms of Christianity and they might have hedged their bets if they knew we might have citizens who worship in so many different ways or do not worship at all. This is the cusp of our current dilemma. Do we reinterpret the things our forefathers said? Do we simply revise our documents to fit some people’s ideas of what they think our forefather’s meant?

Are we perhaps in shock that our Democracy does not seem to be trending the way it once did? Historically, change takes time. If we can wait we might find the ideas of liberty and equality gaining popularity once again. They are looking a bit tarnished as our economics has sort of usurped our governance. Capitalism can be a bit aggressive and overbearing. We have just been letting it get out of hand a bit. If we can tamp down those rampaging Capitalists who have been so busy buying up everything in sight (including our government) and cornering all the world’s wealth then our freedom might shine forth once again.

So we need more economic regulation, not less. We need more taxes on the rich, not less. And I’m thinking that if a Progressive wins and starts to rein in Capitalists-gone-wild – our new economic “cowboys” – then we the people will probably have to put up with a bit of punishment before things level out a bit.

Donald Trump, one of those “cowboy” capitalists doesn’t seem to mind putting American ideals aside to win against radical “Islamistic” terrorists. The “all men are created equal” part of Democracy never has sat well with Capitalists. They sort of adapt it to say that we may be created equal but we don’t all turn out equal. Those who turn out on top of the heap, they imply, are there because they are actually better than others (not luckier, not born with silver spoons). The fact is that these folks interpret being better as having more money even if they stole it by manipulating laws. If we let these “Capitalist Cowboys” sidestep our Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution won’t that be the end of the real America Dream? That dream is really not at base a materialistic dream at all, but one of freedom of the mind and of the person (within reason) and of governance “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

We can’t exclude all Muslims without forever debasing what America has stood for around the world and what it is still struggling to stand for. Our previous lapses may have been grandfathered in, but this time we are fully aware of the harm from tarring an entire group with the same brush. We cannot even use religion as an excuse to overturn laws that respect the beliefs of any segment of our population.

If we do these things, and it is entirely possible that we might (fear being very powerful) they can we ever put the best parts of the American Dream back together again? If we want to show the world the way a Democratic society brings out a person’s best self then we must be our best selves. Or we can do what Donald J Trump (did you notice he started using his middle initial) suggests, but will we still be America afterwards?

By Nancy Brisson

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – Book

The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover is a lovely story but not as complex as Isabel Allende’s usual creations. She likes to mix history with her fiction. She stresses our immigrant roots as Americans and in this book all of the main characters are showing their immigrant roots. (I know that using the word lovely is supposed to be the kiss of death for a novel, but this is Isabel Allende. She is strong. She can take the “L” word.)

Alma, and this is mostly Alma’s story, was sent to her aunt and uncle in the city Allende’s books often center on, San Francisco. She was sent by her Polish parents to her relatives before World War II clamped down on Europe. Her parents were Jewish and were eventually killed in a concentration camp.

Alma is old now. We learn about her life in flashbacks. Her uncle’s family was wealthy – the Belasco’s. Alma was lonely and her girl cousins were not welcoming, but Nathaniel, also a misfit, was good to Alma. The Belasco’s has a Japanese gardener, Takao Fukuda, who had a son, Ichimei, who also befriended Alma. In fact those two had a special bond. They were separated when Ichimei and his family were sent to a Japanese internment camp in the American hinterlands. By the time Ichimei is freed from the camps everything has changed. For one thing, he no longer works for the Belasco’s.

Alma and Ichimei are in love but Alma is not enough of a rebel to give up her wealth, comfort, and social acceptance. There is something quite real about this that I appreciate.

Irina, born in Moldova, works in the senior home where Alma now lives. Irina suffered a terrible but undefined (until later) form of abuse which she keeps a secret. Alma keeps her love for Ichimei a secret. She actually married her cousin Nathaniel, a man who also had secrets to keep. An old friend, Lenny, comes to live at Lark House and renews his friendship with Alma and there are things to learn about him as well.

Irina, who becomes Alma’s assistant, and Alma’s grandson, Seth, are fascinated by Alma and they snoop politely to learn Alma’s secrets before she takes them with her. This story sounds like a schmaltzy tear-jerker but it is not. Allende doesn’t play with our emotions in that way. It is more an artistic, intellectual, and historical rendering of the postwar era in San Francisco as it affected the lives of real people. However Allende’s portrayal of aging – the still vibrant mind and the continuing emotional content of that mind – which Alma presents to us makes her seems so young, a youthfulness that is gradually curtailed by the growing frailty of her body. Allende’s portrayal of aging reads as true as the other choices her characters make in their lives. It also makes us wish we could all live and die wealthy and successful.

You will either love the ending or find it, as I did a bit trite. Allende has always had that certain magical quality that suggested, and almost convinced us, that ghosts are real. Although this is not my favorite Allende novel it is perfect for this stage of my life. Someone else will have to tell you whether you must be old to appreciate this novel, but I don’t think so. Alma is a character worth getting to know. In fact, you probably already know someone very much like her.

By Nancy Brisson