Monthly Archives: January 2016

Are We Poor or Do We Just Feel Poor?


feeling poor4

America is giving us the impression that it is a bit cash-strapped (understatement). Americans are feeling poor and are thinking the feeling is not just a feeling; it is a reality, a reality that will last for a while. Every day feels slightly gritty, cloudy, gloomy, uncertain.

We have been bombarded with warnings about our rising debt (now that the deficit has gone down). We are given a constant case of the guilts about continuing to fund programs that we believe assist Americans when they fall on hard times, and we are informed, without any tangible proof, that when we assist the “poor” we doom them to eternal dependence. Would we fall prey to this unsupported reasoning if we were not feeling poor?

The message that America can no longer afford to support us when or if our fortunes slip (or never existed in the first place) is just one more disheartening proof that these are not times of plenty. Some of us remember what times of plenty feel like and this is not it.

The crunch in Washington may be manufactured or it may be real. It is very difficult to tell because the state of the economy and the pursuit of austerity are such political footballs. We have a Congress that won’t act. But at the local level we are definitely feeling the pinch and it seems real enough. There is no splash to our dash these days. Although there are still people who seem to have plenty of money, those of us near the poverty line find our financial state feels precarious. With a bit of inflation we could find ourselves unable to afford even our current lifestyles.

Can we trace some of our other rather stingy levels of compassion to our fears about our personal finances? Is the fact that we are nervous about America’s economy messing with our ability to be tolerant of the needs of those we see as “others”? Is there truly not enough to go around? In times of plenty it is quite easy to be magnanimous; in times of scarcity, not so much.

America does not produce enough; we don’t hum with productivity any more. We have businesses but we are not rich in commerce. We are not bustling. Some tell us that if we make taxes lower and salaries lower our factories will come back to us. We have already bent over backwards to be nice to corporations, to stay in their good graces, so much so that it seems as if most corporations pay no taxes to the Federal government and, in some cases, the government actually pays them in subsidies. If corporations won’t do business here with all these enticements I doubt that we can sweeten the pot enough to get them back. If we beggar ourselves to get them back then they will be justified in treating us poorly.

If money is slow and business is slow and we can only go forwards and not backwards it creates a lot of pressure on us to be the world’s innovators. We don’t want to follow; we like to lead. But innovation is a fickle get. Sometimes one new thing follows another in a brilliant combustion of positive energy. Other times, like now, some key new factor of invention seems missing or hard to coax forth from a secretive universe.

We are marking time right now in an age between ages or in a new normal that will ask us to live simpler, slower, less flashy lives. I would say to those with all the bucks that if you like a world that feels lively, healthy, progressive, and safe you should be lining up to rewrite the rules and let some money trickle down before it ever trickles up to line your pockets, because then you become convinced the money belongs to you and you refuse to part with it.

If you insist on hogging all the money at the top then you must get used to a dull, skimpy, listless, jealous, suspicious, dangerous, crooked America. However, we can’t help but wonder, is our poverty real or legislated?

By Nancy Brisson

Here is article that came to me this morning in the Brookings Brief:–EMKIRgTK4zPjWuw1mpDD3dTWJTgZRYITjHFXW9lnFIl77Z1PobRDyk0wc-DxFrPTm9WrRywlJSYKCoB4kA92FVnHidA&_hsmi=25774760


Why I Pick Hillary in 2016

Woman President2

I am a girl. Hillary is a girl. I’m with Hillary. I would not back Hillary just because she is a girl, but she is a girl who has an agenda for America that is well-thought-out and based on plenty of experience. In addition, I assume that she will be flexible enough to adopt a new approach to a problem if she is convinced that it will be more effective. And I feel certain that she will not turn into a Republican anytime soon.

I love Bernie Sanders, I do. His people make an ad for him with Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” song from the Book Ends album. It warms my hippie soul. If I didn’t think that it was time for a girl President, then that little revolutionary in me would go for Bernie. But right now the only way I will pick Bernie is (1) if he turns into a girl (highly unlikely) or (2) if he wins the Democratic nomination.

Girls, ladies, women, females have always been asked to wait. Wait for this, wait for that, and when we felt it was appropriate, which we usually did because we are pragmatic and compassionate, we did wait. I don’t think we have to wait in 2016. I think we are good to go. So I back Hillary Clinton and all the other women who have worked so hard in the past eight years to keep the rights that women have won – rights that never came easily. So I also stand with Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood and I stand with Emily’s List trying to get more women elected to office and a whole roster of active women that I won’t list because then I’ll forget someone and I’ll feel badly about it.

I sure would like to hear Hillary Clinton addressed as Madame President and I know those other women will be there to help the first woman President in America do a truly great job. Now that will be huge!

By Nancy Brisson

Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie – Book


Salman Rushdie, in his newest novel, weighs in on modern global events and even the American election. But he entertains us in his usual insightful way by couching his commentary in a Jinn-Jinnia War of the Worlds, which is quite a helpful conceit when you are trying to talk about people who want to send the world reeling into the 12th century or obliterate it altogether. It’s apocalyptic fun with a Persian/Arabian flavor.

The Jinni and the Jinnia live in a parallel world usually sealed against all interaction. But the Jinni and especially the four powerful male Grand Ifrits did not count on a jinnia with daddy issues. On one of the rare occasions when the seals between the worlds opened up a Jinnia fell in love with a human, Îbn Rushd (perhaps the author). She became Dunia and produced thousands of offspring, humans with a bit of jinn hidden inside. They became the Duniazat.

The title of Rushdie’s book is Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (or 1001 Nights). Although it is a sort of allegory, it is not an allegory with animals; it is one with the inhabitants of Peristan/Fairyland. And it is not a one-to-one allegory, or perhaps I was just not able to find a one-to-one equivalency in every case, but there were enough times when direct connections could be made and these are where the most potent commentary could be found. Perhaps a few quotes will help convince you:

“The Grand Ifrits’ contempt for their subjects was only increased by the ease with which they recruited human beings to assist them in the maintenance of their new empire. ‘Greed and fear’, Zummurrud told his three fellow leaders, who met, as was their custom, on a dark cloud circling earth at the Equator, from which they watched and judged the mere mortals below them, ‘fear and greed’ are the tools by which these insects can be controlled with almost comical ease,” (pg. 229)

“The enemy is stupid, he replied. That is the ground for hope. There is no originality in tyrants, and they learn nothing from the demise of their precursors. They will be brutal and stifling and engender hatred and destroy what men love and that will defeat them. All important battles are, in the end, conflicts between hatred and love, and we must hold to the idea that love is stronger than hate.” (Pg. 234)

A conversation between two human philosophers:

“Faith is our gift from God and reason is our adolescent rebellion against it. When we are adult we will turn wholly to faith as we are born to do.”

“You will see, as time goes by,” said Ibn Rushd, “that in the end it will be religions that will make men turn away from God. The godly are God’s worst advocates. It may take a thousand and one years but in the end religion will shrivel away and only then will we begin to live in God’s truth.”

I guess I see Salman Rushdie as sort of a Buddha or Dalai Lama, albeit with a reputation for womanizing, who takes a long view of human history. I always admire the long view. I cannot tell you who wins the war between Peristan and Earth, the jinni and jinnira, or the humans and the Lightening Princess, because it will ruin the tale Rushdie tells. Does the Lightning Princess, that prolific mother, represent any human we know? I will have to leave that for you to decide.

Although Salman Rushdie is immersed in a culture miles away from ours, he has also spent lots of time in England and Europe and so if you are new to Salman Rushdie you should have no fears about diving right into this novel or you can go back and begin at the beginning if you like chronology. Some of his books seem somewhat interconnected. This novel is more of a stand-alone and, although it may meet the tests of time it is also of this particular moment, right now, at the beginning of the 21st century.

By Nancy Brisson




To the Other Pod People


I have a few things to say to the disenchanted voters, the disillusioned, the world-weary, the cynical, the drop-outs, the cop outs, and all Americans who say that they believe our government is so corrupt and our politicians are all such crooks that they cannot stir themselves to cast a vote in any election. These folks (and I have heard mostly men speak like this although I am sure that there are women who feel this way also) think that not voting makes a statement, that opting out of the system will eventually crash the system. Some want a reboot to a better, fairer government; some want anarchy, a government which exercises no control at all. Oh yes, let’s put 7+ billion people on a small planet and see what happens when the rules are ‘every man for himself’, and when there is no centralized fund to spend on, well, anything. Whose idea of nirvana is that?

If these people who choose not to vote stick us with a government run by a Tea Party extremist I hope that they are the first among us to realize what a mistake it was not to vote. People who don’t vote are actually voting for someone but they get to do it passively and they get no blame if the next power people do not best represent the needs of the nation. Circumstances matter in an election. Democracy requires participation.

People all over the world are disenfranchised and have no right to vote or their vote truly is just for show. We could live in a nation like Syria with a leader like Assad who does not mind turning over half of his citizens into refugees to burden other nations. The Syrians had to vote with their feet, sometimes their lives, and they had to leave their possessions behind. We could live in a nation like North Korea which apparently starves its citizens to build a hydrogen bomb that will threaten America.


When you opt out of voting you are making choices for all of us. You are not actually cynical, you are arrogant. You think you are an arbiter of truth and a punisher of failure or unfairness, but you actually help bad government thrive. There are no perfect people; there are no perfect governments. Perhaps your vote does not carry the weight it once did. Not voting will not cure this. Those who win are thrilled that you didn’t vote. They counted on it. Those who lost cannot be helped by you in any way, even if those losers would have been best for our nation’s future. You have not been sidelined. You have sidelined yourselves. How will our nation ever improve its ways if people who are intelligent enough to be disillusioned are spineless enough to go to their corner and pout about it? You folks who have disenfranchised yourselves are getting on my last nerve. You are the other pod people.

Please take a stand for something and vote in 2016.

By Nancy Brisson

Our Cities/Metro Areas Need Attention


I live in a small city in the center of New York State which has been hit hard by globalization. I know some people blame trade agreements, or Obama, or high taxes but I do not. I think that corporations were set to salivating at the thought of distant places with very cheap labor and no environmental regulations and low overheads. Once the first little lemming jumped continents there was a stampede to the newest Capitalist nirvana (a Communist country – who would have thought). There was the added incentive of all those brand new consumers to satisfy. Manufacturers saw an opportunity-vacuum and they filled it, because we know how nature abhors a vacuum.

My small city lost business after business. Empty factories still sit everywhere, or have been torn down or repurposed. Corporate names have disappeared from local landmarks. But what I was not seeing, or at least not clearly, was brought to my attention by an online article. It was a study at The Cultural Foundation saying that my hometown, Syracuse, NY, had the most stubborn and most segregated areas of poverty in all of America.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

The Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy by Paul A. Gargowsky

Over the past year, scenes of civil unrest have played out in the deteriorating inner-ring suburb of Ferguson and the traditional urban ghetto of inner-city Baltimore. The proximate cause of these conflicts has been brutal interactions between police and unarmed black men, leading to protests that include violent confrontations with police, but no single incident can explain the full extent of the protesters’ rage and frustration. The riots and protests—which have occurred in racially-segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods, bringing back images of the “long, hot summers” of the 1960s—have sparked a national conversation about race, violence, and policing that is long overdue.

Something important, however, is being left out of this conversation: namely, that we are witnessing a nationwide return of concentrated poverty that is racial in nature, and that this expansion and continued existence of high-poverty ghettos and barrios is no accident. These neighborhoods are not the value-free outcome of the impartial workings of the housing market. Rather, in large measure, they are the inevitable and predictable consequences of deliberate policy choices.

To address the root causes of urban violence, police-community tensions, and the enduring legacy of racism, the genesis of urban slums and the forces that sustain them must be understood. As a first step in that direction, this report examines the trends in the population and characteristics of neighborhoods of extreme deprivation.  Some of the key findings include:

  • There was a dramatic increase in the number of high-poverty neighborhoods.


  • The number of people living in high-poverty ghettos, barrios, and slums has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million.


  • These increases were well under way before the Great Recession began.


  • Poverty became more concentrated—more than one in four of the black poor and nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor lives in a neighborhood of extreme poverty, compared to one in thirteen of the white poor.


  • To make matters worse, poor children are more likely to reside in high-poverty neighborhoods than poor adults.


  • The fastest growth in black concentration of poverty (12.6 percentage points) since 2000 was not in the largest cities, but in metropolitan areas with 500,000 to 1 million persons.

This report discusses these trends in the context of the policy choices that helped to construct this architecture of segregation, and makes suggestions on how it can be overcome.

Figure 8 which is an interactive graphic and cannot be copied shows High-Poverty Census Tracts in Syracuse Metropolitan Area.

After the graphic the author notes:

The fastest rate of growth in concentrated poverty for whites (5.5 percentage points) and for Hispanics (7.4 percentage points) was in even smaller metropolitan areas: those with 250,000 to 500,000 person, such as Flint, Michigan; Lubbock, Texas; and Reading, Pennsylvania.

More from this study:

Public Policy and the Concentration of Poverty

Recent economic troubles have clearly contributed to the sharp re-concentration of poverty since 2000. But another huge factor, in good economic times and bad, has been rampant suburban and exurban development. Suburbs have grown so fast that their growth was cannibalistic: it came at the expense of the central city and older suburbs.15 In virtually all metropolitan areas, suburban rings grew much faster than was needed to accommodate metropolitan population growth, so that the central cities and inner-ring suburbs saw massive population declines. The recent trend toward gentrification is barely a ripple compared to the massive surge to the suburbs since about 1970. Moreover, taxpayers funded all the new infrastructure needed to facilitate suburban expansion—roads, schools, water and sewer, and so on—even as existing infrastructure was abandoned and underutilized in the urban core.16

The population movements were also highly selective. Through exclusionary zoning and outright housing market discrimination, the upper-middle class and affluent could move to the suburbs, and the poor were left behind.17 Public and assisted housing units were often constructed in ways that reinforced existing spatial disparities.18 Now, with gentrification driving up property values, rents, and taxes in many urban cores, some of the poor are moving out of central cities into decaying inner-ring suburbs.

And indeed this next study shows income decay in suburban neighborhoods which are part of the metropolitan areas of some of our cities.

A Second Study:

The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012

By: Elizabeth Kneebone

The economically turbulent 2000s have redrawn America’s geography of poverty in more ways than one. After two downturns and subsequent recoveries that failed to reach down the economic ladder, the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012) remains stubbornly stuck at record levels. Today, more of those residents live in suburbs than in big cities or rural communities, a significant shift compared to 2000, when the urban poor still outnumbered suburban residents living in poverty.1

But as poverty has spread, it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also become more clustered and concentrated in distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated poverty during the late 1990s.

The challenges of poor neighborhoods—including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities—make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations.2 These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

Between 2000 and 2008-2012, the number of people living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 5 million.

The suburban poor accounted for a growing share of residents living in concentrated poverty in the 2000s.

Suburbs in the Sun Belt experienced some of the steepest increases in concentrated disadvantage.

Demographic differences between lower-poverty and higher-poverty suburban neighborhoods narrowed during the 2000s.

There are charts and tables to support each point, too many to show here.


Although severely concentrated disadvantage remains a predominantly urban phenomenon, suburbs now have nearly as many poor residents in high-poverty neighborhoods as cities. If these communities are ignored, they could become areas of concentrated poverty over time. Combatting poverty in distressed neighborhoods remains a pressing priority, but policymakers, practitioners, and regional leaders should also be looking “upstream” to halt the progression of concentrated disadvantage before it crosses the 40 percent threshold. The fact that so many of these neighborhoods and residents are located in suburbs only adds to the challenge and the need for urgency, because many of these communities are ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with the needs of a growing and increasingly concentrated low-income population.

Given the limited resources at hand to address these challenges, effectively tackling the scope of today’s need necessitates more integrated and cross-cutting approaches. Policymakers and practitioners can learn from regional leaders who are finding innovative ways of making limited resources stretch further to confront the regional scale of poverty. These leaders are crafting approaches that work across urban and suburban boundaries and connect decisions around housing, transportation, workforce development, and jobs to provide stronger pathways between low-income residents and regional economic opportunity, regardless of where they live.

Me again-

If you are like me you have few ideas about how to solve the decay in and around our cities. Jobs and a healthy economy would surely go a long way towards alleviating this downward trend, but recession alone does not explain why our minorities are so consistently poor and why they are so trapped in inner city neighborhoods where services are poor, budgets are tight and people are not thriving.

If architecture and real estate have been used to discriminate then perhaps some attention to these areas may help get us out of this stubborn pattern. Even if we don’t find ways to get our economy humming along again we still need to tackle this stuff. With smaller local budgets at all levels (think Flint, Michigan) we will need to be really creative, really compassionate, and practice lots of that tolerance and civility that we believe in so strongly but which we are having such a hard time accessing. Solving housing problems might also help solve the problems in some of our schools. And it might free up the creativity of people who are too busy surviving to tap into their higher order skills.

By Nancy Brisson









City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg – Book

City on Fire

City on Fire is a writer’s gift to readers. It sets out to give us a grungy, punky picture of NYC in the 70’s and it succeeds – wonderfully. We can’t leave out unbridled-greed-without-moral-filters which is the true fireworks in this epic tale. It’s a good thing Garth Risk Hallberg is such a good writer because you will invest some time in this novel, especially if you are busy and have to read in snatches, which is actually a good way to read City on Fire, because it does not have a linear story structure.

This is New York City, home to millions, but more intimate than you might imagine. The line between a fireworks expert (Carmine) and a multimillion dollar family (the Hamilton-Sweeney’s, the Demon Brother), for example – or the line between the firework’s makers daughter (Sam) and a high school boy (Charlie) with red hair – the line between an old policeman with crutches (Pulaski)and a disenchanted newspaperman (Richard Groskoph) who stumbles onto an interesting story about fireworks but writes a different kind of story altogether – the connection between all these people and a defunct punk band whose leader Billy Three-Sticks (William Hamilton-Sweeney) let his band be taken over by a control freak named Nicky Chaos.

It is the Bicentennial year of 1776 when the key events in this story begin, and NYC, while definitely almost a character in this story, is not at its best. The city is on the edge of bankruptcy and the city actually is on fire. There are fires burning in the more derelict parts of town. The sound effects most prominent in Hallberg’s book are gun shots, backfires, explosions both planned and unplanned, both legal and illegal, controlled and not controlled. The author gives a foreshadowing of the events of 9/11, still far in the future, by focusing our attention on a pair of long views of the World Trade Center which will one day be destroyed in an unimaginable fire. The characters react to the corruption of a city where inequality is on display in the very architecture of the neighborhoods

The book is a mystery wrapped in an enigma – I know, terribly overused phrase, but quite appropriate here. There are a number of mysteries to be solved and a number of people with pieces of the story. Two of the people with a role in untangling events are newcomers to New York City (Mercer, Jenny) and that offers a message too. Sometimes we, the reader, know who the perpetrators are, sometimes we don’t (although we may eventually untangle events. If you don’t manage to figure things out yourself, you won’t get any help from the author. There is no Agatha Christie summing up at the end, and this is not at all a formula piece, no matter how much fun those may be.

I was sorry when I finished City on Fire because I have punctuated recent days with a chapter here and a chapter there, but the things the author tangentially shares with us about his faith in human nature and how hard that fabled NYC can be on people’s dreams will stay with me and lend a bit of grunge to my days for a while.

By Nancy Brisson

Who Beats the GOP: the Valkyrie or the Socialist?


Imagine that Hillary Clinton becomes #45 in November, 2016. Imagine that, although over 400+ seats in Congress are up for reelection, because of Republican maneuvering the Congress remains majority Republican. The GOP despises Hillary. They despise the idea of a woman in the oval office. They would perhaps feel the same astonished anger they felt about having an American of African Descent in the White House.

Do we then have 4-8 more years of “road rage”? Do we have 2 terms of obstruction? Will Hillary Clinton find it as difficult to make policy and get bipartisan support as Obama has? What will this do to America? Can Hillary get the GOP, so invested in their Capitalist dream for America and their moral agenda for America, their isolationism/nationalism, and their militaristic sword rattling, their lust to rape the untouched land, their belief that only citizens with guns pointed at Washington will keep America on “the right path”; can Hillary get these folks to agree to any legislation that looks like a compromise? Will the fever subside a bit or will the predominantly male Congress hate the idea of a woman (and a Clinton) in the White House so much that our ideological standoff will continue unabated?

Would Bernie Sanders fare any better against a predominantly Republican Congress or will they just shout “Socialist” over and over the way a dog owner shouts “squirrel”?

It seems to me that the only thing that will satisfy the rabid Republicans is to win the White House and Congress. But will it be worth it to give them what they want just to shut them up, to appease them with public office when what they plan is to turn America into a nation we will not recognize? If they shut down all of the voices against them there will be no more push and pull. Then they will be on a reign of glee and able to legislate willy-nilly over the effectively silenced voices of opposition.

There will be nothing to stop them from overturning Roe v Wade and making abortion a criminal act. Same sex marriage will no longer be legal and perhaps government will clamp down on any sexual act that is not between a man and a woman. There will be no more national parks preserving land and habitat for the good of the people and the planet so the Bundy’s of this world will win the day, along with the Koch’s (I still find these two groups to be very strange bedfellows).;postID=857556395932976880;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=postname

There will be no benefit programs. If you don’t work you will do what you must to survive. There will be no unions to fight on behalf of less wealthy people (workers) and there will be no regulations on business. There will be no health care except what private companies chose to sell; there will be no retirement unless you save; education will be a matter for each state. There will be a draft to fill the ranks of the giant (perhaps huge) and improved Armed Forces. We will be the bruisers, the bouncers of the planet.

I don’t know how either Hillary or Bernie will fare against this energetic and obnoxious crew but I know we must have one of them to hold the line against the GOP for a while longer, until they calm down. Would Hillary do better with her insistence that she understands how to get folks to compromise, or would Bernie, who would not try to work with the GOP and would put forth left ideology against right ideology until he simply made compromise seem like a right wing win? I don’t know which approach will stop the nonsense.

How much will Hillary compromise? What will she give in on that we won’t mind losing ground on? Can we afford to lose ground right now? How tough is Hillary? Nancy Pelosi has managed to still have influence in Congress even though she lost her majority position. She is still formidable. I have a hard time wanting to bend to the Republican agenda on any point whatsoever. Give us some examples of compromises both sides might find somewhat agreeable.

Although I believe that it does not matter if the President is a man or a woman – and although I believe that America will not know that until we have our first woman in the office, I want a real Valkyrie, an Amazon woman. How strong is Hillary? Can Hillary move further left before the election? Will we want “war” in Washington or détente and diplomacy which Washington has seemed to sneer at? I need more answers but they are not answers I am likely to get unless I consult a top-notch psychic. Nothing to do but keep watching and listening for a while – talk among ourselves and put our hands to our temples and say, “my brain hurts”!

By Nancy Brisson


January 2016 Book List



Independent Booksellers – these are some of the books that sold well at Independent Bookshops in the first half of January, 2016. Not all of these books are new releases.

The Revenant by Michael Punke

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Descent by Tim Johnston

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink

The Past by Tessa Hadley

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro

House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Tom Clancy Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

The Danish Girl by David Evershoff

The Door by Magda Szabo

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Amazon – Amazon gives a list of the ten best new books for each month. This list will start with a few titles from December because I did not do a book list in December and then I will give the titles from January.

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon (Memoir)

The Relic Master: A Novel by Christopher Buckley

House of the Rising Sun: A Novel by James Lee Burke

The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins

Like Family: A Novel by Paolo Giordano, Anne Milano Appel

The Age of Reinvention: A Novel by Karine Tull

Time and Time Again: A Novel by Ben Elton

Time of Departure: A Novel by Douglas Schofield


My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The Past: A Novel by Tessa Hadley

The Expatriates: A Novel by Janice Y. K. Lee

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sumil Yapa

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

The Longest Night: A Novel by Andria Williams

Fallen Land: A Novel by Taylor Brown

The Kindness of Enemies: A Novel by Leila Aboulela

The Other Me by Saskia Sarginson

Couple Mechanics by Nelly Alard, Adriana Hunta

Mystery and Thriller

Dictator: A Novel (Ancient Rome Trilogy) by Robert Harris

Scandalous Behavior by Stuart Woods

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

River Road: A Novel by Carol Goodman

The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

Terms of Use by Scott Allan Morrison

A Paper Son by Jason Bucholz

Hunters in the Dark: A Novel by Lawrence Osborn


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

The Sound of Gravel – A Memoir by Ruth Wariner

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir

The Gilded Razor: A Memoir by Sam Lansky

Sharon Tate: A Life by Ed Sanders

Loving Amy: A Mother’s Story by Janis Winehouse

The Lovers: Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet the true story of How They Defied Their Families and Escaped an Honor Killing by Rod Nordland

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Census-Taker by Ching Miéville

The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine

Skinner Luce by Partricia Sarrafian Ward

Blue Darker Than Black: A Thriller by Mike Jenne

A title I saw in the New York Times and forgot to add to my list

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Publisher’s Weekly – I did not find these titles on anyone else’s radar except for Bryson’s memoir so these are most likely new releases.

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson

The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull

The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew Chilton

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship by Paul Lisicky

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

A Song for the Brokenhearted by William Shaw

Compiled by Nancy Brisson


Dumbledore/Obama Speaks at Hogwarts/Congress


I have defended Obama many, many times over the past 7 years, although he most likely knows nothing about it and he really didn’t require my assistance. As I became more and more aware of the Republican agenda for America I became more and more grateful that Obama was in the White House helping Democrats at least hold the line against the GOP extremists. While the right wing bemoaned the Stimulus, which was not an action that Obama did on his own I was glad that we were not going to be held to an austerity that would have prolonged the Great Recession. While the right wing lashed out when Obama did an end run around them to pass the Affordable Care Act I was glad that more people would have health insurance, that people with preexisting conditions would be covered and that certain young family members would no longer have to rely on the emergency room for medical treatment.

I can see that America is not as prosperous as it was, at least not for all of us. I have not forgotten the parade of factories that have left empty buildings all over my hometown and the number of workers who once had secure, good paying jobs who now have jobs that pay much less. My town has not recovered from the recession but they are working and the job market has ticked up quite a bit from the days when there were no jobs to be found. I know that the Obama years have helped our economy. The strides made with alternative energies alone will serve our economy and our environment well in the future.

Republicans have been aching to cut the social safety net, privatize social security, end Medicare and privatize schools. These things are all bad policy and Obama has held off these Social Darwinists for two terms now, two terms while Republicans complained bitterly and lied to the people and said that benefits are harmful. Obama has shepherded us through an era when facing up to our lingering racism has been painful and obvious, although still unresolved. Watching the heart wrenching confrontations between the police and young black folks with the seemingly tiny or nonexistant misdemeanors being met by out-of-all-proportion consequences will force us, I hope, to solve our divisions. Obama kept us calm and called for solutions. I don’t know how all of this would have played out if we did not have Obama in the White House.

Republicans vowed to block President Obama and they have done so throughout the Obama years, so much so that I often wished for a referee who would call foul and put a stop to all of the obstruction and vituperation. Obama still steadily found ways to hold back their extreme agenda and get things done. So they stonewalled in Washington, voted to repeal the ACA eighty-five million times, voted to defund Planned Parenthood, found ways to abuse traditional perks like gerrymandering to pack statehouses with Republicans and ways to set voting rights back 50 years, ways to keep Obama from appointing liberals to the courts, and still Obama did what he could for Americans day after day.

So I loved President Obama’s last SOTU address. I felt like he was Dumbledore summing things up, the good and the bad for all the students of Hogwarts whether allies or enemies. I agree that we are still a strong nation. I agree that civility is not dead, although it sometimes seems that way. I believe that we have done great things in the past, in the present and that in the future we will find a way to a new prosperity. I believe we need to work together, although I have little faith that the GOP fever has run its course. They have waited almost eight years for this moment, and even if it is not turning out quite as planned, they can taste victory. But I will miss Obama and I will not take a GOP victory as any kind of victory because we will have to do things that we will later have to undo and that will be a real waste of time for America and it may actually make our nation more vulnerable to those who hope we fail. What we must do now is elect a Democrat and, truth to tell either Hillary or Bernie will do. Better to have two good choices than fifteen bad ones.

By Nancy Brisson

TPP and Big Pharma


The last time I wrote about TPP we were just voting on the fast tracking of this deal. This time the document is ready in draft and not yet released but has been read in part by some groups in the media. I originally felt that if this partnership was going to happen with or without us that it might be preferable to opt in, but I always had reservations about the strong protections for Big Pharma that were being leaked.

Now that the document is almost ready for review it appears that not much was changed in relation to the protections written into this agreement for the pharmaceutical industry. What began as an attempt to protect intellectual property such as patented drugs, trademarked music, written materials, patented inventions, and original artwork has, because of the laser-like focus of the pharmaceutical companies been molded into a form that most benefits Big Pharma and which makes it very likely that there will be large increases in drug prices for the rest of us.

Here is what a leading article in Politico had to say:

A recent draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal would give U.S. pharmaceutical firms unprecedented protections against competition from cheaper generic drugs, possibly transcending the patent protections in U.S. law.

POLITICO has obtained a draft copy of TPP’s intellectual property chapter as it stood on May 11, at the start of the latest negotiating round in Guam. While U.S. trade officials would not confirm the authenticity of the document, they downplayed its importance, emphasizing that the terms of the deal are likely to change significantly as the talks enter their final stages. Those terms are still secret, but the public will get to see them once the twelve TPP nations reach a final agreement and President Obama seeks congressional approval.

Still, the draft chapter will provide ammunition for critics who have warned that TPP’s protections for pharmaceutical companies could dump trillions of dollars of additional health care costs on patients, businesses and governments around the Pacific Rim. The highly technical 90-page document, cluttered with objections from other TPP nations, shows that U.S. negotiators have fought aggressively and, at least until Guam, successfully on behalf of Big Pharma.

The draft text includes provisions that could make it extremely tough for generics to challenge brand-name pharmaceuticals abroad. Those provisions could also help block copycats from selling cheaper versions of the expensive cutting-edge drugs known as “biologics” inside the U.S., restricting treatment for American patients while jacking up Medicare and Medicaid costs for American taxpayers.
“There’s very little distance between what Pharma wants and what the U.S. is demanding,” said Rohit Malpini, director of policy for Doctors Without Borders.

“It would be a dramatic departure from U.S. law, and it would put a real crimp in the ability of less expensive drugs to get to market,” said K.J. Hertz, a lobbyist for AARP. “People are going to look at this very closely in Congress.”

Another article in the International Business Times online adds a few more insights into how the trade agreement might affect people’s health care if this section of the agreement goes forward as the ‘leaked’ draft is written.

The Obama administration has lauded the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as the most progressive trade deal in history. But a recently leaked chapter of the draft deal, obtained by Politico, reportedly shows a U.S. negotiating team devoted to protecting pharmaceutical industry profits at the expense of cheaper generic drugs in the 12 countries affected.

The provisions pushed by American trade representatives in the May version of the TPP’s intellectual property chapter included measures that would strengthen patent protections across borders, Politico reports. Known as patent linkage, these rules prevent a country from approving cheaper generic drugs if a patent-holder has filed a legal challenge in a member state.

In particular, the pharmaceutical industry has argued that the patent-protection measures of the TPP would enable companies to continue making multi-billion-dollar investments in new drugs. PhRMA, the lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry, has emerged as one of the top supporters of the TPP and similar deals.

That lobbying has paid off. Patient advocates contend that the U.S. negotiators have fought primarily for the interests of the drug lobby in TPP negotiations. In a letter last year, representatives 11 organizations including the AARP and the Medicare Rights Center argued that the deal “puts too much emphasis on drug industry priorities, and does not give equal weight to consumer priorities such as prescription drug affordability, safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness.”

For me these concessions to Big Pharma companies and the resulting increases in already almost out-of-reach drug prices would seem to be a deal breaker. If this topic is not addressed in the final document and fairly drastically revised I would not recommend that our Congress accept this trade agreement. I do not have a problem with preventing other nations from producing knock-off generics. We have seen some of the possible dangers in Chinese toy production which used lead paint and similar errors would most likely be even worse when the product is a drug.

Here are two more articles, with one showing the Australia response to this possible coup for the pharmaceutical companies:

By Nancy Brisson