Monthly Archives: March 2016

March Madness and Me

March Madness

I am not anyone you would call a sports fan, although I can follow a basketball, baseball, or football game. I do understand the appeal. It is one of the few things in life that is not (at least we hope) scripted. The players may be familiar, the rules established, but the outcome and the path to the outcome is fresh and new each time. It unfolds right in front of us, makes our adrenaline flow, gets us pumped up and excited. We are invested, while the experience lasts, in the game, the moment, and it can be a pretty great high.

But right at this particular moment everyone in my town is a sports fan. Unprecedented events are afoot. A 10th seed basketball team, our 10th seed basketball team has made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. And – icing on the cake – our women’s basketball team has also made it to the Final Four. It is truly March Madness.

The school is Syracuse University and the city is Syracuse, NY and right now orange is our color. Even I, not a true sports fan, have caught the madness. If our teams go all the way we will be delirious. But they have already made our hearts happy, entertained us well, and reflected pride on their university and their coaches.

Go Orange! Go forth and win this all. You will be heroes!

By Nancy Brisson

Voting for Reagan in 2016

voting for reagan

There are Americans who have made it through the economic tumult of recent decades relatively unscathed. They did not lose their jobs or their houses or their pensions. Perhaps they had a government job or an office job, maybe they worked for the post office or a utility. Perhaps they were far enough up in the corporate hierarchy that they got to keep their jobs, even if they did have to be willing to keep moving as the Great Factory Migration unfolded.

However it happened, for these hardworking Americans, the American Dream teetered but it did not die. They got raises, they won awards; they bought nicer homes – perhaps even a second vacation home. Their cars got more pricy and RV’s and boats were acquired. Children went to college, and although they may have had to move away, they got good jobs and eventually houses and vehicles and children of their own.

Many of these folks see changes in America but are not really touched by these changes. Their lives run smoothly unless disturbed by health matters and they don’t want to analyze the world or our nation, although complaining is acceptable. They choose not to discuss how change is impacting the lives of so many Americas who have not been fortunate enough to live out the relatively carefree trajectory of these lucky people. These “lucky” people do not think they are lucky; they think they succeeded because they lived life correctly. They did not rock any political boats. All they asked for and all they still ask for is the everyday peace and prosperity to raise a family and enjoy a rewarding social life with family and friends.

What they don’t recognize is that other people who lived correctly but put their future in the hands of corporations or factories did not necessarily fare as well. Their steady working lives, their possessions, their future pension supports were taken away almost without warning. They did not manage to squeak through under the old formula that guaranteed that hard work would pay off. Their progress was interrupted midstream, perhaps never to be regained. From the point where the factory or business that offered them prosperity in exchange for labor left them high and dry their lives atrophied and morphed into something that felt very much like failure.

The group of Americans that succeeded felt pride in their success and began to feel slightly superior to their one-time neighbors who had lost their jobs, although this was often through events they had no control over. As a result they were unwilling to offer aid or sympathy to those who they came to see a losers. The instinct of those who squeaked through the economic changes successfully was to put some distance between themselves and the “losers”, not wanting to get caught in the down suck.

Almost all of these middle class Americans, both the successful and the unsuccessful, tend to see themselves as Republicans and to feel that Conservative principles are the truest American guidelines. They feel that the best way to shore up the American economy is to cut back on programs and expenses. They do not want to pay for the unlucky or the lazy (who they do not necessarily see as two different groups). They don’t want amnesty for undocumented immigrants who stole American jobs (even if this perception is not totally accurate). They identify Republican.

We have seen that the unlucky and angry went with Donald Trump, but this second group of luckier middle class Americans have no stomach for Donald Trump and they have difficulty tolerating Ted Cruz. But they are good voters, good citizens. They have to vote for someone in the primaries and it couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, be a Democrat. What people are telling me is that they are writing in Ronald Reagan and voting for him. I don’t know if this is a trend or just the choice of a few isolated contented/discontented suburbanites. It is so obviously a throwaway vote, but nevertheless it makes me smile, a little smile of wry amusement. After all the saintly talk on FOX news and in the right wing media raising Ronald Reagan to ranks of perfection never before attained by an American President, this write in vote makes so much sense. It is a vote for the past, a nostalgia vote, a vote by people who like to live simply and be left alone to enjoy the bounty of their nation. It is a vote by people who really need to stop watching FOX News.

By Nancy Brisson




Who’s to Blame?

the blame game5


I’m sure that the blame game is played during every election season and, in fact, it appears that it is a perennial political favorite, election year or not. Sometimes politicians place blame to distract attention away from the responsibilities their own party bears for some domestic or foreign situation. In the 2016 election it is quite maddening and entertaining to watch Republicans place the blame on the Obama administration for things that we have been blaming on George W. Bush. Should we blame Bush for ISIS or is Obama to blame?

Well there is truth in the cosmic wisdom that all things are interconnected and if you are a Republican it only takes about 85 steps to get from the argument that places the blame on Bush for the Iraq war to blaming Obama. You just have to say over and over that ISIS formed because Obama is weak, or because he used drone strikes, or because he took the troops out of Iraq too soon, or any of a number of different imagined flaws in the Obama government.

But all the razzle-dazzle reasoning that links Obama to ISIS is really just a ploy to hopefully make us forget the much more seminal role that Bush and the GOP played in destabilizing the Middle East. Republicans hope that enough time has passed to convince most Americans that Obama is the one we should be angry with and that the only possible conclusion we can draw is too elect a Republican. The GOP believes, I think that most Americans have the attention span and the intelligence of gnats. The blame game is so useful exactly because it can cause confusion even in those who were once certain they knew who was responsible.

Today I read an article that blamed elitist Democrats for the rise of Donald Trump. You might guess that it took more than a few logical jumps to accomplish that feat of pretzel reasoning. The gist of the argument is that Democratic Party elites did not back up the middle class when the corporations left, when the free trade agreements were passed, when the unions destroyed the marketplace by asking for ever higher salaries and benefits, when people lost their jobs and their pensions. Instead the Democrats voted in favor of free trade agreements which hurt the American middle class and did not continue to support the regulations on Wall Street. The contention of this author was that the Democrats share with the Republicans the responsibility for Trump because they abandoned the middle class and the middle class has, in retribution, abandoned them. It’s creative, but is it true? Surprisingly this article is from The Daily Kos which usually leans pretty far left.

Obviously there seems to be enough culpability so that everyone can be tarnished in the blame game. But probably if blame must be assigned at all, the bulk of it should go to the group that is connected by the straightest lines. If you have to jump through too many hoops to follow the blame trail then we are back in “everything is interconnected” territory.

There are always lessons to be learned though from events or situations that are serious enough that they lead us to look around for someone to saddle with any given mess. In the case of what happened in the wake of the Iraq War and in the case of what is going on in the 2016 election, placing blame correctly has everything to do with who should win the election, although not necessarily who will win the election.

So both parties look around to place the burden of blame on the other party or on the President or on anyone they can think of if they want to confuse voters. As a voter I can say that they succeed somewhat in arguing that day is night and that the guilty party is not who we always thought it was. By the time the politicians and the media are done with the blame game we begin to question even the events we lived through. The resulting brain tangle is one of the reasons many people hate elections and just decide that they will not vote at all. Be vigilant. Don’t let politicians playing the blame game stop you from voting. You can always fall back on that old school saying “your first thought is best.”

By Nancy Brisson

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco – Book

Numero Zero

Umberto Eco really knows how to leave a room. He published Numero Zero just before he died a few weeks ago. This is not a book that everyone will enjoy because there is no real action and the “plot” is complicated and somewhat obscure, if this book can even be said to have a plot. We have a publisher who has been asked to create a mock newspaper for reasons which are not revealed. We have a staff that is hired to produce these mock-ups and the staff does not realize that these newspapers are not destined for publication.

There is great commentary on how the media conducts itself as these reporters try to “trump” up stories. In fact they are told that they should pick old stories which have never been resolved and then write articles that “predict” a juicy resolution. One of the reasons that this is difficult for most Americans to follow, or to want to follow, is that these are Italian news stories.

Our main character, Colonna, has worked for publishers and newspapers but he has never found a successful niche. He considers himself a loser. “Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.”

He would, of course, like to write a great book. When his acquaintance, Simei, offers him a story line for a great book that he can one day write, a book that will appear under Simei’s name, a book called Domani (yesterday, in Italian) he also offers him the job of running the newspaper that will never be published. The issues will all begin with a Numero Zero.

However, as the book opens we have jumped ahead in the story and Colonna finds that someone has been in his apartment while he was sleeping. He is afraid to leave his building. Why the paranoia? Does the danger have any connection to the conspiracy stories that one of his colleagues at this mysterious newspaper, Braggadocio, has been sharing with him, the ones about fascist groups that may still lurk in the shadows and about the possibility that Mussolini did not die as history suggests but lived out his life in Argentina? Or perhaps it was another story about the fake Orders of Malta popping up around the world, very secretly of course.

This commentary on journalism exposes media tactics that are not the sole property of the Italian media. It is a very cynical view of media and that aspect probably does not surprise most of us. But how much of what we think of as news may be invented for the reader’s taste for sensationalism, or extorted by the state with threats, or distorted by successful subterfuge is difficult for readers of news, and in fact even writers of news to judge. Is there any such thing as a free press? Are powerful people always covering up for the human flaws that their power gives them the freedom to indulge?

Umberto Eco died after this book was published. Is he the character Colonna, who began and ended the book afraid for his life after the murder of Braggadocio, the originator of all the conspiracy theories? Were they conspiracy theories or did Braggadocio have a source providing real news? Who killed Braggadocio and why? Now perhaps Umberto Eco had a terminal illness and knew that he would die soon and created a novel that would turn his demise into the kind of cultural mystery he liked to write. Or was Umberto Eco murdered for his stand against Fascism? We will probably never know. Doesn’t matter, Umberto Eco, on purpose or by accident, leaves us with a novel that helps him remain an amazing author right to the very end and which leaves a reader with perhaps just one word – freaky.

By Nancy Brisson

Money and Hillary Clinton

money and Hillary Clinton

I actually know very little about Hillary Clinton and money, and neither, apparently does anyone else, although there is plenty of theory and conspiratorial conjecturing going on out there among those who are either very informed or very paranoid. I don’t know what Hillary intended in Libya, or in Africa, or in Honduras. There are many who call her the new Dick Cheney or the new Henry Kissinger and imply that she is a Machiavellian figure, or perhaps one of the Borgias.

To folks in these particular journalistic circles she represents the very worst in American politics which has a secretive dark agenda and sends out our government officials to meddle in the business of nations around the world, build nations up and tear nations down, all for cynical reasons having to do with economics and money. Or perhaps Hillary has no mission to inform her actions but is simply acting on her own. According to these folks Hillary is a sinister figure who ruins nations when their economies are getting too successful and are challenging the America economy. Wow! Who knew Hillary was this powerful and this corrupt? Apparently everyone but me.

Bernie Sanders indicts Hillary for using government service to get rich. He tells his supporters anecdotes which supposedly prove that she has offered influence in return for donations from wealthy nations. Sanders apparently implies that the Clinton Foundation is a front to peddle influence and line the Clinton’s pockets. He believes that accepting money from Wall Street proves that you are absolutely corrupt. His followers believe all this is true beyond a shadow of a doubt and they revile Hillary for this. Again, I did not ascribe to Hillary even this level of villainy. They say that Hillary is a criminal who should be indicted for war crimes, or crimes against humanity, or bribery, or if nothing else sticks, then for the private email server thing (possibly risking national security).

How naïve am I? I see that half of Congress is made up of millionaires, many of whom lined their bank accounts while in government service. I know that Bernie Sanders is solidly against money in politics, feeling that it robs the people of their right to govern. I agree with him. I was shocked when Citizen’s United was upheld by the Supreme Court, giving legitimacy to all the money that floods in and befuddles politics in Washington. But Hillary came up as a politician operating within the system we have now. Bernie is a revolutionary who wants to dump the system we have now. We could possible get money out of politics through a grassroots groundswell, but it is more likely that it will be tough slog, accomplished in baby steps.

Hillary, as the first woman to get this close to being an American President, has a foot in the past and a foot in the future. She cannot be blamed for playing the game according to the rules of the boys club. We are always changing the rules just when a woman arrives at a threshold. Bernie’s purity did not help him shine in Congress although it certainly looks appealing now. But there is no other person in our government like Bernie Sanders and changing the way our government does business cannot be as easy as he makes it sound. If Donald Trump is dividing the nation before he gains the office, then Bernie Sanders is likely to divide it if he becomes our President. People who have been on the gravy train for years are not going to gently step aside. If we the people win the day it might be worth the fight, but we could probably win the day eventually with just good solid strategy if we had a plan.

I believe that people are painting Hillary as a villain based on some pretty convoluted reasoning and theorizing. Of course, if anyone can prove these accusations beyond any doubt then I suppose that Hillary is too byzantine to make a good President. If she actually treats the globe like some kind of calculated game of Risk then that is diabolical and she should be stopped. I just don’t buy it though.

By Nancy Brisson

Trump Demographics


As Americans were watching their fortunes dwindle, their jobs disappear, their pension agreements getting rescinded, and their homes lose value or get taken back by the same corrupt banks that granted the mortgages – there were voices speaking in their ears, in their cars, in their man caves and media room blaming “others”. These voices said that these beleaguered Americans were giving people who refused to work money through “entitlements” like welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and that they were actually wasting their money. The whispers and vein-popped shouts from right-wing media claimed that giving poor people money actually keeps them down, turns them into dependents. Those who hammered away at middle class Americans in shock at their losses had no proof for their theory. Paul Ryan, a Congressman, cited a fiction book, The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand as proof that these takers are slackers, rather than needy people whose children will suffer if taxpayers harden their hearts.

If you want some other evidence, also from fiction, and far more believable, read Charles Dickens. You don’t have to have unselfish impulses to disavow social Darwinism. You can be quite selfish about it because if the poor live in squalor, that squalor affects us all, especially our health and our mood. People used to walk through London holding a scented handkerchief to their noses, stepping in offal, and even having chamber pots emptied over their heads.

Some people got sold on this short-sighted approach to social concerns. They started to think that small government was a good idea. After all the government kept intruding into their lives, especially in schools. No prayer in school was touted as the root of all moral evil. Teaching Creationism was shouted down by those who felt that science belongs in public schools, religion, not so much. Christians felt they should have the right to teach Creationism. Pundits started to suggest that Republicans would help the middle class get rid of social programs and turn schools into private entities vouchered to the states who could allow state residents to decide on curricula.

Those disembodied voices, avidly attended to over the air waves, eventually made their listeners aware and incensed that minorities would be the new recipients of the American Dream. White folks said “hell no”. Keep America white. Keep America Christian. Americans speak English, they said. Eventually the Republican Party, not in so many words perhaps, but in code, promised that they could make it so. Even as those radio pundits graduated to TV – lo and behold, a Black man, possibly a Muslim, possibly a henchman for someone named Saul Alinsky, got elected to be the President of the United States of America!

It turns out the GOP lied. It lied to the middle class about everything. As long as Obama remained the U. S. President they could not deliver any of their promises. The social programs were cut but not eliminated. In fact Obama, in stealth, in the dead of night, pushed through the Affordable Care Act with no Republican votes, making social health and welfare programs bigger than ever. The government did not pass a huge school voucher program or close the Education Department thus giving states more autonomy in schools. The government doubled down on national standards and the Common Core curricula. The Obama government did not take to Republican obstruction real well and the GOP was now in thrall to the “Tea Party” that coalesced because of the radio “whisperers”.

These folks believe that America will be white again and that white America will be able to eat as much white bread as it wants. America will once again have secure factory jobs for life with pensions that are solid and generous. They believe America will stop this nonsense about fossil fuels and the environment because Big Business doesn’t like it. We will build a wall so no more people can come here from Mexico without documentation and so we will not have to learn Spanish. Life will be like the 50’s – we will freeze forever at a mid-century modern lifestyle – before the pill, before women’s lib, before gay people, before hippies, before Civil Rights, way before 9/11. That’s what the GOP was supposed to produce for their “base”, and that is what the election is about, a Renaissance for white America. These are Donald Trump’s people. Disappointed by America and then disappointed again by the Republicans. Donald Trump comes as close to the hope that the middle class can set things straight as anyone has and they don’t really care how he does it. He seems like someone who truly could turn America into a mid-fifties theme park from sea to shining sea.

But the problem is that white America is tired, old or addicted to bad substances. White America is not the dynamic demographic it once was. We are not reproducing fast enough to prevent our numbers and prospects from dwindling. Even many of those very Republicans riding herd over Obama are ancient artifacts of distant eras (such as the 1950’s). Without the energy and the thirst for freedom and success of our young immigrant groups we will very likely just turn into a fusty, dying social experiment with a Dream that was cancelled for lack of interest. A vote for Trump, or any Republican, is a vote for national stagnation and decay.

By Nancy Brisson

March 2016 Book List


Independent Booksellers – The independent booksellers give us lists of what books people have been buying at independently owned book stores. These lists do not usually reflect the newest publications because they have not had time to become big sellers. My list only includes the newest additions to the Indie lists.

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Outline by Rachel Cusk

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

The Door by Magda Szabo

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Georgia by Dawn Tripp

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal

Arcadia by Iain Pears

The Past by Tessa Hadley

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Breaking Wild by Diana Les Becquets

The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick

Publisher’s Weekly – Books that are hot off the presses and even a few that are not out yet. They tend to only present the cream of the crop, according to their own reviewers.

Lesser Evils by Joe Flanagan

Character, Driven by David Lubar

Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

Redeeming the Kamasutra by Wendy Doniger

High Dive: A Novel by Jonathan Lee

The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe

Innocents and Others: A Novel by Dana Spiotta

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Movements by Geir Tangen (Norwegian Blogger)

Red Girls (no author given) Look for this title which is coming from Japan

A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century by Jerome Charyn

Playing for the Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederick

Free Verse by Sarah Dooley (main character is 12, has 60+ page section of poetry)

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Exit, Pursued by Bear by E. K. Johnston

The Song of Hong Gildong (author unknown) (Korean) from Korean by Minsao Kang

The North Water by Ian McGuire

A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee

The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman

Amazon – Giant bookseller who pretty much lists everything that is coming out in a given month, but does present editor’s picks.

Literature and Fiction

The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

As Close to Us as Breathing: A Novel by Elizabeth Poliner

Innocents and Others: A Novel by Dana Spiotta

All Things Cease to Appear: A Novel by Elizabeth Brundage

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyeni (connected stories)

Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

All Stories are Love Stories: A Novel by Elizabeth Percer

Guapa by Safeem Haddad

Bottomland: A Novel by Michelle Hoover

Shelter: A Novel by Jung Yun

The North Water: A Novel by Ian McGuire

Terrible Virtue: A Novel by Ellen Feldman (Margaret Sanger)

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Biographies and Memoirs

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan (Thomas Francis Meagher)

Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir by Padma Lakshmi

From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization through Ten Extraordinary Lives by Jeffry E Garten

The King and Queen of Malibu: The True Story of the Battle for Paradise by David K. Randall

Lust and Wonder: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

I Swear I’ll Make it Up to You: A Life on the Low Road by Mishka Shubaly

Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America by Douglas Brinkley

John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit by James Traub

All the Ways We Kill and Die: An Elegy for a Fallen Comrade, and the Hunt for His Killer by Brian Castner

Mystery and Thriller

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

The Travelers: A Novel by Chris Pavone

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

All Things Cease to Appear: A Novel by Elizabeth Brundage

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Cold Barrel Zero by Matthew Quirk

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R. S. Belcher

The Lyre Thief (The Hythrun Chronicles) by Jennifer Fallon

The Courier: A San Angeles Novel by Gerald Brandt

Of special interest to me:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Compiled by Nancy Brisson







Will We Duke It Out in the Streets?

Ted Cruz cartoon

When I listen to Ted Cruz lately, sounding like an arbiter of fairness and good grace it is too much for my civility. I watched Ted Cruz in the Senate and all along he has been the ringleader of the disrupters in Congress, stalking back and forth from the Senate to the House, sticking his big nose into Boehner’s business, enforcing “purity” to a Tea Party and Evangelical agenda. He has pandered to angry white middle class Americans for the entirety of Obama’s two terms in office. He has poured hate, criticism, and vituperation on Obama without ceasing. He accuses Obama of doing the things that he, Ted Cruz, is doing and no one seems to call him out on that. He does not represent many Americans but he swears he will represent us all. Clearly he will only represent the Americans he agrees with, those who feel the same way about issues as he does.

You may say that if Ted Cruz is elected that this will be the will of the majority of the American people but you will be wrong. The Republican Party has prepared the way for just such an extreme right winger to win with their gerrymandering, their voter suppression, their Citizen’s United, their packed Supreme Court. Ted Cruz bemoans a Supreme Court packed with liberals; while I bemoan a Supreme Court packed with the current iteration of conservative. We are losing sight of how dangerous Ted Cruz is to America because we are presented with the even more pressing danger of a Donald Trump presidency. Ted Cruz does not, in any way, represent me. I will experience a Ted Cruz presidency as four to eight years of an America that is moving backwards. I will expect to find myself “dangling over the pit of hell” because of some of my liberal opinions along with many other Americans.


As for the divide we saw at the Trump rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago, which was surprisingly nonviolent, Trump did not create this divide. We have watched conservatives widen a split in America that was already there and which was exacerbated by a tough economy and by the losses of the middle class. America is divided. We are split into a white America that fears it is losing its ascendency and a minority America which might be starting to feel ready to rise. I’m not sure why everyone feels that it must be us against them. Aren’t we all Americans? Don’t we all want America to thrive?

Conservative talk has pried away at the split in America, making it wider, driving a wedge of hate and fear into the breach. It is a reflection of the fear and racism felt at the heart of the Republican Party which has been growing increasingly less diverse and whiter. It is a party that is still reflecting the values of the old South, nursing the wounds of the Civil War, the pride of the beaten Confederacy, and the authority of a supposed superiority of the old slave owners. Backward, backward, backward into a swamp of hate and remorse. Mix in righteous religious anger at the audacity of women legalizing forbidden behaviors and undermining male dominance and you have the toxic brew the Republican Party has been encouraging since Obama took office.

When we see all the white people who the Republican Party have turned into “pod” people, mindlessly repeating Republican talking points, the bible according to FOX News, enjoying themselves at a Trump rally where they can exercise their hate and dismay without the pesky interference of other points of view, it either frightens us or delights us depending on where we stand, which side of the divide. But what we really see is that the divide is real, however it was created, no matter how much it was hyped up by Conservatives. Up until Chicago the opposition, the liberals, the young people, the Black Lives Matter movement was carefully kept out of Donald Trump’s rallies. But in Chicago they organized because they had advanced notice. It is an urban area bursting with diversity and not a small Evangelical college. And there it was, staring us in the face, actually rather politely, the chasm yawning all around us between what is apparently two Americas.

If Donald Trump becomes our President and if he encourages conflict, eggs on his supporters as he has in his rallies will America see our differences boil to the surface? Perhaps papering over our animosities, constantly trying to shove them back into the crevasse is just making them stronger. Maybe we are determined to duke out our differences in the streets. I do not really think this will make us feel any better, or bring us any closer, or heal the divide. After people beat each other up there is guilt and regret and depression and wound licking not building alliances that cure and build up our nation.

We are screwed if we pick Donald Trump as our president and we are screwed if we pick Ted Cruz. Both are too mean, too narrow-minded, too authoritarian, too self-absorbed to stitch the two Americas back together into one people dedicated to making Democracy work. Neither of these men will ever be able to encourage an America that truly presents a united front to the world, an America that lives out, as well as flawed humans can, our ideals, as opposed to our fears.

(I found both cartoons in today’s Post Standard.)

By Nancy Brisson

Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea – Book

Mrs. Engels

Frederick Engels, as in coauthor of The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, as in the thinker who provided the ideology of, political strategies and impetus for the Russian Revolution and several other minor upheavals across Europe, was the husband of the Mrs. Engels who is the title character in this book. Frederick Engels came from a solidly Capitalist (burgher) family in Germany. His family’s business manufactured sewing thread in Germany and in Manchester, England.

Engels did not want to work in the family business but in spite of his anti-Capitalist beliefs he ran the family’s mill in Manchester for most of his adult life and provided the money he and Karl Marx needed to enable them to write about the plight of workers in the 1800’s. There is certainly irony here and a purist would have been at constant war with himself but Engels was apparently more pragmatic and felt that the ends would justify the means it took to get to a society where workers were valued.

History tells us that a young Frederick Engels met Mary Burns, a worker at his mill, when he was 24. Mary fell in love and agreed to live with Engels. They never married. Neither believed that marriage needed the approval of government, society, or the church. Mary had a sister, Lydia (Lizzie) Burns. These things are facts. Little detail is known about these women. History also tells us that Mary Burns’ heart gave out in 1863 – 19 years into her relationship with Engels (although he was not in England for all of those years). There are also historical facts to support that after Mary died, Engels and Lizzie Burns lived together for 15 years. In 1878, as Lizzie was dying, Frederick Engels married her.

Gavin McCrea in his novel, Mrs. Engels, invents the details of the daily lives of these two working women who kept house for Engels and shared his younger years, and he tells their lives to us through the voice of Lizzie (Lydia) Burns. Neither Mary nor Lizzie were known to be interested in housekeeping and yet they both kept house for Engels, although Lizzie and Frederick had two servants when they lived in London. The sisters were Irish and Lizzie could not read or write, but both women were somewhat familiar with the idea of revolution and were friends with some of the men planning and conducting the Irish Revolution, the Fenians.

The author does well at capturing Lizzie’s voice and representing her very believable, although unverifiable, activities. However, since Lizzie’s real focus is Engels the author also tells us about Frederick Engels, but through Lizzie’s eyes. There is not a great love here – no passionate romance – just two people who have become companions and who live well together. The author imagines for Lizzie and Frederick and even Mary exactly the kind of life one might imagine for a Father of Communism, but perhaps a bit more upper middle class. There is no evidence that Frederick cohabited with another woman after Lizzie’s death.

Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea, although showing a life that seems quite mundane, seems an entirely plausible account, and gives insight into these two famous men who worked so very hard to get laborers to overturn the social and political order of the times with results that eventually changed the world into the one we still are dealing with in the 21st century. Odd that from something so prosaic came something so transformative. These men gave us a revolution that did not end the inequalities they sought to overcome, but instead left us with an unappetizing political system that affects many people around the globe in powerful ways.

By Nancy Brisson

Solve Poverty, Solve America


Poverty is America’s biggest problem right now. If the middle class feels poor, then those living in poverty feel even poorer. We don’t really have an education problem. We have a poverty problem. We don’t really have an infrastructure problem. We have a poverty problem. We don’t have a housing problem. We don’t have a crime problem, we have an opportunity gap, which is a poverty problem. Every problem America has right now could be solved if there was more money and if the problems were approached by creative, caring grassroots people.

In this sense Bernie Sanders is right. Money no longer flows through our economy. The wealthy people at the top of the economy are hoarding all the money. If the world were a great big glass chamber with money blowing around to be caught and pocketed, most of us are not even in the chamber. We do need to change our tax laws and finance laws and close loopholes until the rush of money to the top 1% slows and more of America’s money circulates through the middle class and lifts up the poorest Americans.

Since the wealthiest Americans show little inclination to make money flow more equally through our society the problems being created by poverty are increasingly making themselves felt by all of us who live anywhere in America. This cannot be perceived as a problems of just our inner cities. We cannot just absent ourselves from our downtown areas until our cities become off limits to all but the most desperate. What happens in one sector of our society eventually affects all of our society.

The Brookings Institute has been looking at our cities in some detail recently. They have concluded what we already knew about stubborn pockets of poverty and who lives in those blighted pockets. Now Brookings is going beyond city centers to look at metro areas around cities and what they are finding should not lead us to feel complacent in our distant suburbs. Our cities may have felt the sting of tight money first, but the pinch is spreading outward and will continue to spread into more affluent middle class neighborhoods if we do not face our challenges now.

Below, in the author’s words, is a summary of the key points of the Brookings Institute study on metro areas around cities. You can read the entire article and see the graphs (which are too large to reproduce here) at

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.

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

The nation’s 100 largest metro areas are home to 70 percent of all distressed census tracts, along with similar proportions of the total population and poor residents living in such neighborhoods. That’s not surprising, considering that, historically, concentrated poverty has been a largely urban phenomenon. However, larger shifts in the geography of poverty within these metro areas during the 2000s have also made concentrated poverty an increasingly regional challenge.

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

The concentrated poverty rate remains highest in big cities, where almost one in four poor residents (23 percent) lived in a distressed neighborhood in 2008-2012, compared to 6.3 percent in suburbs. However, suburban communities experienced the fastest pace of growth in the number of poor residents living in concentrated poverty over this time period.

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

Almost every major metro area saw the number of suburban poor living in high-poverty or distressed neighborhoods grow during the 2000s.

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

Our inner city schools will not magically start performing great educational feats if they are not given some really substantial help. We need to pour all the resources we can spare, and even resources we don’t think we can spare, and all the best educational practices into these schools so we can move these children (and their families) up and out of poverty.

We cannot just turn our backs on this struggle for the minds and hearts of inner city children. If we do it will come back to haunt us. It has already chased us off of what used to be some pretty valuable real estate. It has taken whole neighborhoods and turned them into places in our own cities that we will no longer travel to or through. These children are people, and their lives are being wasted. No matter how poor the middle class is feeling if the richest among us will not help, then we must forgo some of our own comforts for a while and tackle this blight which we have allowed to persist for too long. We are not doing enough for these schools and these children. We need to start with this – priority number one.

Along with our schools, our low performing schools, we need to contribute extra dollars from our own pockets, dollars that stay local and can be used when crumbling infrastructure needs attention. Flint, Michigan has, I hope, taught us some valuable lessons. Old water conduits and old sewers are under all the cities in America and can require attention at any time. We need a citizen’s emergency fund that is not available to local governments for any other need than a pressing infrastructure need.

We cannot wait for rich folks to stop being greedy. We cannot wall off or write off the poorest neighborhoods and forget about them. If we do, America will rot from the inside out.

By Nancy Brisson