Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Strangers in Their Own Land

The author, Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist from Berkeley, California, has attempted to understand the Tea Party movement by going to rural Louisiana. Over a five-year period she got to know the people of this region; attended political events, including Donald Trump rallies; and became friends with many hard-working men and women, all of whom live in an area that has been severely environmentally damaged by the oil industry. The result of her research is her 242 page book, Strangers in Their Own Land.

Hochschild attempted to solve a paradox: why do citizens who live in this area allow drastic cuts in public funding to the extent that Louisiana has fallen to the bottom of  the states in overall health, education, and welfare, particularly during the 8 years when Governor Bobby Jindal was governor, yet  have no objection to giving businesses over $1.6 billion in tax breaks? Hochschild developed a “deep story” that is an image of the way Tea Party people feel about their place in the political and cultural world today. Why are they so angry, and so upset with the federal government? They see themselves in a long line waiting to reach the American dream at the top of a hill.  They are patient, hard-working, devoted to family, church and community, but over the years they see the line becoming slower, and they are convinced the federal government is letting people “cut in line.” They see African Americans, females, the disabled, Mexicans, gays and now even Syrian refugees, being allowed to cut in front of them and get ahead of them. Mild discontent has grown to anger. 

Tea Party activists “feel” as though they are being left behind and isolated, yet believe they have better morals and a better work ethic than those getting in front of them. They have lost empathy for the poor and disabled, and reject the notion that big government has the correct solution for economic and environmental problems, notwithstanding that because of lack of regulations Louisiana has become an environmental disaster (you cannot drink river water; local fish cannot be eaten; cypress trees are dying; and toxic waste is being stored below the surface, with adverse effects). These people are genuine and care about their communities, but the feelings they have about being abandoned by the federal government and disrespected by the media and northern elites, has made them callous to those who do not work and who do not contribute to society. As one person stated, “ I think if people refuse to work, we should let them starve.” 

We need to appreciate the bitterness and sense of loss of  Tea Party activists, and we need to try to bridge the gap in understanding. It is clear from this book, however, that unless both sides make a good faith effort to communicate, there will be no early reconciliation.  This book should be mandatory reading for all those who are clueless as to the makeup of a Tea Party voter.

Book Review on “Detroit – An American Autopsy”

Charlie LeDuff’s raw and hard hitting book, “Detroit – An American Autopsy”  (287 pages) describes the underbelly of a city that was once powerful and wealthy, but now battles Baltimore for the highest murder rate of any American city and  has over 200 unclaimed bodies in the city morgue. It has areas that are vast wastelands of empty factories  and burned out houses. Firefighters, police officers and EMTs have broken down equipment, and parents have been asked to send their kids to school with toilet paper because of inadequate funding. City coffers have been looted by corrupt politicians and gangs have intimidated witnesses who can identify murderers. Hopelessness and crime go hand in hand. 

The automobile companies had gotten lazy and the good times slipped away quickly when the crash hit. When Obama sent in a team to review the financial affairs of the industry they were shocked by what they found. After looking at General Motors , for example, the team “encountered …..perhaps the weakest financial operation any of us had ever seen in a major corporation.” The end result is the dismissal of the poorest among those left behind, who are trapped and can’t get out because they have no ability to do so. Since 2000 over a quarter of a million people have left, leaving the population at  only 700,000. LeDuff was a reporter for the Detroit News and reported what he saw and  even helped  uncover corruption. At times it seemed he was the only one who cared. The unspoken message is that if this situation can develop in Detroit, it can happen anywhere.

If Detroit is to be turned around, corruption has to be stopped in its tracks and elected officials have to be held accountable. A sense of morality, fairness and human dignity need to be restored.  LeDuff summed it all up when he said, “If we are going to fix it, we are going to have to stand up and say ‘enough’ and then get on with the difficult work of cleaning it up.” This book is an eye–opener for those who live in the bubble and don’t have any idea what has happened, or what can happen,  to America.

Could Hitler Have Been Stopped?

Erik Larson’s bestseller, In the Garden of Beasts, begins in June of 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt appoints William E. Dodd, a 64-year-old history professor at the University of Chicago, to become ambassador to Germany. Dodd’s political and diplomatic skills are minimal, but he accurately reports back to the state department what is happening and he is routinely ignored. Dodd had no delusions about Hitler but did hope to find some decent people around him. Instead, he discovered that the whole gang was nothing but “a horde of criminals and cowards.”

Although war did not break out until Germany invaded Poland in 1939, between 1933-1939 there were numerous opportunities to stop Hitler. In October of 1933 he announced that Germany would pull out of the League of Nations and effectively nullify the Treaty of Versailles, which had ended World War I. That meant that Germany would rearm. France, Poland and Czechoslovakia could easily have overwhelmed the small German army at that time, but failed to take action. As priests and others who disagreed were hauled off to concentration camps, no outcry came from those with influence. When internal bickering in the Nazi Party led to assassinations, fear and tension within Germany, President Hindenburg threatened to take over the government through martial law, but he failed to follow through and allowed Hitler to proceed. Hitler knew he could have been stopped along the way, and was gleeful at the weakness of his adversaries, both foreign and domestic.

Tragic consequences resulted from the failure to stand up against those who created laws to discriminate against Jews, homosexuals and the mentally ill, as well as political adversaries. In Germany, when some people eventually wanted to stand up and object, it was too late. In the United States, there is no fear of a concentration camp or imprisonment if we object against discrimination and unbalanced legislation, yet we fail to act. What is stopping us?

Could more effective workers' compensation law have kept Mickey Mantle's dad alive?

Mickey Mantle's father never lived to see his son's incredible career in baseball.

In The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy, the author goes into great detail about Mickey’s father, Mutt Mantle, who worked in a lead mine in Commerce, Oklahoma in the 1930s and 40s. Silicosis (a fibrosis of the lung caused by rock dust) was the feared disease of this type of employment. If an x-ray came back positive the employee was fired the same day and could never be hired by another mine.

“When they get sick and can’t work, we throw them in the dump heap.”

An agent for the employer was quoted as saying, “When they get sick and can’t work, we throw them in the dump heap.”

Mutt refused to go to a doctor until it was too late. He died at the age of 40 in 1952, just one year after his son became a Major League player.

Mantle’s father never lived to see his tremendous success as one of the best baseball players of all time.

The mine was closed in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed this job site as the most toxic waste site Continue reading

The 1911 Triangle Waist Co. – What’s changed since then?

Have conditions really improved for workers since the deadly 1911 Triangle Waist Co. fire?

One hundred and forty six garment workers died on March 26, 1911 in a fire that was New York’s deadliest workplace disaster until the attack on the World Trade Center 100 years later. Fire doors were locked. Trapped workers either jumped to their deaths from the 9th and 10th floors, or were consumed by the flames of the Asch Building (renamed the Brown Building and now owned by New York University) at Washington Place and Greene St. near Greenwich Village. Over 20,000 people walked in the funeral procession to honor those workers who lost their lives, many of them young immigrant women who barely spoke English.

Over the last 100 years, although workplace safety regulations were created to prevent such disasters, they still occur. 

In the book Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. (Grove Press, 2003) by David Von Drehle, the horrific workplace conditions of 1911 were described on page 3:

…the 146 deaths at the Triangle Waist Company were sensational, but they were not unusual. Death was an almost routine workplace hazard in those days. By one estimate, one hundred or more Americans died on the job every day in the booming industrial years around 1911. Mines collapsed on them, ships sank under them, pots of molten steel spilled over their heads, locomotives smashed into them, exposed machinery grabbed them by the arm or leg or hair and pulled them in… workplace safety was scarcely regulated, and workers’ compensation was considered newfangled or even socialist.

Over the last 100 years, although workplace safety regulations were created to prevent such disasters, they still occur. Continue reading

Do We Need Another Teddy Roosevelt?

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

On September 14, 1901 at 2:15 a.m.President William McKinley took his last breath and became the second President since Lincoln to die from an assassin’s bullet. To the horror of many New York politicians, Theodore Roosevelt, the former activist governor of New York who had been shuffled into the vice-presidency to keep him from further meddling in New York politics, became President.

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The Illusion of Workers Compensation Reform & Corporate America

The book, Confessions of a Union Buster, gives us insight into the active national agenda of Corporate American to redesign the nation’s workers’ compensation system through a conspiracy employing the use of smoke and mirrors.

Martin Jay Levitt, who performed despicable acts as an employer-sponsored union buster for over 20 years, has written a book detailing his activities. In an effort to cleanse his soul, Levitt has written candidly, admits that it was a “dirty business,” Continue reading