Saturday, September 24, 2016

book review # 11 The Party Is Over by Mike Lofgren

THE PARTY IS OVER, by Mike Lofgren Penguin Books, 2013
subtitled “How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted”

Mr. Lofgren's background includes twelve years on the staff of [then] Congressman John Kasich (R, Ohio) followed by sixteen years as a senior analyst for the Senate Budget Committee under Senator Judd Gregg (R, New Hampshire).

He includes in the Republican Party both the formal political organization and its extensions into talk radio, Fox News, the Tea Party, and direct-mail fund raising. He also includes, in the background of both Republican and Democratic parties the very rich, whose self-interest has secured a financial environment they hope to prolong.
His introduction traces the take-over of the party by pressure groups masquerading as tax-exempt 'educational' non-profit organizations. Lofgren writes, “I was in the privileged position to see how Congress works on the inside, when the C-SPAN cameras are turned off. What I saw was . . . an auction where political services were won by the highest bidder. . . . My own party, the Republican Party, began to scare me.”

Mr. Lofgren approaches his subject from the standpoint of tactics, instead of individuals. The Koch brothers, the Mellons, and other multi-billionaires are there in the background, but his emphasis is on the effects rather than the doers themselves. His chapter headings and and their subtitles tell his story. The quote marks after each of his twelve chapter headings below indicate his subtitles:
Chapter 1: The Party of Lincoln, the Party of Jefferson “What is the Republican Party like? What are the Democrats like? Why is there so little difference between them? And how did they get this way?”
Ch 2: Tactics: War Minus the Shooting “The Republican Party has used objection, obstruction, and filibustering not only to block the necessary processes of government but also in order to make ordinary Americans deeply cynical about Washington.”
Ch 3: All Wrapped Up in the Constitution “Like biblical literalists, Republicans assert that the Constitution is divinely inspired and inerrant. But also like biblical literalists, they are strangely selective about those portions of their favorite document that they care to heed, and they favor rewriting it when it stands in the way of their political agenda.”
Ch 4: A Devil's Dictionary “How Republicans have mastered the art of communicating with ordinary people in their own vernacular, while Democrats remain tone-deaf and tongue-tied.”
Ch 5: Taxes and the Rich “The GOP [the traditional Republican Party nickname] cares, over and above every other item on its political agenda, about the rich contributors who keep them in office. This is why tax increases on the wealthy have become an absolute Republican taboo. Caught between their own rich contributors and their voters, Democrats are conflicted and compromised.”
Ch 6: Worshiping at the Altar of Mars “There is no getting around the fact that the GOP loves war more than it supposedly hates deficits. But Democrats are furiously playing catch-up.” “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. . . . It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” [This last quote Mr. Lofgren attributes to U.S. Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, who was twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.]
Ch 7: Media Complicity “Despite the widely believed myth of its liberalism, over the last thirty years the media landscape has become increasingly wired to favor Republicans. The press's current combination of fake objectivity and campaign fetishization has been carefully exploited by Republican strategists for political advantage.”
Ch 8: Give Me That Old-Time Religion “The religious right provides the foot soldiers for the GOP. This fact has profound implications for the rest of the Republicans' ideological agenda. . . wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war.”
Ch 9: No Eggheads Wanted “Consistent both with its strong base of support among fundamentalists and with its authoritarian belief structure, the GOP is increasingly anti-intellectual and anti-science.”
Ch 10: A Low dishonest Decade “America's political crisis has been brewing for over thirty years. But in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the sickness threatened to become terminal.”
Ch 11: Are the Democrats any better? “As Republicans have grown ideologically more rigid, Democrats have almost entirely ceased to have any core beliefs at all—and their grab for corporate money is as egregious as that of the GOP.”
Ch 12: A Way Out? “What changes are necessary to right the ship of state?”

Mr. Lofgren answers his own question by admitting it will take many changes, but suggests we start with repairing the election process: ban any and all private money involved, substituting a much smaller public allowance equally to each candidate for a limited campaigning season, ( like Britain and Australia, each of which allows less than two months.) He adds that, like most other major democracies we should have our election district boundaries drawn by non-partisan commissions, to minimize gerrymandering.

I have mostly refrained from my own comments up to this point. Published in 2012, “The Party Is Over” performs well in outlining major points in the behavior of the Republican and Democrat parties. If the reader wants more detail on the individuals behind the conflict, I recommend reading Jane Mayer's “Dark Money”, published in March of 2016. It features, inside its hardback covers, a remarkable diagram of the network of “non-profit” (and tax-exempt) organizations, and their spending.

My own experience in politics is limited to watching CNN and Fox News on TV and Mr. Trump's dismaying disregard for truth and consistency. I can witness to one far right organization, The Heritage Foundation, whose leader, ex-senator Jim DeMint, keeps telling me that I want to join the “Tea Party”. No, I do not.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Out of the Silent Planet: book review #10

C.S. Lewis, a professor of English literature at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, is better known as author of The Chronicles of Narnia, and of science-fiction. This present review is of the first novel in his space trilogy.

A British physicist, Dr. Weston, has developed a spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel, and has recently returned from his first journey to Mars. He has brought back gold, and believes he can get untold amounts of it if he can provide a human sacrifice for the the Martians he encountered. He and a colleague have now kidnapped a Dr. Ransom, a hiker on vacation in the English Midlands, and taken off on a second trip to Mars. On arrival after a month-long journey, the two hold Ransom at gunpoint as a group of Sorns, ungainly tall inhabitants of this low-gravity planet, approach through the shallow waters of a nearby bay.

The meeting of the two groups, Sorn and Men is interrupted by the torpedo-like attack of some sort of water creature. Ransom breaks free from Weston and flees into what passes as forest on Mars, running as fast as the uneven ground will allow. He is now alone, exhausted, disoriented, without food or defense in a totally unfamiliar environment, in fear of what the forest may contain, not even knowing what is safe to eat or drink.

He loses track of time; perhaps a day or two has passed when about ten yards away at a river's edge, a black creature emerges, furry, short legs, flat tail, rather like a seven-foot tall beaver. It is making sounds like it is talking, but is not yet aware of Ransom. When Ransom rises from where he had been hiding, the creature leaps backward, stops and watches him. The wariness is mutual, but gradually the two approach each other. The creature slaps its chest. “Hross,” it says. “Hross.”

Hross,” repeats Ransom and points at it; then “Man,” he says, slapping his own chest.

Hma—hma—hman,” imitates the hross.

Ransom pantomimes eating. The hross understands, and beckons him to follow it to a small boat hidden among the reeds. It gets into the boat, gets out and points at the boat, an obvious invitation to Ransom, who complies. They travel downstream several miles, finally arriving at a hrossa village,where Ransom is an object of much interest to both the adults and the children. He lives among them for many weeks, learning the customs, the language, the agriculture. He learns that there are three intelligent species on the planet, all living in the deep valleys; the planet's surface highlands lack warmth and air enough to support life.

Ransom's peaceful life changes the day several villages join in a hnakra hunt—the hnakra being the aquatic predator Ransom saw on his first day on Mars, an armored creature vulnerable only through its open mouth. Spear-armed hrossa in a hundred boats are deployed over the water, each hoping to win the prize. Ransom's friend and mentor, Hyoi, sharing his boat with Ransom, suddenly says, “There is an eldil coming to us over the water.” Ransom can see nothing, but he hears a voice coming out of the air just above him:

The Man with you, Hyoi. He ought not to be there. Bent men are following him; he should go to Oyarsa. If they find him anywhere else, there will be evil.”

Ransom, excited with the hunt, thinks there will be time for going somewhere after the hunt, and indeed it is he and Hyoi who kill the hnakra. While everyone is celebrating, a rifle shot is heard, and Hyoi falls, mortally wounded.

Other hrossa advise Ransom that when Oyarsa summons, one must respond immediately. The way to Meldilorn, the planet's capital, would take five days, going by the valley, but there is a shortcut, they instruct him. It follows a trail over the mountains, where the sorn who live in caves will guide him. Start immediately!

Stricken with guilt over his friend's death, and with fear for his own life knowing that Weston is in close pursuit, Ransom obeys their instructions. He follows the base of the mountain, alone and expecting another bullet at any moment. He finds the beginning of the shortcut and begins his ascent. All his old fears from his arrival on the planet assail him, but he steels his resolve to reach Medilorn on the other side of the heights. The air is much thinner and colder; dark is coming on. Exhausted, he sees a single light in the darkness farther on. Does it mean shelter, or is it an outpost of the Sorns to whom Weston wants to sell him?