Categories
Review

Book Review: The Hidden History Of The Supreme Court

Thom Hartmann Photo Credit – Thom Hartmann Website

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America by Thom Hartmann is a quick but important read for people who want to review the history of the Supreme Court.

At 168 pages, the book takes readers through the founders’ vision of the courts, the Powell Memo, the growing influence of fossil fuels companies on the court, judicial review, and the constitution’s preference for property rights over human rights. Hartmann also covers the court’s involvement in key American movements and issues, including labor, abolition, racism, abortion, environmentalism, and the rise of the TEA Party. The final section of the book offers solutions to “save the planet, democratize, and modernize the Supreme Court. It’s a page turner.

“But isn’t Hartmann preaching to the choir?” engaged readers might ask.

What’s important about this book is it exists at all.

Blog for Iowa, and others like it in Iowa and around the country, rose up in the years after the 2004 general election offering an alternative voice to right wing talk radio, evangelical Christianity, and a media landscape where the Fairness Doctrine no longer applied and cable news companies gained hegemony with partisan, conservative messages 24/7. In addition to progressive national and state-based blogs, radio and television personalities competed to gain a progressive audience. Thom Hartmann is one who survived and thrived. He is currently the number one progressive talk show host in the United States according to the about the author section of the book.

The purpose served by The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is presenting a narrative of the key elements of the Supreme Court’s history to a progressive audience.

So often ideas about the Supreme Court are formed by snippets of information in various media about specific decisions, the judicial nominating process, and groups like the Federalist Society which lobby the government for appointment of certain types of judges. Increasingly social media is a key driver for informing our opinions, yet it presents an incomplete picture. It is not enough. What has been lacking is a more comprehensive look at the supreme court told in language that is easy to understand. Hartmann delivers that and more.

Here’s a clip of Thom Hartmann reading from his book. The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is available from the publisher and most places where books are sold.

~ First published at Blog for Iowa

Categories
Review Social Commentary Writing

Parade and Fragments

Sprayer in the Solon Beef Days Parade

A summer parade in Iowa is a chance to showcase lives for the entire community.

Farmers, restaurateurs, insurance agents, bankers, retailers, construction companies, government organizations and more cleanup their equipment and parade it through town handing out treats and small gifts along the route.

People line the street to watch, sitting on lawn chairs, standing under shade trees and chatting with friends on the sidewalk. It’s mostly for children yet adults get involved as well. Anyone can stand almost anything that marches by in the span of a couple of minutes.

Solon Beef Days Parade Watchers

I.

In 2013 our situation got dire. I had run out of money and held no job that paid enough. Not wanting to return to transportation, I took one low wage job after another to earn enough to get by. Most of the work involved standing on concrete floors, which precipitated a case of plantar fasciitis. Not only did my feet hurt, on a physician’s advice I gave up jogging after 37 years because of it. While the condition is resolved, it persisted until I left full-time work in 2018.

Expenses got delayed during this period, as did preventive health care. It wasn’t clear how tight money had been until I began taking Social Security benefits which brought relief.

II.

An Early Thanksgiving

The story begins with the proximity of relatives. Our maternal grandmother and grandfather made visits to our home. I never knew my paternal grandparents except in stories and photographs. As much as anything, my grandparent story is about my relationship with Grandmother from my earliest memories until she died Feb. 7, 1991.

We were lucky to have her with us for so long.

Grandmother had five children and 15 grandchildren. She spent more time with our family because of our proximity. She lived with us off and on during my early years, but eventually maintained her own apartment. In later life she lived at the Lend-A-Hand, a residence for women at the time, then moved to the Mississippi Hotel where she lived the last years of her life in an apartment until moving to the Kahl Home for a brief period. Grandmother had many sisters and a brother. We had a lot of relatives, or so it seemed.

III.

I read The Overstory by Richard Powers. It engaged in a way most fiction fails to do. The author must have spent an enormous amount of time researching trees, forests, and the culture around them. He wove them into a spellbinding narrative. I could go on gushing about the book, but just pick it up and read it. If you do, and are interested in the environment, I doubt there will be any regrets.

Categories
Garden Local Food Review

Rainy Days and Smarshing it Up

Tray of spinach and lettuce seedlings ready to plant in the ground.

Early planting is done… then it rained.

The ground has been too wet for planting so Friday became a day for weeding and staking the sugar snap peas.

I moved seedlings from the garage to the dining room to protect them from wind and rain while I worked my usual shifts at the home, farm and auto supply store. They are back outside waiting for the ground to dry. There is a lot of gardening to do over the next four weeks.

While the grass dried I drove across Mehaffey Bridge to the BioVentures Center in the University of Iowa Research Park. A friend arranged an impromptu round table discussion of affordable housing centered around Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s trip to Iowa to support his wife Connie Schultz. Schultz interviewed author Sarah Smarsh at an Iowa City Public Library fund raiser in the county seat that evening.

The round table consisted of community leaders introducing themselves and discussing issues raised by the recent purchase of a mobile home park by a group of out of state investors. The new owners plan substantial rent increases which current residents can ill afford. My role was to listen and learn.

Sarah Smarsh is author of the memoir Heartland: Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth. My brief review after reading it last year is as follows:

I was skeptical at first about the reach of this book about rural poverty, hard work, and economic injustice. Yet, I was drawn in to a world I knew existed but hadn’t been articulated in such words. Smarsh’s story resonates with how I was raised, and with much of what I see in rural Iowa today. It was a marvelous read.

Several of my farm friends attended the event. We gathered under the marquee of the Englert Theatre for a photograph. Those who read Heartland felt as I did, that it articulated something about modern life in the Midwest that had been missing. We also concurred that Smarsh had drawn a clear line between what she presented in the book and her personal life which was not up for public conversation. After discussing the book we told jokes and laughed (a lot) in the marquee light before finding our ways home.

Some political friends attended the fund raiser, including my state senator Zach Wahls and his biggest fan, Chloe Angyal. I complained to Wahls I couldn’t remove his bumper sticker from my aging Outback. “American made, baby,” he responded.

I met Angyal who is a contributing editor to MarieClaire.com. We discussed her arrival in the Hawkeye state where she is writing a series of dispatches (here and here) related to the first in the nation Iowa caucuses and the unprecedented number of women running for president. Originally from Australia, she relocated to Iowa from Manhattan. After surviving the polar vortex and one of our coldest winters in years, she said she likes it in Iowa.

I didn’t get the lawn mowed, which means another morning of waiting for grass to dry, followed by the long process of bagging it up then mulching the kale. The forecast is sunny and clear. Hopefully the rest of the apple blooms will open, followed by pollination. Fingers crossed. I’m ready for a solid day’s work in the garden after Friday night smarshing it up in the county seat.

Categories
Review

Tallgrass Conversations – Book Review

“Prairie is among the most altered and threatened ecosystems in the world,” Thomas Dean of Iowa City wrote in a new book he co-authored with Cindy Crosby of Glen Ellyn, Ill. “Care of the world is always essential, and care arises from conversation.”

Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit was released April 22 by Ice Cube Press. It is a compilation of Crosby and Dean’s recent writing and photographs of tallgrass prairie in the Midwest. Organized in a series of 26 conversations, the book touches on many of the current issues pertaining to preservation and restoration of tallgrass prairie.

Prairie used to cover more than 85 percent of Iowa land, according to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Today less than one tenth of a percent of original tallgrass prairie remains in the state.

“Remnant prairie functions in a way we can’t replicate through planting prairie,” Crosby wrote. “We can educate ourselves about what we are losing. We can care for what remains. We can continue to plant prairie, then research, paint, write about and ensure tallgrass prairie is a part of future conversations about development, agriculture, and conservation.”

If one participates in the experience of tallgrass prairie as Dean and Crosby encourage us to do, it is decidedly cultural. They provide a window into current tallgrass ecosystems and their modern discovery and management. The authors want more writers and artists, poets and photographers to document what’s left of tallgrass prairie and enter into a conversation about what it means and what can be learned. They want to be partners in that conversation and the book serves as an example of how to begin.

“We hope you’ll enjoy seeing the various ways we invite you to think about some of these words and images that showcase the prairie spirit,” Crosby wrote.

To learn more about Cindy Crosby’s work, visit her website, Tuesdays in the Tallgrass: Exploring exterior and interior landscapes through the tallgrass prairie at https://tuesdaysinthetallgrass.wordpress.com.
Thomas Dean is senior presidential writer/editor at the University of Iowa, where he also teaches interdisciplinary courses.

~ First published in Issue 262 of Little Village

Categories
Politics

Torches for Mayor Pete

Trail by the Lake

After reading Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future I’m not sure South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg should be the 46th U.S. president. I learned something different from his book.

My cohort, the baby boomer generation, should let go the reins of power, stop clutching our torches of freedom and snub them out.

As next generations take up leadership in our country — something that’s already going on, like it or not — we may fear younger citizens will become excessively tattooed vaping addicts. It’s not about us and that’s the hardest part of letting go.

The famous American torch speech was made Jan. 20, 1961 by John F. Kennedy.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Mayor Pete is no Kennedy, even as he was a summer intern for Senator Ted Kennedy in Washington, D.C. while attending Harvard. If there is a torch, or a race at all, the relay broke down and the transition became anything but smooth or noble. America today seems less committed to the vision JFK elegantly espoused in his inaugural address. We are getting to the point in our history where young people don’t remember the politics of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Buttigieg’s book is well written, the narrative easily understandable. Shortest Way Home is a story to which almost anyone can relate. While reading I thought of Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. I wrote about Obama’s book,

What surprised me was the clarity with which Obama depicted a life on the South Side of Chicago and how it influenced her both while coming up and once she had means to be on her own. The first two sections of the book are by far the strongest. That’s partly because as First Lady events in the third part got plenty of previous play in the media creating a background noise that interfered somewhat with her meticulous and thoughtful narrative.

What makes Buttigieg’s book different is Iowans saw little public history of his work in South Bend, even those of us who spent time there before he came up. Unlike Michelle Obama, about whom we know a lot from her time as First Lady, what you see is what you get with Pete Buttigieg. I don’t doubt the veracity of the facts in his memoir. What worries me about picking him as our next president is there is nothing else there.

There are few things Americans can come together to support any more. We are increasingly on our own as regions, as communities, and as individuals, concerned with making our way as best we can. All the inter-generational torch-passing seems so 1960s.

My advice about Shortest Way Home is read it. Not because Buttigieg should be president but because he illuminates the example of South Bend and what’s possible in creating a more sustainable life in urban centers. If we are to build a new vision of what life here could be, stories of places like South Bend represent something positive. At the same time Buttigieg holds up a torch in his memoir, it is not bright enough to lead us out of the darkness of the post-Obama era by itself.

Categories
Review

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming

Becoming by Michelle Obama
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What surprised me was the clarity with which Obama depicted a life on the South Side of Chicago and how it influenced her both while coming up and once she had means to be on her own. The first two sections of the book are by far the strongest. That’s partly because as First Lady events in the third part had plenty of previous play in the media creating a background noise that interfered somewhat with her meticulous and thoughtful narrative.

She crafted a story almost anyone could relate to. Highly recommend you check this book out from the library and give it a read. Better yet, have your children read it, or read it with a group of friends.

Categories
Review

An Uncivil War by Greg Sargent

An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome PoliticsAn Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics by Greg Sargent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written before the 2018 Midterms and Bret Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, Greg Sargent provides an outline of key issues to help Democrats as we prepare for the 2020 general election. He covers voter suppression, gerrymandering, the role of disinformation in our current politics, and refreshes our memory of the hardball constitutional politics played by Republican leadership in recent years. He frames up what Democrats can do about our politics that favors democracy and fair play in governance.

In a couple hundred pages Sargent brings together national issues that resonate on a local level. If a person were to read a single book about national politics, An Uncivil War should be the one.

~ Review first appeared on Goodreads

Categories
Farming Review

Summer Begins

First Marketmore Cucumber

A letter from our rural medical clinic reached me early this morning. I read every word it had to say.

I said, the letter reached me early this morning, I read every word it had to say.

Rural life ain’t nothing but the blues, how much longer can we live this way?

The physician I saw in April is moving his practice to Williamsburg — too far to drive for routine appointments. His replacement is an ARNP, which stands for advanced registered nurse practitioner. I read the definition but don’t understand what it means except we’re changing from two physicians to one… another nail in the coffin of rural health care.

We’re lucky to live close to the clinic’s hospital, and a large teaching hospital operates in the county seat. We won’t be deprived of care. I don’t look forward to changing physicians for the fourth time since leaving my transportation career.

I’ll try the new arrangement. What else is there to do?

This is the last weekend for soil blocking at the two CSA farms. After that, the farmers will make their own for the remaining fall share starts. I’m taking a break before returning to the orchard in August.

I finished reading The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks before heading to the garden.

The shepherd went to Oxford, so it’s natural he would do something outside the normal range for a sheep herder. He’s been traveling and speaking to groups of farmers about his life in the Lake District of England. Last January in Ames, he spoke to members of Practical Farmers of Iowa at their annual convention. They made a YouTube of his speech. I haven’t viewed it yet.

What struck me about the book is the comparison with Iowa. Not necessarily what one might think.

On the one hand a well-settled place of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Beatrix Potter and the Lake Poets. In front of us a landscape barely settled since the Black Hawk War of 1832. Any sense of ancient Iowa prairie is long gone and replaced with a grid of roads outlining row cropped fields and concentrated animal feeding operations. The long history of sheep herding in the Lake District served as a reminder most Iowa farmers are recent trespassers as agriculture and land use continue to evolve. There won’t always be soy and corn in what was once an ancient lake bed.

Rebanks informed my view of the annual cycle of sheep farmers. Now I know why some of my friends are so stressed during spring lambing. I’m sorry I missed the speech, and when spring farm work is done, I plan to spend the hour to watch it.

For the time being back to working on the garden to chase away these summertime blues.

Categories
Home Life Review

Waning Lilacs

Fallen Lilac Flowers

Flowers began to fall from lilac bushes. Air is fragrant with sweet smell.

It won’t last long. It is spring, which continues as it has for millennia, reminding us we are but a speck of dust in time by comparison.

It’s the last day before the end of my hiatus from the home, farm and auto supply store.

Two days a week isn’t much to work. When quitting time on the second day rolls around I feel I accomplished something but am not committed. That’s what I want.

I’m reading Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Part of me likes it and part doesn’t. What I like is it was checked out from our digital library during recent rainfall and I’m reading it on my mobile device. It’s an easy read, a thriller. The story moves along and while I’m reading it’s easy to finish a chapter. What I don’t like is the obvious handles which are part of the narrative. Characters, settings, the former music store, iconography of popular culture — it all seems too easy a construct and such awareness while reading is a distraction. There are thousands of on line reviews of the book, so it’s easy to find people who agree with me. Many others liked the book. Because of the convenience and quick pace I’ll read on for now. If I don’t finish before the lending period is over, I’m not sure I will renew. Life’s long enough to try it, but too short to follow the novel to its conclusion through sheer determination.

Rain fell and it’s been good. Green up is here and the clean look of leaves and branches before insects get to work is inspiring. Time to weed the garden and harvest spinach and spring onions.

Categories
Review

Heads in the Sand by Matthew Yglesias

Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats by Matthew Yglesias
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yglesias’ book was a timely read in the context of the Trump administration’s forays into foreign policy, notably the April 13, 2018 bombing of Syrian chemical weapons capacity. Written before the Obama presidency, the lines of thought and policy started during the George W. Bush administration continue to the present. There is little evidence liberals received the author’s message or have done much to support a sustainable, bold foreign policiy. Rather they often co-opt neocon positions.