Family Is As Family Does
It’s past time we dumped the limited definition of what a family consists of
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. — Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
I long ago came to the conclusion that the narrow definition of what constitutes a family was a manipulative myth authored by the same people who brought us the middle class to shatter the power of labor unions by convincing “white-collar workers” the really important part of their label was “white-collar” and not “worker”.
The dictionary defines “family” as a group of people related by blood, but throughout most of history, and likely all of prehistory, the “family” was the group of people you lived, loved, worked, and slept with, and whom you joined in the defense of the group and all effort to ensure its survival. When you consider that, it becomes obvious why redefining the concept so it’s limited to a heterosexual couple legally joined in a manner approved by the state and their direct offspring. It was that, in my opinion, that laid the foundation for the unworkable mass of sub-tribes currently being used to keep us fighting each other instead of our enemy.
They know they’re our enemy. Recently, it became clear to even them that an increasing number of people are also growing aware they’re our enemy. Suddenly, both political parties are all about “helping families” and “cherishing family values” when, in fact, everything they do is all but guaranteed to do just the opposite. Credit where it’s due, now they have the populace divided into a hundred little cliques all demanding attention and attacking all the others, finding a way to weaken family solidarity is a natural next step. And might it not be considered that the drive to convince people living with one’s parents is a social faux pas little short of perversion because grownups live all by themselves in apartments or, if possible, their own home? Think about it.
So, the new gimmick is to tsk-tsk and try to guilt-trip people into thinking they’re at fault if they don’t gird up their loins, paste a grin on their face, and head off to spend hours in the company of a “traditional” family where they’re either ignored, criticized, and/or bullied. In the end, this is guaranteed to shatter “family solidarity” beyond repair.
How, you ask, will trying to get along with radical relatives weaken family solidarity? Because getting along with toxic people with whom one shares lifelong emotional ties just isn’t possible. The psychological effort required to deal with toxic people doesn’t lessen just because one shares the same parents. In fact, it’s worse, because not only must one deal with the toxin but with the rest of the family either taking sides or scolding one for not joining in the discussion. Especially if, as is getting more and more common, you’re the outlier in a family that to one degree or another embraces ideas opposite to yours.
And then there’s all that baggage from the past that inevitably gets hauled out of basements, closets, and attics.
Mind, I’m not just talking here about newly-christened leftists sitting down with their MAGA uncle. Radicals come in all shapes, sizes, and politico-religious persuasions; and listening to someone screaming for a socialist uprising is just as poisonous as hearing about how President Trump got robbed.
There’s an old saw that says you can’t pick your relatives but you can pick your friends. My question is: Who decided it was only relatives that qualify as a family? If a family is a group of people who care about one another, are ready to pitch in to help one another, and keep each other safe, what does sharing DNA have to do with it?
There are millions of lonely people of all ages in the US who could use a family, including the ones who can no longer mingle with the one they were born into. Nothing prevents us from finding them and seeing if there are bonds to be made, communities to be created, lonely hearts filled. I don’t mean building a bubble where everyone thinks alike, either, because that’s toxic, too. You’d be surprised how many people you’d maybe dismiss as being unredeemable Trumpists actually share may of the same opinions on things you do. I know this because I run into them on a daily basis—simply by stating the facts of what’s wrong with the system without dragging in politics.
After all, it worked for Trump. It was only after the primaries that he started attacking the Democrats. Up till then he sold himself—literally—as being against both parties. The Democrats, meantime, were busy sneering at the people he was conning. I try to only sneer at pretentious Comfortable Class elitists who explicitly or implicitly show their contempt for anyone they consider “stupid” or “ignorant”. The ones who seriously criticize people working two jobs to feed their kids and keep the roof over their heads for not understanding Marxism or whatever.
The holidays are coming up. If you just can’t bring yourself to sit through a day with people who not only disagree with you but hold your ideas and ideals—and possibly you—in utter contempt, don’t. Drop by with something for the dinner but say you’re having a few people over yourself so you can’t stay. Then have a few people who’ll appreciate having the company over. Make a new family. The bigger, the better.
Beginning in late 2019, as part of collecting news links for an aggregator group I run on MeWe, I followed the progress of a new virus outbreak in China. I read how it went out of control because bureaucrats didn’t report it immediately and initiate standard public health protocols for such an outbreak. I read how, when a general lockdown was instigated, the US and Canadian governments in December demanded all of their citizens in China be released so they could be brought home. I read as our own government pretended they were only aware of how serious the outbreak was at the end of January, and waited another month to begin acting.
Except instead of following long-established and proved protocols, our government initiated the same kind of draconian lockdown that had already by proved ineffective in preventing the spread of the virus in China, then demanded everyone line up to receive “vaccines” that had never been tested for either effectiveness or safety in humans.
In other words, I watched the US government perpetrate exactly the kind of terrorism campaign Mr. Kennedy describes in this book, independent of him or anyone else. I saw people denied early treatment, and wondered how many of them died because of it. And I watched the government funnel billions of dollars into the coffers of the pharmaceutical companies who were given not just permission to use the entire population as test subjects but absolved of any future liability if it turned out their “vaccines” had lethal consequences.
Even now, the truth about the disastrous “COVID policy” that has left people with chronic—and in too many cases potentially deadly—damage, and no recourse (if one continues to listen to the CDC) except to patiently suffer while the same companies that caused the damage “research” to find more drugs to push on the population that likely won’t do a thing to repair said damage.
This book has been suppressed and reviled, including in the comments on this very site, as being anti-vaxxer rubbish. It’s not. It’s a superb compilation of all the data the US government paid the corporate media to suppress, and as the narrative that made Big Pharma richer is falling apart it should be on the reading list of everyone who cares about the general welfare out corporate-owned government is supposed to have been promoting. It didn’t. And now, as the information young children cleared to receive those untried vaccines develop a new non-viral version of hepatitis with every indication it’s a side effect of those medications being buried in the ludicrous canard they’re being infected by their pets.
Read this book. And be angry.
As I write this, the media, both corporate and social, are flooded with outrage over the draconian voting and abortion bills passed into law in Texas, and gleeful Shadenfreude on the party of the Comfortable Class as they sneer at all the ignorant hillbillies taking “horse dewormer” instead of just getting the COVID vaccine.
As a result of the latter, an anti-parasite medication for both animals and humans that has had some success as a treatment in some cases of COVID has not just been narrowly defined as being only for the former but even resulted in calls that its use be banned entirely with regard to COVID. Instead of responsibly reporting the truth—that there have been a small number of positive responses to treatment of advanced COVID with ivermectin but that there is insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion about it either for or against—they have created a deflective circus that once again reinforces the idea that anyone who dares question the demand for universal vaccination is a Trump-voting, science-denying ignoramus.
Why do I say it’s deflective? There are several reasons.
First, we are only just reaching the point where we can state with sufficient backing of evidence that the current vaccines in use show sufficient efficacy in preventing or mitigating the effects of COVID with only small incidences of serious side effects. Anyone who understands how medication trials work, and who has a personal reason for choosing to wait for more evidence before accepting one that was rushed through that phase, can now make an informed decision.
These would be among those who have been declared “science-deniers” by people many of whom still seem to believe the vaccine renders them immune to COVID, even though the actual science clearly shows otherwise.
Second, not one of those howling the “anti-vaxxers” are killing ourselves, our children, and every other living being susceptible to COVID, grasps the observable fact that if people are confused there is a direct line of responsibility leading to both the US government and the corporate media of both flavors, Fox and non-Fox. The former’s efforts to assure people the experts have everything under control when they clearly didn’t would have been enough to convince people who don’t have a college-level grasp of biology nobody knew anything for sure.
Add to that the media’s ongoing barrage of only that information likely to keep people’s stress levels at 11, changing it with every breeze as the next new thing emerged from the science, and making sure the only people being blamed for the mess were either the previous President or the current one, the Republican Party and the “liberals”, and all those “deplorables” Hillary Clinton mentioned, and how is it to be wondered people refuse to believe anything anymore.
The corporate media derives its very existence from playing to the confirmation bias of its target audience, and this has been blatantly clear for the entire course of the pandemic in the US. It ignored the initial outbreak in China for months—I was reading about it in October of 2019—until the US had broken China’s quarantine to bring home people who should have stayed where they were and “suddenly” there were cases here.
I watched as our government claimed it didn’t have a full report on the seriousness of the situation until the end of January, and then waited until March to decide something needed to be done. I watched as the media all but ignored how at least six members of Congress were caught using the information about the virus to benefit their stock portfolios all through February while at the same time politicizing the narrative to maintain their Trump-based revenue stream.
Last month, the FDA approved one of the two major vaccines, and the press were all agog that here, finally, was the “proof” all those vaccine-rejecting fools said they wanted, never mind that by this time that ship had not only sailed but sunk. Absent from their reports, curiously, was the fact that the other major vaccine, released at exactly the same time as the approved one, still awaited FDA imprimatur despite the scientific evidence it was more effective and provided protection longer.
I’m still waiting for that question to be asked, much less answered.
Finally, I see the media regularly inserting timely articles concerning the economy, and how it will suffer unless everyone gets back to work. That these stories ignore the number of people who have to work to get back to because the funds supposedly meant to help small businesses survive went instead to offshoots of mega-corporations. And were, in some cases, used to fund stock buybacks to benefit executives’ and stockholders’ bottom lines.
Still, the effort has been highly effective. People who ordinarily at least try to apply critical-thinking skills are now demanding people be vaccinated, willy-nilly. Suggest working to counter the media misinformation that’s led to so many rejecting the idea, and in some cases rejecting even the existence of the virus itself, might be more effective than getting them fired or thrown out of school or whatever authoritarian consequence they deem appropriate is met with cries of horror.
The fact that the majority of children dying from COVID now isn’t the fault of those who reject vaccination. It’s the fault of a for-profit healthcare business and a culture of systemic oppression that left those children undernourished and less healthy. It’s the fault of an economic system that exploits workers by paying them starvation wages to do the kind of labor guaranteed to increase their level of exposure to infection.
That these facts are not even being discussed, and at a time when demands for equality and justice are at a level not seen in more than a century, shows just how effective media deflection works. Once again it has us attacking each other instead of those who are truly responsible, all the while media conglomerates rake in revenue, and the government establishes more precedent for expanding its control over acceptable behavior.
Just so we’re clear, I believe anyone who qualifies for the vaccine and who wants to engage with the outside world should have it. I also believe they should do so with clear understanding what it will and will not do, and how it will protect them and those they have contact with. I will also continue to regard with those vaccines with careful regard for the ever-changing information connected to them.
I also believe we should have access to all available successfully tested vaccines, including those from China, Cuba, and Russia, with the information about their efficacy, side effects, and longevity provided in ways understandable even to those not versed in science. In other words, I object to having my options limited when I know the corporations associated with the two “acceptable” version made major revenue gains in the last two years.
It’s a word that gets tossed about a lot, defined more or less by what the person using it considers terribly wrong and/or immoral. It’s also dismissed as a logical way of looking at deeds that harm others by some who prefer to find social or psychological explanations—or who prefer the idea some people aren’t like the rest of us. Still others just apply it to anyone they don’t like.
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty was written in 1997, right around the time the term “superpredators” was coined as part of the effort by the current President and his predecessor Bill Clinton that ended in the US having the highest number of people incarcerated in the world. When I first realized how little I understood current events, it was one of the first books I bought to expand my knowledge base. It was the constant labeling of Donald Trump and anyone who supported him as “evil” that led me to finish reading it.
“Most people who perpetrate evil do not see what they are doing as evil,” Dr. Baumgartner notes on the first page of chapter 1. Indeed, he goes on to suggest, if it weren’t for their victims’ suffering, evil might not even be a social construct.
In what follows, he provides a compelling amount of evidence that even sociopaths aren’t “born evil”, although they may be more susceptible to doing evil deeds for reasons of their personal psychology. In essence, he says, it’s the deeds that are evil, because they cause suffering. But can the case be made that those who intentionally choose to cause suffering are themselves evil?
Violence perpetrated on others, he writes, boils down to a lack of self-control. That self-control is why all of us don’t do evil things. Yet given the proper circumstances, even those who have excellent self-control may lose it—and cause harm.
This is an important book not just because it provides a cogent and well-supported argument that adds a needed level to sanity in a culture that increasingly labels people permanently “evil” for a single misdeed decades in their past. It’s also presented in a way that doesn’t require a degree in clinical psychology to understand. For those reasons I recommend anyone struggling to make sense of why we seem to live in a world full of genocide and mass shootings and police brutality find a copy as soon as possible.
I am about to make myself a likely target of outrage again, but recent events make it necessary I speak my piece. I’ve had more than one engagement with Green Party enthusiasts, most of whom don’t seem to have studied the history of previous third-party efforts to see what went wrong and benefit from that knowledge.
As the House of Representatives prepared to pass HR.1 of 2021, the For the People voting reform act, the Green Party launched an indignant campaign on social media declaring “the Democrats” were once again setting up roadblocks to any successful challenge to the duopolistic status quo by a third party.
The language in question:
SEC. 5202. ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR MATCHING PAYMENTS.
(a) AMOUNT OF AGGREGATE CONTRIBUTIONS PER STATE; DISREGARDING OF AMOUNTS CONTRIBUTED IN EXCESS OF $200.—Section 9033(b)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended—
(1) by striking ‘‘$5,000’’ and inserting ‘‘$25,000’’; and
(2) by striking ‘‘20 States’’ and inserting the following: ‘‘20 States (disregarding any amount of contributions from any such resident to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such resident for the election exceeds $200)’’.
For those unfamiliar with the language of campaign finance, under the existing law a candidate running for President of the United States was required to have accumulated funds in the amount of $5,000 collected from at least 20 states to qualify for matching funds from the US government. That amount has been increased to $25,000, which to most people would seem reasonable for someone aiming to cop the top office in the national government.
There is no question the legacy parties have made it extremely difficult for third-party challengers to get on ballots. Most states have sets of rules for third parties that are so clearly designed to make it impossible for them to get a foothold they should have been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court decades ago. Or, alternatively, the parties seeking that foothold would find ways to win seats in state legislatures to the point they could initiate changes. That’s a discussion for another time.
The discussion this time is about the Green Party trying to rouse the masses by telling them to demand their representatives in Congress refuse to pass the entire reform bill unless and until the provision above and one other that states “IN GENERAL.—Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the eligible candidates of a party in a Presidential election shall be entitled to equal payment under section 9006 in an amount equal to 600 percent of the amount of each matchable contribution received by such candidate or by the candidate’s authorized committees (disregarding any amount of contributions from any person to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such person for the election exceeds $200), except that total amount to which a candidate is entitled under this paragraph shall not exceed $250,000,000’’ are removed.
“Progressives should be demanding full public funding based on equal grants for all qualified candidates and a constitutional amendment to end the US Supreme Court imposed doctrines that limit public regulation of campaign funding in public elections,” 2020 Green Party Howie Hawkins says in a position paper posted on the party’s website. “The qualifying thresholds to access this presidential primary matching funds are increased five times, putting the program beyond the reach of third-party candidates.”
I leave it to my reader to decide whether $25,000 is such a huge amount of money as to be “beyond the reach” of a truly viable third party running someone for President of the United States. Why not be complaining that these major reforms aren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2028? Or, put another way, until the current Democrat Party’s occupation of the Oval Office, provided one or the other of the top two holding office wins in 2024, the opportunity arises for the other legacy party to take over again.
That is, the Democrats get to run another Presidential campaign and at least three Congressional ones without having to abide by the changes called for in the bill.
Hawkins admits the bill contains desperately needed reforms, but the Green Party’s hobbyhorse (cf. Sterne, Lawrence, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) about matching funds is in full gallop. Never mind closing the loopholes to keep foreigners from donating, to require paper ballots, to improve voter access, and curb the influence of dark money. It’s more important that anyone who decides to start a new political party immediately have access to the same level of support as established parties that have developed, for good or ill, a sufficient voter base to be able to raise the levels of financing modern political campaigns require.
Which, it must be noted, the Green Party has failed to do despite its 20-year history of running people for President every four years then essentially disappearing into the woodwork until the next time come around. It seems their core belief is that anyone with the least intelligence in the working class will simple fall in love with their eco-socialist platform and come running to sign on. I call it Field of Dreams politics—a group of committed and well-meaning activists who think all they need do is set up their new political option and “they will come”.
The most successful third party in US history, the People’s Party, emerged from the Farmer’s Alliance movement in the latter half of the 19th century. The Alliance had, at its height, 40,000 traveling lecturers and educators, 1,000 newspapers and magazines, and even its own press organization—The National Reform Press Association. Local Alliance chapters had libraries, and held study groups. Even so, the People’s Party failed—because it allowed its organization to be dominated by men more interested in getting elected than in advancing the goals of its platform, and because it refused to acknowledge just how deeply rooted party loyalty is in the majority of people who embrace a party.
Nevertheless, the Populists were making major inroads into the duopoly’s control despite the huge levels of funding coming from the same kind of corporate oligarchs and bankers candidates face today being used against them. They did it with the support of people some of whom were burning their own crops to keep themselves warm because they couldn’t sell them for enough to live on. There were no matching funds. There were simply millions of people mad as hell who understood who their real opponents were and worked their hearts and souls out to fight them.
From where I watch, there seems to be a whole lot of people so focused on their pet issue they’re incapable of understanding that compromise and politics is the way things work. They’re so conditioned to thinking that if something isn’t working the way you want it to, the solution is to throw it out and get something new instead of looking at how the one you have might be repaired. They claim they embrace solidarity, and then are ready to toss the benefit of the mass of the people aside unless their own special to-do list gets fulfilled. They call for “general strike” and, when asked if their strike fund is ready, airily state they don’t need one because sometimes you just have to suffer for the cause.
The US governments—federal, state, and local—have been run by two, and only two, major parties for most of the country’s history. Students of that history know all too well how, thirty years ago, the two parties essentially became Siamese twins joined at the hip of neoliberal economics. Anyone who thinks they can just declare they’re launching a new party and succeed in combatting that wall of established privilege is delusional. If there’s going to be a new, third party, it has to be built from the grassroots up, blade by blade and brick by brick. That doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. And yes, reality does suck.
Today is Monday, February 22. I’m sitting in my bedroom office in Austin TX. We haven’t had water service since last Wednesday, and the word is we won’t have it until tomorrow at the earliest because first broken pipes have to be mended and a search has to be made to locate any that haven’t yet been found.
My husband and I were lucky, in that we were among those who had electricity during the Great Freeze. We conserved as much as we could to help keep the load down. It helps that Austin has one of the three remaining actual public utilities in the state. We’re told we won’t be facing the obscene electric bills those who thought they were getting a bargain by signing up with privately-owned electrical companies are now getting.
They shouldn’t be. Those bills are the direct result of price-gouging initiated by natural gas providers on the commodities markets. Some were even recorded in business media chortling gaily over the fat profits they were pocketing. What happened with the people who produce electricity was unconscionable.
Meantime, the usual suspects in the so-called “liberal media” and opportunistic New Democrats were busily driving the focus from the real root cause of the Mess in Texas—the same neoliberal free-market economic system they love and support—onto blaming Republicans and anyone who dared to vote for them. SSDD.
So, having been provided with a major weapon to use against neoliberalism, how to we on the left keep the focus where it belongs while the establishment is already turning Texas into just another Democrat vs. Republican team food fight? How do we get through to the Comfortable Class well-intended who think advising people facing horrendous electrical bills where to get financial assistance is being helpful, and who take umbrage when you point out there’s not going to be enough “assistance” anywhere to deal with something of this scope?
The last time the working class went up agains the corporations, there was a network of 1000 newspapers and 40,000 traveling lecturers able to help voters connect the dots. The former came to create the National Reform Press Association for mutual support. Now, we’re watching similar news sources being deplatformed by their main sources of connection, while journalists with the courage to defend everyone’s right to free speech are routinely attacked to undermine their credibility.
I won’t even start on the active campaign to do likewise against the small but steadily growing number of Populists in Congress. On second thought, yes, I will. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become the punching bag for the right, the New Democrats, and every spoiled brat who has their pet issue (Tristram Shandy called them hobby-horses) and thinks that, despite having no knowledge of how politics work, nevertheless demands she march to their tune, raised $5 million in three days to help people. She lives in New York City. She did it while one Texas Senator was tripping off to Cancun, and a Democrat politician with eyes on being governor did a Zoom phone bank to see how people were doing.
I don’t want to make light of Beto O’Rourke’s effort, because those calls mattered. There’s just something about the way they became a major PR moment right after the media announced he was thinking of running that’s unsettling. He has a dog in the political hunt. AOC didn’t and doesn’t. And she brought usable resources rather than simply sending people to whatever was available. (See previous comment about Comfortable Class well-intended).
Yet over and over AOC was attacked on social media, her effort demeaned because “she’s just taking money from people when the government should be doing it”. There were even implications some of the money would go to her staff, or for political purposes. Or that she was the one doing a PR stunt. Never mind that she’s done similar fundraisers all year long, both for people in her own district and elsewhere.
All of which feeds into the way we are once again being distracted from the real villains—the corporations and the financiers and the hedge-funders and the speculators—to place the blame on their enablers while diminishing how hard some of the people most harshly criticized are working to do good for the average human being. It’s what they do. It’s how they keep the majority of us with our shoulders to the wheel and our nose to the grindstone generating profits for them to store somewhere else and avoid paying taxes. Ever try to have any fun when you’re in that position? Well, it’s not great for getting people to revolt that way, either.
We’re at a crucial moment in the effort to change everything for the people’s advantage. If we fail to take advantage of it, or allow our voices to be shouted down and silenced, will we ever again be in such a strong position to wake the sleepers? I don’t mean a general strike, although if ever we had a reason for one what’s happened in Texas qualifies. The problem is, we don’t have the resources yet for that. Or the general support.
Still, we can take every opportunity to call out those who want to deflect from the real cause. Many single voices add up to one loud one.
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” — Blaise Pascal
If you’re going to “call out fascism”, you’d best get started ASAP, since the US has literally been a neo-fascist oligarchy in the model of Mussolini’s Italy since Bill Clinton handed the Democrats over via his Third Way. Is The Donald finally exposing the authoritarianism that’s underlaid our society for most of its existence? Yes. Yes, he is, and for that we should be thanking him profusely.
The ongoing effort of the US corporate media to conflate Donald Trump with Hitler, and thus maintain the false view that a country must look and operate like Nazi Germany to be fascist is nothing but propaganda, and the fact journalists I know are aware of how propaganda works choose to ignore it in favor of embracing that propaganda does the US voting public a shameful disservice.
In my observation, that’s what most of the pearl-clutching over The Donald’s proclamation he won’t remove himself from the Oval, and his “orders” to the White extremist groups he and who knows how many others have been encouraging for at least the last 40 years is about. Any student of real history, as opposed to the watered-down version we’re taught and which he wants to, apparently, dilute even further, knows this. It’s what makes the ongoing propaganda effort to make him some kind of boogeyman Icon of Evil® so appalling.
When anyone focuses a discussion of authoritarianism and fascism solely on Donald Trump, they are either woefully lacking in historical perspective or deliberately choosing to reinforce the false narrative that supporting a different party with the exact same agenda as the one he belongs to will somehow save us all. It’s a lie, and an egregious one.
Does Donald Trump need to be removed from the Executive Branch? Without question, but not for the reasons on offer. He needs to be gone because he is a clear and present danger to our survival, being a narcissist who is both bored with his current worldview and feeling challenged to defend it. This is potentially fatal combination, as any number of victims of domestic violence can attest, assuming they survived it.
Nevertheless, pretending Joe Biden (or more likely Kamala Harris) is going to make any definitive reversal of the current administration’s policies that will benefit anyone other than the oligarchs is either painfully naive or unabashedly disingenuous. Wasting our time shouting at people to repent their evil ways will not help, so if anyone thinks confronting people by telling them they’re racist or misogynist or homophobic or whatever will result in anything other than hardening their confirmation bias, they need to spend sometime studying how you really get people to change their minds and/or viewpoints. Because that ain’t it.
“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he/she doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” — Malcolm X
The trouble with trying to review one of Ms. Hillier’s novels is that it’s extremely difficult to do so without spoilers. The latest is no exception, but I’m stubborn.
First, although I wanted to be empathetic with the protagonist, Marin Machado, the simple fact is that she’s not terribly likable. Of course, one suspects as the plot resolution approaches that’s how we’re supposed to feel, but it could just be me. Ms. Hillier’s characters are always painfully human, so it’s logical to react to them as if we were meeting them at a party and drawing our conclusions on short acquaintance.
Marin is doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded farmer’s market with her 4-year-old son Sebastian when she receives a text from her former lover and trusted best friend Sal. She lets go her son’s hand to respond—and he’s gone.
This is, as we’re reminded many times as the book progresses, is every mother’s nightmare. Marin’s guilt at having let go of a small child in a crowd is certainly justified. Her reaction to it is to essentially become the center of a universe in which anyone who doesn’t display an emotional level equal to her own is dismissed, never mind that her perception of those reactions is entirely narcissistic. No one can possibly suffer as much as she does.
The somewhat predictable effect of this nearly a year and a half after Sebastian’s abduction slowly evolves into a web of lies and betrayals that Ms. Hillier is so adept at weaving. Nothing—and no one—is what we think it is, and yet as the story advances one begins to suspect. Whether those suspicions are correct you’ll have to read to the end to discover.
I suspect many people will have a different reaction to Marin, and that’s why Ms. Hillier’s fiction is so compelling. Far too often in genre fiction the themes and tropes are so well-known we simply react on reflex. That’s not possible with Small Secrets, and that makes all the difference between a good book and a compelling one.
This is an important book on two levels. First, it explains the various economic ideas most people do their best to avoid dealing with in a way accessible even for those of us whose eyes tend to glaze over at mere mention of the subject. Second, it provides information for those only just learning about the mess neoclassical/neoliberal economics has created—a field guide, if you will, to how we got here, and who drove the bus everyone except the 1% has been systematically thrown under.
It’s become common wisdom to blame the paralyzing level of wealth inequality on the Republican—i.e., “conservative”—party, in particular because of Grover Norquest’s infamous “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that intended to “make the government small enough to drown in a bathtub”.
The man usually given credit for moving the US economy into neoliberalism is Milton Friedman. However, while he is unquestionably the progenitor of modern free-market capitalism, it was his colleague George Stigler who introduced the rabid anti-regulatory element that’s created the modern oligarchy, a position even Stigler’s most important apostle, Sam Peltzman, referred to as “propaganda”.
It was Stiglitz who tilled the soil in the hallowed halls of Congress and the Oval Office that left the federal, and later state, government amenable to the gospel message that competition is superior to regulation for controlling market behavior. The message took hold just as Ronald Reagan took office. The result, unfortunately, we saw too clearly in 2008*.
The problem with neoclassical/neoliberal economics, this excellent and easy-to-read history of the movement suggests, isn’t that the theory doesn’t work. On a limited level, it does. However, the moment it became married to politics, in a country where profit is sought at any cost, it became more like religious dogma, and so not subject to question. Academic certainty became academic arrogance as the Chicago School economists went from being high on ideas to being drunk on power, refusing to accept any data that refuted their fixed beliefs.
They had the right audience, given our culture defines success solely in terms of material wealth. As a result, the converts adhere to the basic tenets of neoliberalism—limit money, cut taxes and government spending to the bone, limit or preferably eliminate regulation, support free trade and unrestricted investment, limit inflation to no more than 2% by manipulating interest rates—despite there being no only no evidence such a system is sustainable but in the face of mounting evidence it’s driving us to disaster.
And why not? It’s a system that works perfectly from those in a position to benefit from it. It’s as though a gang of thieves announced stealing was the only way to run the economy then eliminated all the laws against stealing except the ones that prevent the majority of the non-thief population from doing so.
*For an excellent, if slightly more technical, analysis of how this happened, I recommend ECONned by Yves Smith.
Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of The Economists’ Hour from the publisher, which I found very flattering since I hadn’t requested it. I’m pleased I can unequivocally recommend it.
Reviewing a book about the Hillary Clinton Campaign only a few months before the primaries to select the candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign begin might seem to qualify for the Day Late Dollar Short Award. However, in the run-up to those primaries the Democrat Party establishment is repeating many of the same talking points they used against Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 event. Perhaps more important, the Party seems determined to repeat the mistakes it made then. That makes this book quite timely as a reference.
Both the authors make no pretense they didn’t prefer Ms. Clinton over Sen. Sanders, and they work for Politico and The Hill, neither of which is particularly friendly to progressive ideas. However, they are able to get past it for the most part and report the facts instead of justifying or glossing them over. That said, they still can’t refrain from using the kind of violent terms the Clinton campaign applied to the Sanders campaign, words like “rage” and “attack” that in no way describe the way he talked about and to his opposition. Instead, he’s portrayed as a disruptive wannabe unqualified to challenge someone with Clinton’s credentials, which tends to get irritating to anyone who actually paid attention.
What they reveal, perhaps without meaning to, is the simple fact that Clinton, whether because ambition replaced her common sense or simply because of a high level of self-entitlement, comes across as a woman both uncomfortable outside her personal circle of selected friends and arrogantly dismissive of opinions that countered her own.
That her campaign staff acted like eager courtiers willing to do anything to win a moment of their monarch’s attention likely wasn’t helpful when it came to dealing with a hardcore experienced showman like Donald Trump. It’s no wonder people who voted for Obama flipped to vote for The Donald—they’re hypersensitive to precisely the kind of superior attitude Hillary Clinton exuded, and they rejected it.
One of the biggest points of contention during the primaries was Ms. Clinton’s refusal to publish the texts of her well-paid speeches to various Wall Street corporations, speeches her team apparently begged her not to make. According to the authors, she considered them irrelevant. That was her attitude toward her party’s traditional voter base, blue-collar working people, as well. It’s telling that even when, at the end, her husband warned her she was making a mistake to ignore them, she couldn’t bring herself to hobnob with the hoi polloi. She sent Bernie instead.
Ironically, in their efforts to present their subject, the authors seem equally unaware how ruthless and arrogant she comes to appear, qualities they try to convince us are strength and determination. What is also clear is that Ms. Clinton was extremely uncomfortable with large crowds of the sort her primary opponent drew, usually limiting her “rallies” to carefully limited gatherings. That was one of the reasons offered as to why she became convinced she could win by relying on data instead of politicking.
Now, going on four years later, it appears the Democrats are prepared to implement the same strategy they used in 2016, albeit making a broader effort at a pretense of progressivism. It’s as if they convinced themselves Sanders voters were simply enthusiasts who would lose interest in the changes Sanders proposed once the reality of a Trump administration set in. It’s precisely the same kind of mistake they made before, if the story in Shattered is a reflection of the truth.