Promising Books By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Thomas Piketty, And Anne Tyler

NEHISI COATES (via Wikipedia)

TA-NEHISI COATES (via Wikipedia)

The world is full of troubles, no doubt about it. I cannot sugarcoat the facts to turn bad news into good. I think nearly every great religion holds to a basic premise that good will triumph over evil in the end. What we can do is point out some of the positive thoughts and actions along the way. With luck, the accretion of positive thoughts and actions will lead us in the right direction.

Good books are harbingers of hope and progress. My reading list never lacks for worthy books, and more are published constantly. I’ll never catch up. Here are three that I urgently need to read.

I   “Between The World And Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is the most recent addition to the reading list, thanks to a review by Carlos Lozada in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post. Coates is America’s “foremost intellectual,” and also “liberal America’s conscience on race,” according to Lozada. If you’re interested in understanding America’s struggles with “racism, white privilege, institutional violence and structural inequality,” this would appear to be the book to read. The Washington Post book review is here.

II   “Capital In The Twenty-First Century,” by Thomas Piketty, the renowned French economist. It’s a treatise on wealth concentration and distribution over the past 250 years. The author proposes a progressive global tax on wealth, according to Wikipedia. The Economist review in four paragraphs.

III   “A Spool Of Blue Thread,” by Anne Tyler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. “Blue Thread” is a study of a fictional Baltimore family. I think I can promise that this one will be easier going and more comforting than Piketty’s “Capital,” but it’s sure to be a good read. I’ve read all of Tyler’s previous novels, and they all provide more psychological insight than your average novel. Tyler is one of America’s greatest contemporary novelists. The NPR book review is here.

By coincidence, for my Maryland readers, both Coates and Tyler are Baltimoreans.

I can’t personally recommend books that I haven’t yet read. I’m trusting that all three will live up to their advance press. If anyone here has read one of the books, your thoughts are welcome. If you haven’t read a book this year, your thoughts are still welcome.

(Note: Ta-Nehisi Coates is the correct spelling of the author’s name. I apologize for getting it wrong in the original posting.)

— John Hayden

Sub rosa racism


sub rosa racism.  I’ve been casting about for a way to explain the great divide in American politics. Thanks to Jonathan Yardley, a Washington Post book critic, for getting to the root of the problem: sub rosa racism. I looked up “sub rosa.”  Sure enough. I’m thinking sub rosa racism explains most of the anger in American politics. Simple economics explains the rest.

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui

Which Republican Candidate Would You Trust With Your Grandchildren for the Weekend?

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate on CNN was introduced as a sensational TV extravaganza, complete with a wildly cheering audience. My first impression was that American politics has descended to the level of one or all of the following:

  • Gladiators fighting to the death for the entertainment of spectators in a coliseum.
  • A reality television show devoid all meaning and without redeeming social value.
  • A Super Bowl without the great commercials, cheerleaders, and halftime show.

Is it possible to lower the standards any further? You had only to wait for the sponsors of the first two commercials:

  • Movies on Demand: “Watch Lady Gaga anytime.”
  • Wrestle Mania.

Despite the demeaning atmosphere of the televised debate, I thought the four candidates made strong efforts to focus on important issues of government and character.

Imagine, if you can, the words that would describe each of the four candidates in a high school yearbook:

  • Mitt Romney — “Mr. Handsome” and “Most likely to succeed in business.”
  • New Gingrich — “Debating Team Champion” and “Most likely to steal your girlfriend.”
  • Rick Santorum — “Mr. Personality” and “Most religious.”
  • Ron Paul — “Most Intellectual” and “Most likely to succeed in medical school.”

I’m a true-blue Democrat, so I make no claim to objectivity. In my opinion, President Barack Obama would most easily defeat either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney.

If the Republican candidate is Mr. Gingrich, I fear that the election will turn ugly and  racist. Mr. Gingrich makes no attempt to hide his disdain for President Obama and all African-Americans. I think a Gingrich campaign would bring to the surface a great deal of racism. I’m afraid a significant segment of the country would rally to Mr. Gingrich, but the majority would be so repulsed by the blatant racism that Mr. Obama would win easily.

If the Republican candidate is Mr. Romney, the divide between Romney’s wealth and his brand of vulture capitalism will contrast so sharply with the fortunes and values of working people, the election might indeed resemble “class warfare.” I believe that Mr.  Obama would defeat Mr. Romney in a landslide of possibly historic proportions.

An election between either President Obama and former Sen. Santorum, or Obama and Rep. Ron Paul, would provide American voters with a clear and honest choice. I think both Santorum and Paul are strong advocates of a strong conservative tradition in American politics. President Obama would be favored over either of them at the outset of the campaign. But both Santorum and Paul ane impressive men and either one of them might close the margin to 50-50 during the fall campaign. I see Obama, Santorum and Paul all as wholesome role models for American young people, and probably qualified and competent for the high and demanding office of president of the United States.

A campaign featuring Ron Paul would be quite an educational experience for the American people, probably offering the clearest and least emotional discussion of the issues. Mr. Paul is the longshot, but his ability to answer nearly any question concisely and with clear logic, without dodging, is refreshing and enlightening. I think Mr. Paul and Mr. Obama, as opponents, might bring out the best in each other and in American politics.

Before the age of television and internet, it was believed that the American people most wanted a strong, trusted father figure or grandfather figure as president. Mr. Obama occupies the White House as a family man in the “Father Knows Best” tradition that warms the American heart.

Let me finish on a light note by asking which of the Republican candidates you would be willing to leave your grandchildren with over a long weekend? Here’s my reaction to that question:

  • Mitt Romney — A trusted family man, a good role model, he can easily afford to feed the kids well for the weekend. The drawback is he might spoil them with a lifestyle the children will never again experience.
  • Ron Santorum — Certainly! Mr. Santorum is an excellent role model and would make a fine church youth leader. He’d take the children to church, picnics, and a baseball game. An All-American weekend.
  • Ron Paul — The best grandfather figure, kindly and intellectual. He might introduce the kids to logic or science, or just take them to a good G-rated movie and have a relaxed family weekend.
  • Newt Gingrich — Mr. Gingrich can be very entertaining. He’s a man of the world and a brilliant scholar. I wouldn’t let the children anywhere near Mr. Gingrich. I wouldn’t want the kids picking up any bad habits.

— John Hayden

Alvin Greene Wins South Carolina Senate Primary

Alvin Greene, left, and Vic Rawl. S.C. Democratic Party photos.

A military veteran and graduate of the University of South Carolina named Alvin M. Greene, 32, has come out of political nowhere to win the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in South Carolina.

AP Photo

Many in the political establishment and the cable news business have disgraced themselves by their prejudiced reactions. Just my opinion.

I had underestimated the arrogance and  self-righteousness of our country’s ruling elites. How dare an ordinary American of humble means . . . How DARE he presume to run for high political office???!!!

They say Alvin Greene has no business running for office because he is poor and has no political experience. The U.S. Senate, after all, is a millionaires’ club. It is perfectly OK for a wealthy person to come out of nowhere and spend millions of their own money to win. Happens every election. But a person of humble means? Not allowed!

They ridicule him for living with and taking care of his ailing and elderly father in small-town Manning, S.C. (Seems commendable, to me.)  Also, Alvin Greene is African-American. The outcry from the political and media elites falls just short of a lynch mob. (OK, I am exaggerating for effect. I want you to understand that I have not been this angry in a long time.)

The elites are proudly flaunting their ignorance of and disrespect for democracy.

While the MSM is busy trying to smear Alvin Greene, I am not the only blogger who believes that Mr. Greene is simply a rare long shot who won an obscure election against a weak opponent. For example, see this post from Salon. It is instructive that the little-known Vic Rawl, who was expected to win the Democratic primary, was thought to have absolutely no chance of defeating the Republican incumbent, Sen. Jim DeMint. Maybe that’s why Democrats voted for Mr. Greene instead. Even if your man is going to lose, you can at least send a message.

Alvin Greene, Scott Brown, Barack Obama

Do you mind if I suggest that Alvin Greene may be the new Scott Brown? Mr. Brown is now known as Senator Brown, the gentleman from Massachusetts. Mr. Greene and Mr. Brown both have something in common with President Barack Obama. None of them was the establishment candidate; the deck was stacked against them. The voters defied the orders of the elite and voted for Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton. Is democracy breaking out in America? Could the world be turning upside down?

I have listened to Alvin Greene calmly and patiently respond to unfair interviews on TV, and it is obvious to me that he is an intelligent, well-educated, and patriotic citizen. (As always, just my opinion.) He is a humble man, soft-spoken and not used to the glare of the spotlight. You can see that he is not a polished career politician. He is not an actor. He doesn’t have all the answers.  But he is well-spoken and answers intrusive questions truthfully and without hesitation. He is refreshingly without guile. You can see it in his face and his body language.

In what way is Mr. Greene not qualified to run for political office? He is South Carolina through and through. He has a degree in political science from the state’s university. He served his country for 13 years in the Army and Air Force. These facts have been confirmed by the university and by the Pentagon. Mr. Greene is not boastful. He has not made any untrue claims about great accomplishments. He is only 32 and has  spent his entire adult life going to college and serving in the military. Younger men from the “right” families have been elected with less experience than Mr. Greene. The Pentagon says he has received  at least four service medals, including one for serving in Korea. Mr. Greene says it was while serving in Korea that he began thinking about running for office.

“I saw the country declining and I wanted to do something,” he said softly in response to one question on TV. When asked about his qualifications to run against the great incumbent, Sen. Jim DeMint, Mr. Greene cited his own military service. Sen. DeMint did not serve in the military, Mr. Greene noted.

Mr. Greene said he believes that incumbents need to be held accountable, and that incumbents are a major cause of America’s current predicament. (Now there’s a radical idea!)

Smear campaign without basis

The media and politicians are trying to smear Mr. Greene, plain and simple. Shame on them. Some say he is a Republican “plant.” Some question where he got the $10,400 filing fee. (A better question was raised by Slate. How come it costs so much to be a candidate in South Carolina?)  He has not collected any campaign money nor run any slick TV ads. He is unemployed since leaving the military last fall, but what is more common in this sad economy than unemployment, especially among returning veterans?

The media is also sensationalizing a so-called “obscenity” accusation against Mr. Greene, who has no criminal record. I strongly suspect that the charge is trumped-up and unfounded. Mr. Greene says he is innocent.

Apparently, a young white woman was offended by a very brief conversation with Mr. Greene. She can’t really describe what he was trying to show her on a  computer. She says she hardly looked at it. The entire encounter lasted perhaps two minutes. No evidence, no witness. No accusation of assault, only a very brief conversation. No harm, no foul.

A white  woman and a black man. Hmm . . .  This foolish story is as old as the South. No one who has read “To Kill A Mockingbird” will believe this accusation for a minute. The alleged incident is nearly a year old, and officials have made no move to prosecute it. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the “charge” is revived, now that Mr. Greene is a viable candidate.)

There is also some question about Mr. Green’s exit from the military last year, six months early, after 13 years of service. Mr. Greene says he received an honorable discharge, and the military does not dispute that fact.

All the phony talk against Mr. Greene smacks of racism. There, I’ve said it.

Why is it so hard to believe a black man won?

How do you dismiss a 59-41 percent victory? I believe the simple truth is that Alvin Greene won the S.C. Democratic primary. He says it was “simple, old-fashioned” campaigning, help from family and friends, and word-of-mouth support. Got a problem with that?

Remember, South Carolina is a small state. Mr. Greene is a lifelong Democrat, and his father is reputedly a longtime Democratic activist. Many Democratic voters in South Carolina are African-American. Do you think news of Mr. Greene’s run could have spread like wildfire through a community of faithful Democrats? Do you think the photos of Mr. Greene and his almost-equally-unknown white opponent, shown at the top of this post, were routinely printed in small-town newspapers, voter guides, and Democratic Party material?

Is there anything wrong with black Democrats choosing to vote for a man who looks like them? Could it be that many South Carolina Democrats believe Alvin Greene is well-qualified by his views and life experience to represent them in the U.S. Senate?

Do you believe in democracy?

— John Hayden

Note: In the long-distance video below, you can see that Mr. Greene is having trouble hearing the questions using that nasty TV sound monitor stuck in his ear. Many veteran newscasters have the same problem. Considering that he had never done such an interview before, and considering the confusion and delay of the sound coming to his ear, I thought Mr. Greene maintained his cool very well. His answers are somewhat slow, but that is the way people from the deep South talk. It’s called a Southern drawl. Everybody in S.C. talks like that.