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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward SideBy Clive Stafford Smith
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann

If you were to ask the average American where the people currently being held in the US-run Guantanamo Bay concentration camps came from, most would tell you that they were Al Qaeda "fighters" who had been "captured on the battlefield." This myth has been repeated over and over again during the past six years -- and it's just that, a myth.

Fact is, 95 percent were not even taken into custody by US troops, but instead were turned over to US troops by people being paid the equivalent of about a quarter-million dollars "bounty." Right after our invasion of Afghanistan, US planes flew over impoverished regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan dropping leaflets offering US$ 5000 -- more than 7 years average salary in those regions -- to anybody turning in a "terrorist." People saw opportunities to settle old scores, turning in neighbors they'd been feuding with, literally kidnapping strangers just to get the bounty, and using the US to dispose of troublesome members of rival tribes, clans, or sects.

As a result, 92 percent of the people held at Guantanamo are not even accused of being fighters for Al Qaeda.

Clive Stafford Smith is a British-born US citizen and attorney who has defended roughly 50 of the Guantanamo detainees over the past few years. His book -- brilliantly written in first-person narrative and an evocative, almost novel-like style -- lays bare the horrors of the most prominent of a worldwide chain of US-run torture centers and concentration camps.

The main reason most of them have not been released, it appears to this reader of Smith's book, is because to do so would expose crimes of torture, illegal detention, and human rights violations so severe that they could lead to international criminal prosecutions of senior Bush (and, possibly, Blair) administration officials.

Twice the US Supreme Court -- stacked with so many Bush family toadies that they even stopped the vote count in the 2000 election in Florida because to count every vote in the state could lead to "irreparable harm" to plaintiff "Bush" -- has ruled that these concentration camps are illegal. Twice the Bush administration has had its handmaidens in the then-Republican-controlled Congress pass laws seemingly making them legal (the most recent being the horrific Military Commissions Act).

But the heart of Smith's book is more of a journey through the Alice In Wonderland world of twisted logic, broken laws, and kangaroo courts that front for and interpenetrate the US system of concentration camps. This book offers the best glimpse I've ever seen, tells the most horrifying story, fully gets you into the horrors perpetrated by the disturbed, frightened little men of the Bush administration.

As Smith points out in the book, ultimately this isn't just about Guantanamo. "Guantanamo is a diversionary tactic," he writes in the preface, "the lightning rod not only for criticism but also for global attention. The world has largely ignored the other secret prisons where many more prisoners are being held in even greater isolation. These other detention centers are flourishing. The U.S. takes prisoners daily in the 'War on Terror' -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq and the Middle East, in the Horn of Africa, and beyond -- and something must be done with them. There is, therefore, not the slightest chance that the administration will abandon its broader secret prison program even when it trumpets the closure of Guantanamo."

The stories that Smith tells in this book are horrifying and infuriating, and ultimately compelling. Brilliantly written and nearly impossible to put down, Eight O'clock Ferry lays out with clarity both the tragedy of our behaviors as well as their banality.

At this holiday season, people of most of the world's great religions are celebrating champions of peace, justice, and the enduring reality of the most noble aspects of human nature. Holding up to the cleansing light of day the terrible and tragic behaviors of our nation, done in our name, will hopefully help us all disinfect ourselves of the psychopathic illness inflicted on us by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, and their handmaidens in this criminal administration.

That is a holiday gift worth giving ...

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of "The Thom Hartmann Program" syndicated nationally by Air America Radio. His website is ThomHartmann.com.  You can find information on how to listen to his program (online if you don't have a radio station that carries it) and read more about his great books.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Published in Thom Hartmann

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

A Magnificent Catastrophe
by Edward J. Larson
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann

One of the most startling things we learn from history is how little we've learned -- and how often that failure to learn causes history to repeat itself. The election of 2008 may well -- depending on who is the Democratic nominee -- end up being a startling replay of the election of 1800. In that election, Thomas Jefferson, who along with James Madison founded what is today's modern Democratic Party (known then as the Republican Party), challenged sitting president and ardent conservative Federalist (what today would be called "Republican") John Adams.

In the first chapter, Larson provides the lay of the political landscape, startlingly similar to that of today's debates between conservatives and liberals:

The differences dividing Adams and Jefferson reflected a deepening ideological rift that divided mainstream Americans into factions. ... Adams and those calling themselves Federalists saw a strong central government led by a powerful president as vital for a prosperous, secure nation. Extremists in this camp, like Alexander Hamilton, who favored transferring virtually all power to the national government and consolidating it in a strong executive and aristocratic Senate, became known as the ultra or High Federalists. At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton had unabashedly depicted the monarchical British government as "the best in the world" and famously proposed life tenure for the United States President and senators.

Jefferson and his emerging Republican [today called Democratic] faction viewed such thinking as inimical to freedom. A devotee of enlightenment science, which emphasized reason and natural law over revelation and authoritarian regimes, Jefferson trusted popular rule and distrusted elite institutions. Indeed, like French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jefferson instinctively revered man in nature. "Those who labor in the earth," such as farmers and frontiersmen, possess "substantial and genuine virtue," he wrote in his 1787 book, Notes on the State of Virginia. "The will of the majority, the natural law of every society, is the only sure guardian of the rights of men," Jefferson affirmed three years later. He instinctively favored the people over any institution.

In contrast, Adams and the Federalists tended to distrust the common people and instead to place their faith in the empowerment of what they saw as a natural aristocracy, though one that should be restrained by civil institutions such as those provided by a written constitution with checks and balances. "The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God, and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true," Hamilton reportedly told the Constitutional Convention regarding a popularly elected legislature. "The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first [or upper house] a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second [or lower house]."

Although more moderate in his Federalism than Hamilton, but still unlike the [Democratic] Republican Jefferson, Adams thought that every nation needed a single, strong leader who could rise above and control self-interested factions of all classes and types. Neither an aristocratic Senate nor a democratic House of Representatives would safeguard individual rights, he believed. Indeed, Adams once complained to Jefferson about "the avarice, the unbounded ambition, [and] the unfeeling cruelty of a majority of those (in all nations) who are allowed an aristocratic influence; and ... the stupidity with which the more numerous multitude not only become their dupes but even love to be taken in by their tricks." Only a disinterested chief executive -- the fabled philosopher-king of old -- would protect liberty and justice for all. Adams thus combined a Calvinist view of humanity's innate sinfulness with an Old Testament faith that a Moses-like leader could guide even such a fallen people through the wilderness into the promised land of freedom.

Due to these beliefs, Adams supported a strong American presidency.

And, as president, Adams had acted much like the kings of old. Through the "XYZ Affair," in which he alleged that foreign agents were attempting to solicit bribes to swing French foreign policy, Adams whipped up a nationwide fear of a foreign power. He used this and the threat of other terrors -- including the assertion of cells of foreign agents within our own nation -- to push through Congress by a single vote the Alien & Sedition Acts, which he then used to imprison dozens of his political "enemies" -- particularly the editors and publishers of newspapers who were friendly to Jefferson's party and hostile to Adams's. He even threw into prison a member of the House of Representatives, Vermont's independent-minded Matthew Lyon (the first occupant of the House seat now-Senator Bernie Sanders would occupy for nearly two decades in the recent past), who then ran for re-election from an unheated jail cell in Vergennes, Vermont and won re-election.

Jefferson, who was Adams's estranged Vice President (the president and vice-president were the top-two vote getters in the Electoral College, and did not run together on a ticket like today), was so horrified by the Alien & Sedition Acts that he left town the day Adams signed them. When he won the election of 1800, he allowed them to expire (the day before he was inaugurated) and then issued formal apologies and, in some cases, reparations, to the journalists he freed.

But all of that is background and side-story to the front-and-center focus of this brilliant book, which is the election of 1800. Using the election -- with a thousand fascinating details (I've dog-eared and highlighted at least 100 of the 300+ pages in this book!) -- Larson brings alive the issues of that day, which are startlingly consistent with the issues of this day. From the role of religion in government (and vice versa) to the power of the presidency to issues of privacy and free speech to fears of terrorism and foreign wars, the election of 1800 was such an overlay with today that one is inclined to believe that at least a few of the characters in this book have fully and perhaps even consciously reincarnated to play out their identical roles in today's election. From the stalwart New York liberal George Clinton to the conservative marionette John Adams (and his team), you won't be able to stop turning the pages of this incredible tale.

Larson, who won the Pulitzer prize for his book, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, writes like James Michener. Yet this is not fiction, and it deserves to bring Larson a second Pulitzer. This is one of the most readable, vital, fascinating, and rip-roaring books of the past decade, and -- while he makes not a single reference to modern politics and is scrupulously non-partisan -- brings alive today's politics in a way that is rich in historical context.

In the battle for the presidency in the election of 1800, Larson writes:

"[Jefferson's Democratic] Republicans pounded the Federalists' record of high taxes, rising national debt, a standing army and excessive navy, hostilities with France, and repressive domestic policies. They condemned the Sedition Act as unconstitutional and warned of monarchies afoot.
"The measures of the present [Adams] administration were conceived in wisdom and executed with firmness, uprightness, and ability ... to ensure justice from abroad and tranquility at home," replied Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, a Maryland native who participated in local debates on behalf of his cousin, a Federalist candidate for elector. Appealing to moderates, Chase's cousin, the candidate, praised Adams as "a tried, firm, dedicated patriot [who will] resist the influence of party and will pursue that line of conduct which will best support the rights and liberties of the people." Times are good, various Federalists declared. "You may be certain never to be more happy than you have been under Mr. Adams's administration," one partisan declared.
Not so, a Republican statement countered. "If ever an occasion justified public addresses and individual exertions to rouse the people to a sense of duty, the present is undoubtedly such an occasion," it claimed. "You will plainly see and feel that your present rulers have exercised unauthorized powers and undue influence over you."

There were even members of Adams's Federalist Party who were trying to suppress the vote in Jefferson-leaning [Democratic] Republican areas. This, Larson notes, "nicely reinforced the image of Federalists as monarchists. 'The right of election is the very essence of our constitution,' one [Democratic] Republican candidate declared. 'Yet ... there are men among us who, to answer party purposes, are mediating a plan to deprive us of it.'" Shades of Florida and Ohio ...

A Magnificent Catastrophe provides one of the finest insights ever written into the history of the founding -- and sometimes faltering -- first steps of our modern democratic republic. Absorbing its story is an essential step toward a deeper and broader understanding of America and the issues being raised in the election of 2008. And it's a damn good read!

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of "The Thom Hartmann Program" syndicated nationally by Air America Radio. His website is ThomHartmann.com.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

A Brief History of Neoliberalism
by David Harvey
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann

Here's the bad news - most Americans don't know what "neoliberalism" is.

But the good news is that David Harvey has written the most brilliant, concise, and clear history of neoliberalism I've ever found. It should be required reading in every civics class in high-school and college in America, and everybody who votes or considers themselves informed about politics and economics (and the intersection of the two) should have a dog-eared copy next to their bed or favorite chair for regular re-reading.

Harvey begins with the imposition of neoliberalism - a radical economic/political theory that everything will work out optimally if only the power of democratic governments are reduced to virtually nothing and the power of economic elites (known as "the free market") hold most power in society - in Iraq and Chile. Iraq was going to be the Great Example for the neoliberals - they were so convinced of their theory that they didn't have a Plan B for any time after the invasion - and it utterly failed. Which is why you only read about the Iraq experiment in neoliberalism in books written by the few people, like Harvey and Naomi Klein, who have noticed it.

In Chile it was forced on the people, through the dictatorship of Pinochet. In The United States it came into being through subterfuge, through an alliance of big business and inherited wealth funding think tanks and media to change the minds and thinking of Americans to accept the notions of the "free market" and the idea that "big government" is a bad thing. It's being peddled in Europe with considerable success (it started in '79 with Thatcher two years before Reagan put it into place here in the US), with France the most recent country to fall with the election of Sarkozy.

While full of facts and figures and details (at least a third of the pages in my copy of this book are dog-eared and marked up), Harvey's "Brief History of Neoliberalism" is marvelously readable. In some ways it almost reads like a thriller - what will these people do next? And over and over again we see not only how they screw things up, but how they work those screw-ups to their own advantage. Neoliberalism, after all, is all about the economic and power elites taking more and more of the resources, income, and small-d democratic power away from the masses. David Harvey has produced a classic book.

It's an absolute must-read. It'll totally change the way you understand the news (particularly the news you'll find in The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times), and your opinion of the behaviors of your elected officials.

Get at least two copies - it's an inexpensive paperback and you'll want one to read, and one to give away ...

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of The Thom Hartmann Program syndicated nationally by Air America Radio. His website is ThomHartmann.com.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

The Tin Roof Blowdown
by James Lee Burke
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann

James Lee Burke is, in my humble opinion, the best living writer in America. He's the Hemingway of our generation. One of my most valued possessions is a first edition of Purple Cane Road, one of his Dave Robicheaux novels. My son-in-law's father walked down the street to his friend Burke's house and asked him to autograph it to me as a Christmas gift.

Burke has also written the first truly big American novel that revolves around Hurricane Katrina. His tortured and introspective character, police officer Dave Robicheaux, goes into the Big Easy after the hurricane to help the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). Dante couldn't have done better in describing the scene.

For those who do not like to brood upon the possibility of simian ancestry in the human gene pool or who genuinely believe that societal virtue grows from a collective impulse in the human breast, the events of the next few days would offer their sensibilities poor comfort. Helen had been worried she would have to give up command of her department to either NOPD or state or federal authorities. That was the least of our problems. There was no higher command than ourselves. The command structure and communication system of NOPD had been destroyed by the storm. Four hundred to five hundred officers, roughly one third of the department, had bagged ass for higher ground. The command center NOPD had set up in a building off Canal Street had flooded. Much to their credit, the duty officers didn't give up their positions and wandered in chest-deep water outside their building for two days. They had no food and no drinking water, and many were forced to relieve themselves in their clothes, their handheld radios held aloft to keep them dry.

From a boat or any other elevated position, as far as the eye could see, New Orleans looked like a Caribbean city that had collapsed beneath the waves. The sun was merciless in the sky, the humidity like lines of ants crawling inside your clothes. The linear structure of a neighborhood could be recognized only by the green smudge of yard trees that cut the waterline and row upon row of rooftops dotted with people who perched on sloped shingles that scalded their hands.

The smell was like none I ever experienced. The water was chocolate-brown, the surface glistening with a blue-green sheen of oil and industrial chemicals. Raw feces and used toilet paper issued from broken sewer lines. The gray, throat-gagging odor of decomposition permeated not only the air but everything we touched. The bodies of dead animals, including deer, rolled in the wake of our rescue boats. And so did those of human beings, sometimes just a shoulder or an arm or the back of a head, suddenly surfacing, then sinking under the froth.

They drowned in attics and on the second floors of their houses. They drowned along the edges of Highway 23 when they tried to drive out of Plaquimines Parish. They drowned in retirement homes and in trees and on car tops while they waved frantically at helicopters flying by overhead. They died in hospitals and nursing homes of dehydration and heat exhaustion, and they died because an attending nurse could not continue to operate a hand ventilator for hours upon hours without rest.

If by chance you hear a tape of the 911 cell phone calls from those attics, walk away from it as quickly as possible, unless you are willing to live with voices that will come aborning in your sleep for the rest of your life.

But while the novel takes place in large part in the desolation of the city and the hurricanes, it's ultimately - as Burke's novels always are - the story of people. In this case, a junkie priest, Father Jude LeBlanc; Bertrand Melancon, a lifelong criminal who hopes eternally for redemption; and Otis Baylor, a man swept up in it all like flotsam. And, of course, Dave Robicheaux is tortured by his own demons, particularly toward the end of the book when, some considerable time having passed since the disaster, he revisits the city.

Early Tuesday I collected Clete Purcel at his motor court and headed for New Orleans. When we drove down I-10 into Orleans Parish, the city was little changed, the ecological and structural wreckage so great and pervasive that it was hard to believe all of this destruction could come to pass in a twenty-four-hour period. I had been on the water when Audrey hit the Louisiana coast in 1957 and in the eye of Hilda in 1964 when the water tower in Delcambre toppled onto City Hall and killed all the Civil Defense volunteers inside. But the damage in New Orleans was of a kind we associate with apocalyptical images from the Bible, or at least it was for me.

Perhaps I carried too many memories of the way the city used to be. Maybe I should not have returned. Maybe I expected to see the streets clean, the power back on, the crews of carpenters repairing ruined homes. But the sense of loss I felt while driving down St. Charles was worse than I had experienced right after the storm. New Orleans had been a song, not a city. Like San Francisco, it didn't belong to a state; it belonged to a people.

When Clete and I [had] walked the beat on Canal, music was everywhere. Sam Butera and Louis Prima played in the Quarter. Old black men knocked out "The Tin Roof Blues" in Preservation Hall. Brass-band funerals on Magazine shook the glass in storefront windows. When the sun rose on Jackson Square, the mist hung like cotton candy in the oak trees behind the St. Louis Cathedral. The dawn smelled of ponded water, lichen-stained stone, flowers that bloomed only at night, coffee and freshly baked beignets in the Cafe du Monde. Every day was a party, and everyone was invited and the admission was free.

The grandest ride in America was the St. Charles streetcar. You could catch the old green-painted, lumbering iron car under the colonnade in front of the Pearl and for pocket change travel on the neutral ground down arguably the most beautiful street in the Western world. The canopy of live oaks over the natural ground created a green-gold tunnel as far as the eye could see. On the corners, black men sold ice cream and sno'balls from carts with parasols on them, and in winter the pink and maroon neon on the Katz and Besthoff drugstores glowed like electrified smoke inside the fog ...

Every writer, every artist who visited New Orleans fell in love with it. The city might have been the Great Whore of Babylon, but few ever forgot or regretted her embrace.

What was its future?

I looked through my windshield and saw fallen trees everywhere, power and phone lines hanging from utility poles, dead traffic lights, gutted downtown buildings so badly damaged the owners had not bothered to cover the blown-out windows with plywood. The job ahead was Herculean and it was compounded by a level of corporate theft and governmental incompetence and cynicism that probably has no equal outside the Third World.

In addition to being one of the most stark and powerful of Burke's novels, and certainly one of the finest descriptions of the Katrina disaster, Burke resists the impulse that so often overwhelms lesser writers to slip into polemic.

The novel will leave you furious and sad and - because of its characters - hopeful and inspired, but the politics of the situation get only the lightest (and, thus, the most powerful) touch.

Early on, without mentioning that George W. Bush was out west eating cake with John McCain, and Michael Chertoff was largely ignoring New Orleans, safe in his belief that the free market would solve all problems, Burke drops a light but powerfully truthful note into the dialogue about how past presidents have dealt with hurricane disasters.

At 10:00 A.M. Helen Soileau came into my office. "How'd you make out yesterday?" she said.

"I wrote up everything I found and faxed it to the FBI in Baton Rouge. There's a copy in your box. I also talked to an NOPD guy on the phone. I don't think this one has legs on it."

"You don't think Otis Baylor shot these guys?"

"His neighbor seemed willing to finger him, but I had the sense the neighbor had some frontal-lobe damage himself. I think bodies are going to be showing up under the rubble and mud for months. Who's going to be losing sleep over a couple of looters who caught a high-powered round while they were destroying people's homes?"

"All right, let's move on. The Rec Center at City Park is full of evacuees. We need to get some of them to Houston if we can. Iberia General and Dauterive Hospital are busting at the seams. It's worse in Lafayette. I tell you, Streak, I've seen some shit in my life, but nothing like this."

"I couldn't argue with her. In fact, I didn't even want to comment.

"What did you think of Lyndon Johnson?" she asked.

"Before or after I got to Vietnam?"

"When Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans in '65, Johnson flew into town and went into a shelter full of people who had been evacuated from Algiers. It was dark inside and people were scared and didn't now what was going to happen to them. He shined a flashlight in his face and said, 'My name is Lyndon Baines Johnson. I'm your goddamn president and I'm here to tell you my office and the people of the United States are behind you.' Not bad, huh?"

But I wasn't listening. There was a detail about the Otis Baylor investigation I hadn't mentioned to Helen ...

"The Tin Roof Blowdown" is a masterpiece. It's entertaining, compelling, forceful, and delicate. And once you've read it, you'll be hooked - there are another 15 Robicheaux novels by Burke, and numerous other masterpieces of fiction, all equal in power and brilliance, and subtle yet touching in politics and the human condition.

Prepare for one of the greatest reads of your life.

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of The Thom Hartmann Program syndicated nationally by Air America Radio. His website is ThomHartmann.com.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America by Daniel Brook is one of the most brilliant and important books to come along in many years. Synthesizing stories from people in real life with a strong and healthy dose of history (particularly the history of the 60s through today, both politically and economically), Brook's book paints a stark picture of the death of the American middle class as a direct result of the Reagan Revolution, and implicitly suggests that the clear and simple solution is to revert to the economic policies of the New Deal. This book is probably the most powerful and compelling attack on Reaganomics and the "conservative revolution" that I've read in a decade.

Brook opens the book with stories of people torn between the desire to do good (in the world) and the need to do well (financially). Several conservative reviewers have trashed the book on this basis, suggesting one shouldn't empathize with people who are experiencing existential angst over making $150,000 a year in a corporate law firm instead of working for Public Citizen, but apparently none of those reviewers bothered to read beyond the first two pages. With devastating precision, Brook shows how the basic necessaries of health care, housing, and providing for a safe retirement require a startlingly high income (particularly for people who live in our big cities).

As Brook points out, "Starting in the 1980s, the media began to note that more and more of the best and the brightest were going to work for corporate America." He adds, "Their analysis focused on the proverbial carrot, never considering the stick." He lays out how the middle class has been wiped out in America, quoting, for example, a Brookings Institution report from 2006 that found "the proportion of middle-class central-city neighborhoods was cut in half between 1970 and 2000; the number of rich and poor neighborhoods grew. Most metropolitan neighborhoods were middle class in 1970; only 41 percent were by 2000." In LA it's down to 28 percent of households, and New York is the worst in the country. And it wasn't this way at all before Reagan.

Brook documents how William F. Buckley Jr. and other conservatives back in the 1960s and 1970s put into place an infrastructure to completely deconstruct the New Deal. Their reason was based on the flawed belief that "equality" and "freedom" are at opposite ends of an economic spectrum. Brook shows how even liberals have bought into this since Reagan -- the conservative meme has been almost totally absorbed by even the Democratic Party, and certainly by the Republicans, the media, and academe.

In reality, as FDR pointed out in his acceptance speech in 1936 for his second term, "A necessitous man is not a free man." This was a radical -- and true -- notion when FDR said it, and it's an almost unspeakable truth today, so forgotten is the core idea.

Reality is not reflected in conservative notions of freedom -- mostly economic freedom (to buy your own health insurance, plan for your own retirement, and pay for your own education, in particular). Nor is reality served in saying that people who have greater economic equality (because of progressive taxation with top tax rates as high as 91 percent, national health care, and free public education reaching all the way to the PhD level -- all common in many European countries) are not "free."

In fact, Brook asserts (as did FDR), the engine that produces "freedom" is "equality." The highest point of economic equality in the history of the United States was the two-decade period of the 1960s and 1970s, and it was also the time of greatest personal freedom by dozens of indices. As economic equality crashes, the result of tax cuts and "small government," freedom is increasingly constrained for all but CEOs and those with inherited wealth. Everybody else has been turned into a serf.

While social mobility -- probably the best indicator of "freedom" -- has steadily increased over the past 50 years in most of Europe and particularly in the Scandinavian countries, social mobility has crashed in the US since Reaganomics. We're now the lowest -- the most rigidly socially stratified and "unfree" -- of all developed nations in the world, and this is happening at the same time that the rise of economic inequality in the US has hit a high not seen in this nation since the 1920s, just before the Republican Great Depression.

I read this book from cover to cover in a comfortable round-trip train ride from Portland to Seattle and back -- couldn't put it down, in fact -- and probably 5 percent of the pages in my copy are now dog-eared and marked up (the sign of a book that's really valuable to me!).

The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America is a book you can't miss out on. If you read nothing else this year, choose this book.

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of The Thom Hartmann Program syndicated nationally by Air America Radio. His website is ThomHartmann.com.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Published in Thom Hartmann

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

I'm a pretty jaded guy. Back in October of 2001, I wrote -- first anonymously under the pseudonym "Rusticus" and then over my own name -- the first widely-circulated article comparing the Republican response to 9/11 with the Nazi response to the burning of the Reichstag (Parliament) building in Germany in 1933 (it was titled "When Democracy Failed"). It was widely distributed and I was attacked for being an alarmist, although few say so these days.

I thought I'd seen it all. I was part of SDS in the late 1960s, was spied upon, and our group infiltrated by the Michigan State Police and the FBI. I've been followed, photographed, wiretapped, and tear-gassed.
Yet that was nearly forty years ago, and even though today I report on the daily Republican outrages 3 hours a day 5 days a week on the most listened-to progressive talk radio show in America, I have to admit -- this book shocked me.

Walking around the Take Back America Conference last week -- where I was both speaking and doing my show from Radio Row- - Matthew Rothschild walked up to me, introduced himself, and handed me a fresh-off-the-presses copy of his new book, You Have No Rights. We get an average of 6 to 8 books a day in the mail (our mail is about a cubic foot a day, in part because of all the books), and people are always handing me books at public events, but I remembered Matthew from all the great articles he's written and his work as editor of the Progressive, and so was both glad to meet him and curious about what he'd written.

I started reading it on the plane back to Oregon from Washington, DC, and couldn't put it down.

If we don't begin to expose the horrors in this book in a real, meaningful, national, and highly visible way, democracy is in even worse trouble that I thought. And, as I said, I thought I knew how bad it really was.

It's worse.

As the publisher, The New Press, notes in their summary of the book:

"I'm very liberal and sometimes my friends say I'm giving them some kind of paranoid, nutty stuff, and I agree, but then the FBI show up." -- Marc Schultz, reported to the FBI for reading an article called "Weapons of Mass Stupidity: Fox News hits a new lowest common denominator" while he stood in line at a coffee shop.

In West Virginia, Renee Jensen put up a yard sign saying "Mr. Bush: You're Fired." She's questioned by the Secret Service.

In Alabama, Lynne Gobbell put a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker on her car. She's fired from her job.

In Vermont, Tom Treece had his high school students write essays and make posters either defending or criticizing the Iraq War. After midnight, the police entered his classroom and took photos of the student artwork.

Near Albany, New York, Stephen Downs went to a mall with his son Roger, and the two of them bought shirts in a T-shirt shop. Downs put his shirt on, went to eat in the food court -- and was arrested. The T-shirt's message? "Peace on Earth."

Most of these stories don't have the crackling immediacy of the Kent State shootings or the MSU campus shutdown or Watts burning, but in some ways they're even more sinister, because they reflect a fundamental change in the assumptions held by average people of what America is.

We're no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave; we're the land of the fearful and the home of Big Brother. We're no longer the shining beacon of democracy that inspired nascent democracies for over 200 years; we're now the example repressive dictatorships use to justify espionage against and torture of their own citizens. We're no longer a land of laws governed by We, The People, protected from our government by our Constitution; we're now a land of "leaders" who claim they owe "no accountability" to Congress or the people who elect them.

Very quickly, under the radar but in a deep and real way, we're moving from being a liberal democracy to a conservative theocratic corporatist/fascist state.

Because these stories lack the violence of the 1960s, they are all the more shocking. The subtlety of this transformation is so very Orwellian, so very much like that imagined by Huxley, that warned of by William Shirer and Milton Mayer.

In a previous book review, I suggested a Rex Stout novel about the private detective Nero Wolfe, written in the 1950s, in large part because it showed how back then a citizen could say through a locked door to the police, "Go away if you don't have a warrant." Today TV shows glorify militarized police squads kicking in doors, and citizens are arrested for filming police activity.

The America of 2007 is not the America I was born into in 1951, and with startling rapidity it's not even the America it was in the last year of the Clinton/Gore presidency just six short years ago. It highlights the banality of evil.

Which is why it's so important for us all to read Matthew Rothschild's book ... and so vital that we pass it along to those who haven't yet pulled back the curtain and seen what's going on in the shadows not covered by our infotainment industry. Buy a copy of this book to read yourself, by all means, but buy a second to pass along. It's that good.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of The Thom Hartmann Program syndicated nationally by Air America Radio. His website is ThomHartmann.com.

 

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook
by Joseph Sugarman, reviewed by Thom Hartmann

Want to use the written word -- from a blog to email to articles to op-eds to pretty much any written format you can imagine -- to change the world? Joe Sugarman will teach you how.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I owe much of the quality of the life I currently have to Joe Sugarman.

Back in the mid-1970s, he was one of America's most famous advertising copywriters and I was a twenty-something partner in a small Michigan advertising agency. I attended a workshop that Joe taught, and it quite literally changed my life. Joe gave me my first real keys to the kingdom of communication, and I've made a living using them ever since.

While the passage of 30-some years since that time has dimmed my memory of when and where I was listening to Joe, I remember well many of his lessons. One of the first was to understand that good advertising copy is one of the most elegant forms of communication. It's designed to produce a change in a person's thinking and, most importantly, an immediate change in their behavior.

The same is true of the most effective political writing, whether it be that of Karl Marx, Barry Goldwater, or conservative strategist Richard Viguerie (who was also a student of Joe's).

I remember Joe telling us that the most common mistake of writers of all stripes (particularly advertising copywriters) is thinking that they're writing to an audience. He said that when writing copy, one should imagine a person you know, who you like, and who would be interested in the topic (product) of your writing. And then write it as a letter, even if you have to insert a personal preamble that you later delete.

I've used (and advocated) his technique for years, writing everything from advertising copy for some of America's largest corporations, to strategic communications, to hundreds of published articles and 19 books currently in print.

You can find the essence of Joe's advice about writing in a personal way in Chapter 15 of his book The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook. But that's just the beginning. And even though Joe's book is entirely about marketing and advertising copy, the lessons are important -- crucial -- for political activists.

Political persuasion is simply a variation on commercial persuasion (assuming that historically the latter preceded the former). The tools that make you a good marketer are the tools that work in politics as well.

In that context, The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook is one of the most valuable tools political activists will ever encounter.

In doing research and show-prep for my daily talk radio show, I encounter lousy political communication at least a half-dozen to a dozen times a day. Activists who don't know how to condense what they're saying into an easily-understood form. Activists who bury the lede. Activists who try to "sell" the details of policies rather than their benefits.

If you want to know how to be an effective communicator in print -- from writing letters to members of Congress to writing posters for the upcoming march to writing your blog -- Joe Sugarman is the man to teach you. Just mentally transform his "sales and marketing" examples into political examples -- it's surprisingly easy -- and you'll be brilliant.

As odd and offbeat as it may seem, Joe Sugarman's AdWeek Copywriting Handbook should be in the library of every political activist (and already is in those of many conservatives, starting with Viguerie). Learn what they know -- buy it now!

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

"Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann

Arguably, there's nothing whatever political about "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck. It chronicles the lives of some of the residents of Monterey, California in the early 20th century, before the great ecological disaster (mostly over-fishing - it's still debated) of the mid-1940s that wiped out the sardine harvest and threw the boom town into bust. There's Doc, the central focus of the novel, based on a close friend of Steinbeck's, Edward F. Ricketts, one of America's most famous marine biologists. And Mack, who's always trying to do good and never quite making it. And an entire cast of characters that reflect the aura of America in the 1930s.

On the other hand, one could argue that the book is entirely political - today - because it shows us a slice of America before the Great Corporate Homogenizers got ahold of us.

Before we walled ourselves into our highly-mortgaged houses to stare for hours, alone, at our TVs, eating the mental gruel of multinational corporations who profit from wars.

Before our highest ideal - our "American Dream" - was to build up a small business so we could sell it off to Disney, as did the woman Bush congratulated in his State of the Union speech, but when the real American Dream was grounded in community, safety, friendship, and a healthy acceptance of eccentricity.

In 1968, I hitchhiked from Michigan to San Francisco, lived there for half a year, and then hitchhiked back. Every city was different. Restaurants were locally owned. Hotels and motels had eccentric names. Every main street was different. It was fascinating, an exploration in a very literal sense, discovering hundreds of communities that were all uniquely different from each other.

But after Reagan's "revolution" and he stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act for all practical purposes, mega-corporations moved in. For much of the 1990s, I made a living in part as a consultant to a variety of organizations, leading me all around the USA (and the world). I logged over 7 million miles just on Delta Airlines. And the quirky, unique, personality-rich cities of America had been replaced by chain stores, chain restaurants, chain hotels, and franchises. Today if you were to parachute randomly into any town or city in America, it may take you days to find a commercial landmark that would uniquely identify the place.

In this regard - highly political in that it shows us how different the pre-Reagan America was from the post-Reagan America, Cannery Row is a political book.

I didn't go looking for "Cannery Row." As I sat with my father this past summer, helplessly watching him choke and gag on his own blood as he died from asbestos-caused mesothelioma (thanks in part to one of Dick Cheney's companies) while my brothers and I tried to comfort him, I saw the book beside his bed. He was an inveterate reader - there are about 20,000 books in his basement - and he'd often read and re-read his favorites over and over again. After his funeral, I picked the often-read book up and took it with me to read on the plane ride home from Michigan to Oregon.

What I found in "Cannery Row" was a time, and an America that my parents had often spoken to me about. My mother's stories about squeezing the last of the toothpaste from the tube in a door jamb when she went to Michigan State University, because she was putting herself through college by propping planes on weekends and being a lifeguard in the summer, and there was barely the money for toothpaste or toilet paper, much less cosmetics. My dad's stories of going down to one of Al Capone's speakeasies as a kid on the south side of Chicago to get a pail of bootleg beer to bring to his dad and uncles as they sat on the stoop in the row houses.

It was a time of challenge and a time of opportunity. It was America before Reagan.

In one of my dad's last emails to me, he talked about that era:

"Thank you for the wonderful dedication in SCREWED. I wanted to tell you in person but I get so emotional that I can't talk. But it made me think of what I did in life other than try to lead a good life and do no harm to others. I'm happy with my life although it was selfish because I did the things I did with no sacrifice on my part.

"Then I thought of your mother. She was the one that gave up all her early ambitions and dreams for me and her family. She wanted to be a writer - worked her way thru college to complete her dreams. I still have many of her early writings (if she hasn't tossed them) which were very good. She worked at an airport for money and flying lessons, she took care of a family for room and board, plus all summer with a bunch of girls to earn tuition money. After she graduated she turned down a great job working for the oil companies in Saudi Arabia just so she would not leave her Mother alone. She managed a book store in Grand Rapids where I met her. (When I saw her I told the friend with me that I was going to marry her.)

"After we were married she started to write again. But then little Thomas came on the scene...

"I guess I'm done Thom. I love Jean with all my heart and soul. I have hoped that you could and would write about her as you have about me. I think she deserves it much more. She is the true hero of our family!!!"

They were the last words of his I ever heard - and that in an email - as he couldn't speak by the time I got to Michigan.

I realize that telling you a story about my hitchhiking across America, or about my dad, isn't telling you the story of Cannery Row, but in a way it's very much the story of Cannery Row. The stories are meta to the novel. My dad was a huge fan of Steinbeck, presumably because he knew so well the America of which Steinbeck wrote.

Beyond that, telling you the story line itself of Cannery Row would be a disservice. It's a novel, and one shouldn't have even an inkling where a novel is going when one starts to read it. It was only after I finished the book that I began to research its history, and found a rich treasure trove of information on the web about the history of the real cannery row, the real Monterey of the 1930s, and the read Ed Ricketts. I hope you will, too.

But first indulge yourself in a bit of old-fashioned escapism - step back to the time of the Republican Great Depression and meet a wonderful cast of characters, in a story that will leave you smiling, wistful, and newly-informed.

And, maybe, hopefully, we'll all live to see that true spirit of America - its people, so brilliantly drawn by Steinbeck in "Cannery Row" - again emerge as Americans awaken from our dream-fog of consumerism and hellish wars, and rediscover the sense of self and community and purpose and the egalitarian values of community on which this nation was founded.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling author and the host of The Thom Hartmann Program syndicated nationally by Air America Radio.

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna
reviewed by Thom Hartmann

I took some drugs today to help me write this review. Specifically, a xanthine-family drug called caffeine that appears in the berries of a largely equatorial bush, along with a few weaker xanthine-family alkaloids that aren't as well known but are also present in the coffee bean.

Last night before going to bed, I took another drug. Fermented from the fruit of a vine grown in the south of France, the alcohol in the glass of wine I drank altered my consciousness in a way I found pleasant, while the raw juice (wine is not heated) contains, its promoters say, some other chemicals that may be good for my heart.

Fact is, we're a society of drug-takers. Outside of Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses (and a few other smaller mostly Christian sects), we as a society nearly all take drugs specifically to alter consciousness. We use the most addictive drug known to human kind -- five times more addictive than heroin -- in a way that earns the tobacco barons billions of profits every year. The three primary drugs of our culture -- caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol -- are ubiquitous. As are other drugs McKenna takes aim at -- sugar, chocolate, and television.

And, says Terence McKenna, they're the wrong drugs for us to be using. Or at least some of us.

In "Food of the Gods: The search for the original tree of knowledge," McKenna points out that in indigenous and aboriginal societies, it's not the "average person" who takes strong psychedelic plants to tear open what Aldous Huxley referred to as the "doors of perception" and lead us into other worlds. Instead, it's the shamans. It's not the ill person who takes the drug -- it's the healer. And using that substance, the shaman steps into the more-real-than-real world that parallels this like Plato's cave-images, to manipulate the fundamental stuff of reality or entreat the spirits who reside there to help and heal.

In fact, McKenna warns us away from some drugs, like the sip of coffee I just took. The "accepted" drugs of our culture, he points out, are the ones that enhance brain and personality function appropriate to hierarchical, male-dominated cultures. The "unacceptable" drugs -- from pot to mushrooms to peyote -- all are interwoven in egalitarian cultures.

Perhaps the most intriguing assertion McKenna makes is that human consciousness came about in its present form as the direct result of the interaction of higher primates with psychoactive plants (primarily mushrooms, in his opinion), which amped up and increased the complexity of our brains, giving these newer primates (us) an evolutionary advantage.

Calling for an "Archaic Revival" (the title of another of his books), McKenna says:

Obviously, we cannot continue to think about drug use in the same old ways. As a global society, we must find a new guiding image for our culture, one that unifies the aspirations of humanity with the needs of the planet and the individual. Analysis of the existential incompleteness within us that drives to form relationships of dependency and addiction with plants and drugs will show that at the dawn of history, we lost something precious, the absence of which has made us ill with narcissism. Only a recovery of the relationship that we evolved with nature through use of psychoactive plants before the fall into history can offer us hope of a humane and open-ended future.

"Before we commit ourselves irrevocably to the chimera of a drug-free culture purchased at the price of a complete jettisoning of the ideals of a free and democratic planetary society, we must ask hard questions. Why, as a species, are we so fascinated by altered states of consciousness? What has been their impact on our esthetic and spiritual aspirations? What have we lost by denying the legitimacy of each individual's drive to use substances to experience personally the transcendental and the sacred? My hope in answering these questions will force us to confront the consequences of denying nature's spiritual dimension, of seeing nature as nothing more than a "resource" to be fought over and plundered. Informed discussion of these issues will give no comfort to the control-obsessed, no comfort to know-nothing religious fundamentalism, no comfort to beige fascism of whatever form.

"The question of how we, as a society and as individuals, relate to psychoactive plants in the late twentieth century, raises a larger question: how, over time, have we been shaped by the shifting alliances that we have formed and broken with various members of the vegetable world as we have made our way through the maze of history?"

McKenna points to the story of the Garden of Eden -- the original drug bust, as he calls it -- and adds:

"If we do not learn from our past, this story could end with a planet toxified, its forests a memory, its biological cohesion shattered, our birth legacy a weed-choked wasteland. ... If we can recover the lost sense of nature as a living mystery, we can be confident of new perspectives on the cultural adventure that surely must lie ahead. We have the opportunity to move away from the gloomy historical nihilism that characterizes the reign of our deeply patriarchal, dominator culture. We are in a position to regain the Archaic appreciation of our near-symbiotic relationship with psychoactive plants as a wellspring of insight and coordination flowing from the vegetable world to the human world.

"The mystery of our own consciousness and powers of self-reflection is somehow linked to this channel of communication with the unseen mind that shamans insist is the spirit of the living world of nature. For shamans and shamanic cultures, exploration of this mystery has always been a credible alternative to living in a confining materialist culture. We of the industrial democracies can choose to explore these unfamiliar dimensions now, or we can wait until the advancing destruction of the living planet makes all further exploration irrelevant. ...

"Our culture, self-toxified by the poisonous by-products of technology and egocentric ideology, is the unhappy inheritor of the dominator attitude that alteration of consciousness by the use of plants or substances is somehow wrong, onanistic, and perversely antisocial. ...[S]uppression of shamanic gnosis, with its reliance and insistence on ecstatic dissolution of the ego, has robbed us of life's meaning and made us enemies of the planet, of ourselves, and our grandchildren. We are killing the planet in order to keep intact the wrongheaded assumptions of the ego-dominator cultural style.

"It is time for a change."

"Food of the Gods" is a thoroughly researched, startling inquiry into the relationship -- a necessary relationship, McKenna argues -- between humans and the plant world, particularly those plants that carry the ability to alter consciousness. He traces this relationship through dozens of cultures on several continents, over tens of thousands of years. And suggests that unless we drop our wall of denial of this relationship, and re-embrace our fellow inhabitants of this Gaian planet, we will continue along the path of conquest, war, destruction, and ultimately, our own cultural and planetary suicide.

This book is an excellent introduction to McKenna. I also found particularly fascinating his books "True Hallucinations" and his collaboration with Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake, "Trialogues at the Edge of the West." Regardless of your personal inclination to experiment with, or advocate for or against, psychoactive plants, you'll find it a fascinating and thought-provoking read that extends well beyond the realm of psychopharmacology and reaches deeply into our cultural underpinnings -- and our culture's possible futures.

THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

Also read: "Neuroscientists find God in mushrooms," Jeremy Laurance, New Zealand Herald, July 12, 2006

Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show and a morning progressive talk show on KPOJ in Portland, Oregon. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People," "The Edison Gene", and "What Would Jefferson Do?"

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THOM HARTMANN'S "INDEPENDENT THINKER" BOOK OF THE MONTH REVIEW

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America with a Preface by Cass R. Sunstein

Most Americans have never read the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution in their entirety, even though the process would take the average reader less than an hour. There are several small pocket editions of the two documents, but this one is unique in that it contains an excellent introduction by Cass R. Sunstein, and that it contains Thomas Jefferson's brilliant 1777 "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia."

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