Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Year in Books, #1 and #2 of 2005 

Regular readers of The Bite will hardly be surprised by the top 2 books of 2005, but the order of them might be a little surprising. I will do a short review here, as much more was posted on these two great books earlier on The Bite.

#2 (96 points) What's the Matter with Kansas?
#1 (97 points) The End of Oil

The End of Oil is not as funny as What's the Matter with Kansas, nor as well-written (it's very well written, but Thomas Frank is something else), but won out on the strength of its saliency (a book simply cannot be more salient than one tackling the energy industry, the upcoming--perhaps already here--peak in oil production and subsequent decline, and the impact it will have on society). The End of Oil shows how the asset inertia ($10 trillion!) of the energy industry, combined with the uncoupling of upfront and future costs in oil (a tank of gas does not include the future costs on the environment, public health, Middle East wars, etc.) and the lack of a "ready for prime time" alternative make the upcoming transition to the next energy economy such an unknown. Read this book. Paul Roberts takes the high-road, politically and across industries. This is as fair and indepth a summary of the past, present and future of the energy industry that you are likely to find.

What's the Matter with Kansas also takes the high road, pointing out how Dems have failed to make economic issues (in which they are slightly better than Republicans) the key issue. But it still makes its points, with stunning clarity: "What do [Kansans] demand? More of the very measures that have brought ruination on them and their neighbors in the first place". For example, the 1998 Republican platform in Kansas was:

1. Flat tax rather than graduated tax (the poor will pay a higher percentage than the rich because they can't "defer" income)
2. Abolition of capital gains tax
3. Abolition of estate tax
4. No government intervention in health care
5. Privatization of Social Security
6. Privatization in general
7. Deregulation
8. Turning over of Federal land to the states
9. "Freedom to Farm" act which undermined soil conservation and eliminated farm price supports

Every single one of these undercuts the most rabid (conservative) Republican voters.

Among the litany of interesting tidbits in this book are (a) that the poorest counties in the US are all in the Great Plains, (b) that the Republicans--who will NEVER override Roe vs. Wade and thus lose their "single issue" nostril-picking voters--have snookered poor folks into voting for the party that continually ignores so-called "moral" votes once (re-)elected, and most importantly (c) that he coined the marvelous expression "narcissism of victimization" to explain the shocking situation in which a Party that completely controls a state and nation still portrays itself as a victim of baby-killing, Hollywood sleazes who are in reality disempowered in today's Red America. This sums it up--cake and eat it, too--narcissism. I'm completely in power, but still portray myself as a victim.

Look at this weeks' headlines. Bush is caught illegally spying on his Murkin Citzens and turns around claiming he is a victim, and all Murkins are victims, now that this is out, it will aid and abet terrorism, abortions, chronic fingernail biting, whatever! Go back to Crawford and workin' the gherkin, or choking the pretzel, or whatever it is you do with your five months of vacation each year...

Back to our book. Compared to, for example, God's Politics (by well-meaning but sententious Sojourner Jim Willis), Thomas Frank's book is a delight. He gives some advice to Dems--focus on the differences between the Parties, not the similarities. And make your differences worth the vote.


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