Political Veracity

One of the intriguing things about this election year is the fact that a documentary that focuses on Barack Obama’s failures as a President is something of a box-office hit (as documentaries go). It is titled 2016: Obama’s America and it was made at a cost of $6.2 million by a conservative scholar by the name of Denesh D’Souza. The film is based on D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

Now we know how difficult it is to get the facts regarding a politician — any politician. This is especially true in an election year. It has become commonplace for those marketing their candidates to simply state a half-truth or a downright lie and let the chips fall where they may. By the time the truth comes out the damage is done and the candidate has been elected. And marketers have discovered that if they repeat something often enough people take it to be the truth. I think they learned that from Joseph Goebbels. We are seeing this happen at the Republican National Convention and we will see it again when the Democrats convene. Usually in such cases what happens is the candidate lied about spends a great deal of time and money trying to disprove the allegations and forgets to present his or her point of view on the issues — or he starts throwing mud of his own. In either case it is the voters who lose out.

Ignoring the falsehoods and distortions that are filling the air at the NRC, let’s take the case of D’Souza’s film where there is apparently a nest of lies and half-truths amid the facts about Obama’s early life and his presidency — focusing especially on Obama’s putative anti-colonialism and his “excessive” sympathy for the underprivileged.  “Fact Check” on Yahoo News recently pointed out some of the problems with the film:

In Kenya, D’Souza interviews Philip Ochieng, a lifelong friend of the president’s father, who claims the elder Obama was “totally anti-colonial.” . . . D’Souza seems to suggest that if a onetime friend of Obama’s late father holds those opinions, so too must the president himself.

D’Souza then goes through a list of actions Obama has taken as president to support his thesis. Many of them don’t hold water:

— D’Souza rightly argues that the national debt has risen to $16 trillion under Obama. But he never mentions the explosion of debt that occurred under Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, nor the 2008 global financial crisis that provoked a shock to the U.S. economy.

— D’Souza says Obama is “weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadists” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He does not mention that Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the drone strikes that have killed dozens of terrorists in the region.

—D’Souza wrongly claims that Obama wants to return control of the Falkland Islands from Britain to Argentina. The U.S. refused in April to endorse a final declaration on Argentina’s claim to the islands at the Summit of the Americas, provoking criticism from other Latin American nations.

—D’Souza says Obama has “done nothing” to impede Iran’s nuclear ambitions, despite the severe trade and economic sanctions his administration has imposed on Iran to halt its suspected nuclear program. Obama opposes a near-term military strike on Iran, either by the U.S. or Israel, although he says the U.S. will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.

Now whether or not we can trust the “fact check” article itself remains a chronic problem, though it does promise to correct misstatements on both sides of the political aisle. At some point we must simply have faith that the words we read are true. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, what we must do is think about what is written and judge it against what we know to be the case and what seems plausible. Certainty is simply not available to us.

But in the end, the truth may not matter, sad to say. People generally believe what they want to believe and those who will be persuaded by this documentary almost certainly already have their minds made up about this president and his failures. As a good friend of mine said in a comment on an earlier blog: “It seems as though many on the [political] right are only looking for passionate belief and see logic, evidence and critical thinking as being fundamentally opposed to the passionate belief they desire. . . They prefer that people just say what they believe and say it with lots of conviction; be loud and be proud. The louder one talks, apparently, the more truthfully one speaks.” This may well be true of all of us to a degree. So we shouldn’t despair: we who write for public consumption know full well that we preach to the choir. Few of us are as open to the antithesis as we should be if this were the best of all possible worlds and we were seriously interested in a balanced perspective.

Natural Rights

The concept of natural rights goes back at least as far as Thomas Aquinas in the medieval period. Aquinas recognized “higher laws” than the laws of man, though these laws are superseded by Divine Laws as revealed in the scriptures. The point of this recognition was to make humans aware that the laws men put “on the books” are not the only laws, or even the laws that in a specific case ought to be obeyed. Throughout history, remarkable men have appealed to “natural law” to justify the breaking of civil laws — men like Gandhi, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The thinker who did the most to popularize the notion of natural law and natural rights — which are derived from natural laws — was John Locke. His remarkable book Two Treatises of Government written in 1689 had a huge impact on the English Civil wars and the eventual ascendency of the Parliament over the King who had traditionally claimed “divine right” to rule with an iron fist. The notion of natural right, as Locke developed it, revolved around a set of moral principles that are available to human reason; these principles transcend the laws of men written in civil codes.

The notion that there is a “higher law” than the law of legislators was attractive to the British citizens living in America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They embraced Locke’s Second Treatise even after the British had tossed it aside and moved on. Jefferson in fact relied heavily on Locke’s political philosophy. But even before Jefferson incorporated Locke’s notion of natural rights into the Declaration of Independence, the notion itself was being tossed around rather loosely in the colonies and used as a convenient way to ignore laws that were inconvenient. and claim the “right” to do whatever one wanted. For example, the merchants on Philadelphia in 1773 who were annoyed by English taxes on tea from India felt it perfectly acceptable to bribe custom officials and smuggle tea into their warehouses on the grounds that “every man has a natural right to exchange his property with whom he pleases and where he can take the most advantage of it.”*  I dare say today’s corporate CEOs would heartily agree.

What this means, of course, is that if a person finds a particular law inconvenient or unnecessarily constrictive, he can ignore it on the grounds that it is in conflict with “natural law.” In a word, the notion when used in this loose way simply becomes another way of doing what one wants to do regardless of the consequences. This is not the way Jefferson meant the phrase “natural rights” to be taken when he speaks about man’s “unalienable [natural] rights” in the Declaration. These are God-given rights that no human laws can supersede. They are nearly on a par with Divine Laws as those were conceived by Thomas Aquinas. They were not mere whimsy and they were certainly not arbitrary.

Because of the loose way of speaking about natural rights and natural laws the notions passed out of common usage in the nineteenth century and very little mention of them can be found until the notion was resurrected after World War II by a group of Catholic thinkers because Hitler, among others, was careful to make certain that every step he took was perfectly “legal.” Thus, the notion of natural law and natural rights once again came to the fore: there had to be moral rules and laws that superseded the laws of fallible humans, whether they be Germans under the Third Reich or the Russians under Stalin.

So when Martin Luther King wrote his letter from the Birmingham jail in the turbulent 60s of the last century he once again appealed to natural, moral laws. When he says, for example, that  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” he is not speaking about human laws, as his frequent references to the Bible make clear. King was quite certain that there is a moral high ground and that some stand on it and others do not — despite what they might say. There are moral laws that trump human laws, and these laws are written on the heart and speak to human conscience.

* Found in John Miller’s Origins of the American Revolution.

Gutting the E.P.A.

One of the more insidious aspects of Mitt Romney’s energy plan is to allow individual states to grant permission for Big Oil to drill on the federal lands within their borders. This plan would effectively circumvent the Environmental Protection Agency, though our large corporations would love to see that agency disappear into the night.

But as one who has taught business ethics for years and who has seen countless numbers of cases in which federal agencies stand between each of us and poisoned air and water, contaminated foods, and harmful drugs, the idea that the EPA might be weakened strikes me as a seriously stupid on Romney’s part. The recent issue of OnEarth the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council provides a case in point.

In this issue we are told about a  legal case brought by NRDC in conjunction with the EPA against British Petroleum in Whiting, Illinois (about 20 miles southeast of Chicago) where BP has a refinery that processes crude oil from the Canadian tar sands (which in themselves are another environmental disaster. But that’s another story.) The refining process, as determined in a study by the Sierra Club in 2010, is a hazard to the health of people within a few miles of the refinery, causing health problems such as asthma, emphysema, and birth defects.

The court ruled in behalf of the EPA and British Petroleum will have to shell out $400 million “to install [scrubbers ?] and prevent 4,000 tons of pollutants — including sulfur dioxide, soot, and toxic substances such as benzene — from billowing out of the refinery each year.” The settlement requires that BP reduce the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions and inform the public about the results of its pollution monitoring. As OnEarth goes on to point out, “the settlement means that refineries around the country will face more rigorous standards when they attempt to modify their operations.” And yet, the EPA is the agency that the Republican candidate for President would gut and render impotent in the name of “jobs” and, of course, higher profits for the wealthy.

We need to realize as this election approaches that there are issues much larger than merely the state of the economy that are in question. The mantra of “lower taxes” and “more jobs” needs to be tempered by a realization that we need to regard the long term as well as the short term. When jobs are created they need to be in industries that have a social conscience and will not undermine our health and safety. And if lower taxes mean cutting back on the authority of such agencies as the EPA it may very well entail the turning loose of unconscionable companies like BP who care only about “the bottom line” and not a bit about our health and the future of the planet.  (You may recall BP was the culprit in the gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 brought about by the company’s unwillingness to build in safety measures in their drilling equipment. The repercussions of that spill are still being felt in the region) There are indeed large issues at stake in this election and we need to be aware of the cloud of rhetoric that surrounds us in an election year and can be just as threatening to our well-being as the fumes from an oil refinery.

Taxed Enough Already?

I have had the audacity to suggest that we need to change our mind-set about paying taxes. We lump taxes together with death as the two things we dread and can be certain of. But I suggested that we think of taxes as a way of helping our neighbors who may be in need and improving our schools which are failing to get the job done. We pay fewer taxes than most of the people in the “developed” countries and our schools are near the bottom of that group of countries as well. There may be a connection.

In reflecting on this issue, I came across an article in the British paper The Guardian in which the author suggested that Brits — who also dread taxes — think about Sweden where the attitude toward taxes is downright positive. In a recent poll, it was revealed that a growing number of Swedes are pleased to pay taxes because they feel their tax money does so much good. As the article went on to explain:

One way to examine the issue is to compare state help provided by the British government to one which traditionally charges much higher taxes: Sweden. Swedes support the second-highest tax burden in the world – after Denmark’s – with an average of 48.2 per cent of GDP going to taxes. Yet Sweden, along with equally high-taxing Denmark and Norway, tops almost every international barometer of successful societies.

Swedes’ personal income tax can be as little as 29 per cent of their pay, but most people (anyone earning over £32,000) will pay between 49 and 60 per cent through a combination of local government and state income tax.

And yet, the Swedes are happy, the article goes on to explain. What angers them is people who won’t pay their taxes and therefore fail to support national programs that help make the country strong, their kids smarter, their economy healthier, and the people well off.

The key here is twofold: First, the positive attitude of the Swedes is predicated on the good the tax money results in: better schools, free lunches for the kids, excellent teachers, and fewer people in poverty. Secondly, the Swedes don’t spend 60% of their tax revenue on the military. They are not supporting armed forces around the world that are presumably keeping us safe from our enemies. Let’s reflect on these points one at a time.

To take the first point first, the common perception in this country is that much of our tax money is wasted on the poor who are all crackheads and busily making one another pregnant with unwanted children. I have written to this point as it is a misconception that is widely accepted among so many Americans who pay taxes in the 10-35% range and who really would rather hang on to all their money and spend it on themselves. But there would certainly have to be some housecleaning and a good deal more accountability before enough people in this country became convinced that their money is being well spent on those in need, on improving the schools, and helping to save the planet from our mindless abuse. There is much good being done already, but more needs to be done and people need reassurance that their money is being well spent.

But I must say the second point above is the sticking point for me. We spend an inordinate amount of money on the military, thereby increasing profits among the multinational corporations who help them wage war. It’s not clear why we need such a gargantuan military presence and I sometimes wonder if it is the military presence itself that creates fear in others and results in them becoming our enemies in the first place. In other words, we are scaring the hell out of everyone else on the planet with our armed presence around the world and that may be what makes them take up arms against us — which in turn makes it necessary for us to increase military spending to protect ourselves against our enemies. It may indeed be a vicious circle. If we are not in fact a bellicose nation, we appear to be so. Perhaps if we presented a friendlier face to the rest of the world the army and navy could “stand down,” as they say in military parlance.

In any event, there are at least two obstacles to the citizens of this nation adopting a more positive attitude toward paying taxes, both of which are based on fear (and possible misconceptions) and neither of which contributes to a healthier and happier world.

Opposites Repel

In an earlier blog I mentioned an editorial by Michael Brune in the Sierra Magazine who expressed his optimism about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in Washington, D.C. on climate change. He mentioned his meetings with several political big-wigs on both sides of the aisle, one of whom indicated that “on climate change there’s really not much separating us.” He was speaking for the Republicans with whom he is identified and to whom his loyalties lie — to the point where he fears possible repercussions from his colleagues should he speak his mind. As he himself went on to say “there’s no way I can say that publicly.” He spoke to Mr. Brune “off the record.”

What we have here is a politician — described by Brune as a “prominent Republican” — who is unable to speak publicly about his concerns over one of the most pressing issues facing this nation if not humankind because of party loyalty. Think about that. Washington politics is no longer about what is good for the country — if it ever was — it is about what is good for the party (and the folks who have bought the party and now run the show).

In the era of what the editors of Sierra magazine called “The Worst Congress” ever it is not possible for the two sides to come together to hammer out some sort of compromise on energy and climate change. The “Worst Congress” — even worse than Newt Gingrich’s  104th Congress — has passed 247 anti-environmental measures and voted 77 times to undermine Clean Air protections. 94% of the Republican members of this Congress have cast anti-environmental votes and there have been 37 votes to block any action whatever on climate change.

This is why one of the more powerful members of that political party cannot speak publicly about his own concerns regarding one of the major issues of the day: he might be ostracized by his fellow party members and once outside he may never get back in. What we have is people on both sides of the aisle who are apparently concerned about climate change and the damage we are doing to the environment but who cannot get together for fear the they will be called “disloyal” — not to their country, but to their political party.

This impasse is not peculiar to environmental issues, of course, and it may well be the reason the confidence of voters around the country in the political system has fallen to new lows and Barack Obama has recently sounded like the great mediator, promising to work “with both sides” in the coming years if re-elected. Even the dullest person in the local bar complaining to his buddies can see that this system is broken. If the two sides cannot come together to work some sort of compromise on issues such as climate change, the repercussions will be heard around the world. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. The system seems to be broken, and if it is then the American experiment in democracy must be deemed a failure.

I couch these dire pronouncements in the conditional mode because there is always the possibility that even the dullest politician whose loyalties are deep and true to his or her political party may at some point realize that there are larger issues at stake and that party loyalty is not worth beans if the experiment does indeed fail. At some point, let us hope, a strong voice will be heard in the Congress that rises above the din of party loyalties and rallies colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to the deeper cause — which is to save the country, if not the planet.

In the meantime, thank goodness, small but encouraging steps are being taken by bright, innovative, and caring individuals and small groups — even some state legislatures — that give us hope that even without a national environmental policy which makes sense, we will somehow turn the tide.

Bill

He always called me “coach.” For him this was a term of honor because he was a standout athlete in both high school and college. I had coached the women’s tennis team at the local university for 15 years and Bill read about our team’s ups and downs in the local newspaper. He was a stalwart supporter of everything having to do with sports.

We used to run into one another at the post office when I went to get the mail each morning and he liked to tell me about his experience on the tennis court. He took a P.E. class at St. Cloud State University and the instructor was the men’s tennis coach. He noted Bill’s athletic ability and urged Bil to try out for the team. Bill had never played tennis before, but he showed up one day and played one of the young men on the lower levels of the team and beat him. The interesting thing is that Bill never gloried in that victory: he felt bad for the young man he beat, because Bill really didn’t want to make the team; he wanted to play baseball — which he did. But he always felt bad for the poor guy who lost to the one-day wonder.

For years we would hear a knock on the door and Bill would appear with “road kill” — assorted vegetables he grew in his garden and wanted to pass along to people he liked. It was a privilege and we were always delighted to have the fresh vegetables and to chat with Bill about how things were going in his part of the world. This went on for a number of years.

Then the “road kill” started to be a bit strange — a single ear of corn with some overripe vegetables; a green tomato and several pale cucumbers; or a squash and three cherry tomatoes. His garden was close to a farmer’s corn field and Bill apparently collected some of the farmer’s corn in recent weeks thinking it was his own sweet corn and passed it along with his daily hand-outs — which explained the odd taste of the corn of late. The other day when we came home there was a plastic bag with a few cherry tomatoes in it sitting on a chair next to the door. It didn’t make much sense. Nor did Bill when I saw him and asked him how things were going. He kept repeating himself and wanted to talk about things like “poor Joe-Pa” who had botched things at Penn State. he felt sorry for Paterno and wished things had ended differently for him. So did I. But my wife and I started to worry about Bill as well.

Then very recently we heard that Bill has been diagnosed with dementia. I saw him just the other day coming out of the Post Office and he had no idea who I was. How very sad. He is fortunate to have daughters and a loving wife who can keep an eye on him. But he will soon be moved to a home, I suppose, as those men and women in our society are when they can no longer recognize their loved ones. Alzheimer’s is a terrible thing to be around. My grandmother had it late in her life and I saw her disappear behind a cloud of uncertainty and wonder, having no idea who we were. It left an indelible impression. And my wife and I saw this happen to Bill as well. We will miss him — and his road kill.

Mitt’s Energy Plan

Mitt Romney recently revealed the energy plan he would pursue if elected President. From an environmental standpoint it is a disaster, which is no surprise. After all this is the man who just raised $7 million in one day from Big Oil. Bearing in mind that this plan was revealed in a speech by a politician running for public office, we can take it with a grain of salt. None the less it reveals his mindset at present.

His plan involves opening federal lands to oil and gas exploration — leaving drilling permission to local states (thereby reducing considerably the effectiveness of the E.P.A.); it will allow drilling for oil off the East Coast of Virginia and the Carolinas; it will promote the Keystone Oil Pipeline, which Mitt has pledged to complete if he “has to build it with [his] own hands.” As a recent article in the Washington Post put it:

Getting there, Romney argues, will require three big things. First, the United States will need to open up more federal lands and waters to oil and gas drilling. President Obama, he says, has been far too sluggish on this front. Second, the federal government will need to give states more power to approve permits, in order to speed up the rate of drilling. And third, Romney would focus on building pipelines like Keystone XL and partnerships with Canada and Mexico to take fuller advantage of those countries’ oil resources. (Remember, Romney is promising “North American energy independence,” not U.S. energy independence.)

The plan, which touts “energy independence” for North America makes no mention of clean energy. In fact, it would eliminate subsidies for wind and solar energy, thereby discouraging alternate energy development. And there is no talk whatever of such cutting-edge projects as research into nuclear fusion or harnessing energy from the ocean tides. Mitt’s plan is all about “jobs.” He claims that his plan would create 3.6 million jobs. Here we go again.

To begin with, this plan commits the fallacy of bifurcation: either we create jobs or we save the planet, we can’t do both. Bollocks! We can do both. As I noted in a recent blog, The Union of Concerned Scientists has proposed  “a national renewable-electricity standard that ensured that utilities obtained at least 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, and bioenergy by 2025,” insisting that this would “create 297,000 new jobs, $13.5 billion in income to rural landowners, and $15.3 billion in new local tax revenues.”

But more importantly it is generally agreed that the 3.6 million jobs promised by this politician is an inflated figure. The actual number of jobs would be much lower. Further, jobs created during an oil boom are temporary and are almost always created at the cost of jobs elsewhere: people leave lower paying jobs to take the high-paying, albeit temporary, oil jobs. So the word “create” is being used in a very creative way here.

The truly disturbing thing about this plan is that it is completely out of tune with the times. For one thing, as the Bloomberg News reported recently, the U.S. is closer to energy independence at present than Romney would allow.

The U.S. is now closer to energy independence than anyone who waited in 1970s gas lines could have imagined. As Bloomberg News reports, oil imports fell to about 45 percent of U.S. demand last year and are expected to fall to about 42 percent this year, down from a peak of 60 percent in 2005. More than 80 percent of the country’s demand for power is now met by domestic sources. . .

Furthermore, this plan focuses on “jobs” and “energy independence” at the expense of the planet at a time when we should be concentrating on ways to protect the earth from further deterioration at the hands of greedy humans — while we might at the same time actually be creating jobs in the clean energy industry. Thus it would appear as I suggested in an earlier blog, this election is not about choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Despite the fact that Barack Obama has been somewhat disappointing, he has not mounted an attack on the environment and he has not targeted social programs that benefit the poor. We do have a real choice.

Compassionate Capitalism

Capitalism comes in many forms, from raw “free market” capitalism to the form we recognize in which capitalism is tempered somewhat by social programs to benefit those who might otherwise be excluded from the table of plenty where the capitalist sits and eats his fill. Robert Heilbroner wrote the definitive study of “raw” capitalism in 1985 and he characterized it as follows:

Its ideological aspect lies rather in the function played by its deepest conception — an indifferent and inert matter as the ultimate stuff of reality. It thus provides a world view compatible with, and needed by, that required for the limitless invasion of the world for the purpose of surplus accumulation. . . .The culture of capitalism thus expresses a voracious, even rapacious, attitude toward the material

world. — a point of view that would be impossible if the world were portrayed as ‘mother’ Nature.*

This view of the world was, of course, the view that Karl Marx attacked in this three-volume study of capitalism that led, eventually, to the establishment of socialism in countries like Russia and China. Marx was particularly concerned about the unethical dimensions of capitalism, its notion that the exploitation of workers was acceptable in the name of higher profits for the owners of the means of production. In fact, the ethical concerns raised by Marx were what carried the book to the popular heights it achieved later on; as a book on economics it was filled with flaws and misconceptions and is nearly unreadable. Marx’s economics rest, for example, on the “labor theory of value,” which has since been shown to be simplistic and downright unworkable.

Our country started out with what historians call “mercantile” capitalism, a form in which the mother country, Britain, dictated who the colonies were to trade with and to whom they could send exports. Most exports went directly to England, of course, while others were taxed heavily by Britain when sent elsewhere. In a word, the mother country called the shots and merchants and farmers who were eager to make profits in this country had to bend to the yoke willingly provided by Great Britain. This yoke eventually became a burden and erupted in the American revolution, of course. Indeed, Marx predicted that all forms of capitalism would eventually lead to revolution as the workers of the world would find their burden excessive and rise up and throw it off.

The fact that this has not happened in this country after the British yoke was thrown off is largely due to the growth and expansion of the middle class — a class that Karl Marx never saw evolving from the heart of capitalism. In addition, especially since the Great Depression, this country has introduced a number of social programs that have tempered capitalism and made it more compassionate, if you will — programs designed to assist those in need, those excluded (as mentioned above) from the table filled with rich foods that feed the “fat cats” at the top of the capitalist hierarchy. Also, a number of steps have been taken to temper the “rapacious” attitude of those in this country toward Mother Nature to whom they owe their very lives.

But the middle class and the social and environmental programs that make capitalism more compassionate have recently come under fire in the form of the Republican strategy to enrich those who control the wealth in this country and widen the gap between those with great wealth and those who are impoverished — while, at the same time, eliminating as far as possible those governmental restraints on further capitalist “rapaciousness” toward the planet. In a word, as the planet itself comes under attack, the middle class, which Karl Marx never saw coming, is in danger of falling into the chasm that is widening in this country as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. I discussed this in an earlier blog and it is reinforced by information collected by the Pew Research Center:

As the 2012 presidential candidates prepare their closing arguments to America’s middle class, they are courting a group that has endured a lost decade for economic well-being. Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.

Will this eventually erupt in a revolution as Marx predicted? Is “Occupy Wall Street” a sign of things to come? Will our continued denial of the stewardship we owe Mother Earth finally catch up with us? Time will tell. But much depends on the awareness of the growing number of those at the bottom of the capitalist pyramid who may or may not realize what is occurring. As of this writing they seem content to remain in the dark.

__________________________________

Robert Heilbroner: The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: W.W. Norton, Inc.), p. 135.

The Booker Award

My favorite blogger (MFB) newsofthetimes has awarded a number of her favorite bloggers the “Booker Award” for people who love books and spend much of their time with their noses buried in them. That’s me and I am especially touched by this award because “news” included me on her list. We have a mutual admiration thing going on here. The award requires that I list my five favorite books, mention at least five other bloggers who also deserve the award, and post the award itself.
I shall take these in reverse order:

My favorite blogger has already been mentioned and several others whom I would pass this award to are on the list “news” posted on her blog, including musingsofanoldfart and carrpartyoffive. And I thought immediately of EmilyJ, but “news” had already listed her. But there are a number of other exceptional bloggers and I will pass this award along to them:

1.Circles Under Streetlights. A woman who loves to read and also writes beautifully.

2. Seapunk2. A blogger who is alert and aware of whatever if going on around her in her home in the Pacific Northwest.

3. Salty Political Musings. The title says it all.

4. Jennifer Worrell. A very funny lady and her blogs are always worth reading.

5. Zebra Designs. A creative artist whose pictures along with her words always charm and delight.

6. Mindful Stew. A remarkable teacher who works hard at his craft and shares his insights and successes.

7. jotsfromasmallapartment has stacks of well-deserved awards. But I am sending this one along because she loves books and writes so well.

(I am stopping at 7 because folks in the middle ages regarded that number as lucky.)

The last requirement is the hardest because I have so many favorite books — books that I read again and again because, as I told “news” they reward me every time. But here goes:

1. Middlemarch. by George Eliot — the best book, perhaps, by one of the wisest writers I have ever read.

2. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Freud called it the greatest novel ever written, and he may be right.

3. Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad’s amazing novella that cannot be read too many times.

4. Don Quixote. Cervantes knew how to make humor take us closer to the human experience.

5. Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel — for a reason.

So there are my favorites — or many of them. It boggles the mind to try to come up with favorites and you always fear you have left someone or something out. If I were concentrating on American authors I would certainly include Melville and Steinbeck along with Wharton. But the requirements were for the top five.  in any case, I do thank newsofthetimes again for the delightful award.