Book Fact Friday – Incarceration Rates

From chapter 2 of Caught:

The race to incarcerate began in the 1970s. It persisted over the next four decades despite significant fluctuations in the country’s economic health and crime rates. Since then, there have been several points where different groups of people have suggested reforms because it was becoming too expensive to incarcerate as the same level, including an advisory board appointed by Ronald Reagan and fiscally conservative Republicans who had previously been penal hard-liners. Still, the rate of incarceration has not decreased, and the current model is not economically sustainable.

Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics
Marie Gottschalk
Introduction

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The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Meanwhile, a carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment, extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between prison and full citizenship, from probation and parole to immigrant detention, felon disenfranchisement, and extensive lifetime restrictions on sex offenders. As it sunders families and communities and reworks conceptions of democracy, rights, and citizenship, this ever-widening carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.

In this book, Marie Gottschalk examines why the carceral state, with its growing number of outcasts, remains so tenacious in the United States. She analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies—one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism.

In this bracing appraisal of the politics of penal reform, Gottschalk exposes the broader pathologies in American politics that are preventing the country from solving its most pressing problems, including the stranglehold that neoliberalism exerts on public policy. She concludes by sketching out a promising alternative path to begin dismantling the carceral state.

#WinnerWednesday: Congratulations, Ellen Wu!

Ellen D. Wu – The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority

Finalist for the 2015 Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

The Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award is given annually to the book judged best on any aspect of the immigration history of the United States.  “’Immigration history’ is defined as the movement of peoples from other countries to the United States, of the repatriation movements of immigrants, and of the consequences of these migrations, for both the United States and the countries of origin.” The Immigration and Ethnic Historical Society has complete information on this award here.

Wu has written on “the model minority myth” for the LA Times, and has answered questions about her book here. She also won The Immigration and Ethnic Historical Society’s Outstanding First Book Award this year.  Congratulations, Ellen!

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The Color of Success:
Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority
Ellen D. Wu
Hardcover | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691157825
376 pp. | 6 x 9 | 19 halftones.eBook | ISBN: 9781400848874
Endorsements | Table of Contents
The Color of Success embodies exciting developments in Asian American history. Through the lens of racial liberalism and cultural diplomacy, Ellen Wu offers a historically grounded analysis of the Asian American model minority in the contexts of domestic race politics and geopolitics, and she unveils the complexities of wartime and postwar national inclusion.”
Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania

An interview with Nancy Woloch, author of A Class by Herself

Nancy Woloch’s new book, A Class by Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers 1890s-1990s, looks at the historical influence of protective legislation for American women workers, which served as both a step toward modern labor standards and as a barrier to equal rights. Recently, Nancy took the time to answer some questions about the book, her reasons for writing it, and the modern day legacies of this legislation, from pregnancy law, to the grassroots movement to raise the minimum wage.

Woloch jacketWhy did you write this book?

NW: Conflict over protective laws for women workers pervades twentieth-century US women’s history. These laws were everywhere. Since the early 1900s, almost every state enacted some sort of women-only protective laws—maximum-hour laws, minimum wage laws, night work laws, factory safety laws. Wherever one turns, the laws spurred debate, in the courts and in the women’s movement. Long drawn to the history of these laws and to the arguments that they generated, I saw the opportunity to carve out a new narrative: to track the rise and fall of protective laws from their roots in progressive reform to their collapse in the wake of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and beyond. Here was a chance to fuse women’s history and legal history, to explore social feminism, to reconstruct a “constitutional conversation,” and to ferret around all the topics that protective laws touch — from transatlantic connection to social science surveys to the rise of equal rights. Above all, the subject is contentious. Essentially, activist women disrupted legal history twice, first to establish single-sex protective laws and then to overturn them. This was irresistible.

What is your book’s most important contribution?

NW: My book shows the double imprint that protective laws for women workers left on US history. The laws set precedents that led to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and to modern labor law, a momentous achievement; they also sustained a tradition of gendered law that abridged citizenship and impeded equality until late in the century.

Which groups of women activists first supported women-only protective laws?

NW: I focus on members of the National Consumers’ League, a pressure group formed in 1898 and led as of 1899 by reformer Florence Kelley. One of the most vibrant and successful reform organizations of the Progressive Era, the NCL enabled the campaign for protective laws to move forward. I also focus on the federal Women’s Bureau, started in 1920, which inherited the mission of the NCL: to preserve and promote protective laws. Other women’s associations, too, were involved; so were women labor leaders. But the NCL and the Women’s Bureau were most crucial. Women who promoted women-only protective laws endorsed a dual rationale: the laws would redress disadvantages that women faced in the labor force and provide “industrial equality”; they would also serve as an “entering wedge” to labor standard for all workers. The dual rationale persisted, with variations, for decades.

 How did you come up with the title?

NW: “A Class by Herself” is a phrase used by Justice David J. Brewer in Muller v. Oregon, the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1908 that upheld a state ten-hour law for women workers in factories and laundries. Woman, Justice Brewer stated, “is properly placed in a class by herself, and legislation designed for her protection may be sustained, even when like legislation is not necessary for men and could not be sustained.” Two issues intersect in the Muller case: Can the state impose labor standards? Is classification by sex constitutional? The fusion of issues shapes my narrative.

The Muller case remains fascinating. I am stunned with the exceptional leverage that Florence Kelley grasped when she intervened in the final appeal of the case. I am struck with the link that Muller’s lawyers posited between employers’ interests and equal rights; with the fragile relationship between the famous Brandeis brief and the Brewer opinion; and with the way that Justice Brewer challenged Brandeis for dominance. I still ask myself: Who took advantage of whom? Looking back on Muller, I find an intriguing contrast between that case and the Supreme Court case that terminally rejected the Muller principle, UAW v. Johnson Controls (1991). This is when single-sex protective laws definitively expired. Johnson Controls also offers a counter-image of the 1908 case.

Did classification by sex ever help women workers?

NW: Yes, of course. Women-only state protective laws might provide benefits to women workers. In many instances, they provided shorter hours, higher wages, or better working conditions, just as reformers envisioned. But women-only laws always had built-in liabilities. Laws based on “difference” perpetuate difference. They entail hierarchy, stratification, and unequal power. They can quash opportunity, advancement, and aspiration. Once embedded in law, classification in sex might be adapted to any goal conjured up by lawmakers, or, as a critic in the 1920s pointed out, used to impose whatever restrictions “appeal to the caprice or prejudice of our legislators.”

What sort of challenges did you face as an author?

NW: Protective laws were tough customers. They fought back; they resisted generalization; they defied narrative. Part of the challenge was that I deal with a great mass of legislation –several hundred state laws — and each type of law followed its own trajectory. I also cover the laws and their ramifications over many decades. To estimate the impact of protective laws on women workers at any given time was a hazardous undertaking; one could not easily measure the negative effects, or what one critic called the “debit side.” Changing circumstances compound the problem; the effects of the laws were always in flux. Not least, protective laws generate controversy among historians; to tackle this subject is to stroll through a minefield. A special challenge: to cope with the end of protective laws in the 1960s and 1970s.

What was the biggest surprise you encountered in writing this book?

NW: The role of “surprise” itself was a surprise. Progressive reformers who promoted women-only labor laws in the early 1900s could not see around corners, anticipate shifts in the economy, or envision changes in the female work force. Nor could their successors or their opponents. Much of my narrative is a story of close calls and near misses, of false hopes and unexpected consequences, of accident and unpredictability. The theme of the unforeseen peaks with the addition of “sex” to Title VII of the Civil Rights bill of 1964; the impact of the amended Title VII on women-only protective laws was yet more of a surprise. I was surprised myself, as narrator, by the complexity of the downfall of protective laws. I was also surprised to discover the key role that “overtime” played in my story and the gradual mutation in its meaning over the decades.

Does your subject have present-day legacies?

NW: Definitely. In a sense, single-sex protective laws sank totally out of sight when they capsized in the 1970s. But in another sense, many facets of the history of protective laws reverberate; the echoes pervade current events. Labor standards are now a global issue, as illustrated in Bangladesh in 2012 and 2013. The fire in a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka that killed 117 workers, so reminiscent of the 1911 Triangle fire, and the yet more lethal collapse of an 8-story building, with garment production on its upper floors, underline the need for safety regulation everywhere. Closer to home, the drive to improve labor standards continues. Most recently, we have seen a grassroots movement to raise the minimum wage and efforts to revise federal law on the threshold for overtime. Reconciling work and parenthood impels discussion. Pregnancy law remains a challenge; enforcement of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 has spurred more litigation than anyone expected. A recent case is Young v. United Parcel Service (2015). Beyond that, demands for compensated parental leave proliferate. President Obama’s proposal to fund parental leave, though unlikely to move forward right now, at least keeps the issue on the table. Finally, equal employment opportunity cases remain a challenge, from the Lily Ledbetter case of 2007 to the dismissed Wal-Mart case of 2011. Title VII, which catalyzed the end of single-sex protective law, turns out to be a work in progress.

Q&A with Linda Fowler, author of Watchdogs on the Hill

Fowler jacket

Linda Fowler is the author of the new release, Watchdogs on the Hill: The Decline of Congressional Oversight of U.S. Foreign Relations. Recently she answered some questions about the book’s contribution, her writing process, and why domestic influences in international affairs is such an important and overlooked topic.

What inspired you to get into your field?

LF: I worked on Capitol Hill right after graduating from college at a time when Congress was in disarray.  The country was tearing itself apart over the Vietnam War, and lawmakers appeared helpless to deal with the upheaval.  Octogenarians dominated the leadership in both chambers, creating opportunities for President Nixon to push the bounds of the Constitution with seeming impunity.  Once I started graduate school I wanted to better understand how the world’s most powerful legislature had ended up in such a sorry state.  I was unimaginably fortunate that one of the nation’s most distinguished congressional scholars became my teacher and mentor.  Richard Fenno taught me to see the democratic possibilities in Congress, to take a longer view about its imperfections, and to focus on close observation of the people who shape it through their daily actions.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book? 

LF: I learned that Congress had done a better job overseeing U.S. foreign policy since the start of the Cold War than most political observers acknowledged, but that since the mid-1990s, the institution has performed poorly in light of historical norms.  At first glance, this pattern seemed paradoxical:  why would lawmakers have been more effective monitoring the executive during a time when fears of nuclear war generated enormous pressures to defer to the White House regarding national security?  The answer eluded me until I began to focus on changes inside the Senate that devalued committee work.  When legislative craft and expertise mattered less to individual member’s success, they spent less time on committee hearings and thus diminished their capacity for oversight of the president.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

LF: The book demonstrates that the seemingly arcane business conducted by legislative committees matters a great deal in how well Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibilities in foreign affairs.  In an era in which commentators focus on the personality of the president and his conflicts with critics, the findings of the remind us why the framers put their faith in institutions, not individuals.  The unique research design of the study combines in-depth analysis of the content of committee hearings; lengthy time series from 1947-2008; investigation of both public and secret sessions; and detailed case studies.  Together, the different facets of the project enabled me to clearly identify trends and the reasons behind them, while grounding the analysis in real-world events.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

LF: Early in my career, when I was struggling with my first book, someone told me to stop fussing over the introduction and go back to it once I had the individual pieces of the story.   It is advice I have followed ever since.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life? 

LF: I found it most challenging to create a coherent narrative that did justice to the complexity of the topic, the wide variety of historical data, and the use of both statistical and qualitative tools of analysis.

Why did you write this book? 

LF: In 2004, I had just finished a long stint in an administrative position at Dartmouth and was looking to reinvent myself as a scholar by undertaking a new project.  Several articles in the news that spring caught my attention because they quoted members of the House of Representatives publicly scolding two of the Senate’s most distinguished members, Foreign Relation’s chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Armed Services chairman John Warner (R-VA), for scheduling oversight hearings of President Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq. In the past, such pointed challenges would have been unthinkable, given the Senate’s prestige in foreign affairs.  I wanted to discover whether the Senate’s prime national security watchdogs had lost influence and, if so, what reasons lay behind the change.

Who do you see as the audience for this book? 

LF: Scholars have paid comparatively little attention to the subject of Congress and foreign policy: congressional experts focus primarily on lawmaking, while foreign policy specialists tend to overlook domestic influences in international affairs.  My objective was to redirect the attention of both camps by showing that oversight was an integral part of the legislative process and key to the rule of law and democratic accountability in war and peace.  Despite the scholarly focus, I wanted to make the book interesting to students, journalists, and people generally interested in American politics. So, I worked hard to make it accessible by using case studies to illustrate the main arguments, avoiding jargon, and burying the technical material in appendices.

How did you come up with the title or jacket? 

LF: A major theme of the book is that Congress needs to do better in overseeing U.S. foreign affairs, so I wanted a cover that conveyed both gravity and urgency.  The bold lettering of the title, the yellow color of the subtitle and the photograph of the famous hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by chairman William Fulbright (D-AR), during the Vietnam War convey those messages.

Q&A with Leah Wright Rigueur, author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican

This week, Leah Wright Rigueur took the time to talk with us about her new book, The Loneliness of the Black Republican. Read the introduction for free, here.

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How did you come up with the title and jacket?

LR: The title of the book comes from a 1987 Heritage Foundation speech by Clarence Thomas, originally titled, “Why Black Americans Should Look to Conservative Policies.” In 1991, when George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to a seat on the Supreme Court, newspapers and journals re-printed the speech under the header, “No Room at the Inn: The Loneliness of the Black Conservative.” In 1999, conservative writer Shelby Steele later borrowed this title for an essay for the Hoover Institution and a chapter in his book The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America.

I slightly amended the title to reflect the stories of those African Americans that joined the Republican Party, an ideological gamut that encompassed liberal, moderate, and of course, conservative factions. Of all the titles I considered, The Loneliness of the Black Republican felt the most “right.” Since 1936, black Republicans – of all ideological backgrounds – have complained of being isolated because of their small numbers; they constantly bemoaned their outsider status from both their political party and racial community. At the same time, the title holds some irony, since black Republicans played a significant role in the modern GOP. Over the course of nearly 50 years, the Republican Party strategically implemented some of black party members’ ideas and policies. Black Republicans ideas also occasionally gained support from outside the GOP, as well – from the black press, black Democrats, and even black voters.

The jacket image is a photograph of Jewel Lafontant at the 1960 Republican National Convention, courtesy of the Oberlin College Archives. She’s seconding the presidential nomination of Richard Nixon. Lafontant was a prominent Chicago attorney and civil rights advocate (she helped co-found the Congress of Racial Equality – CORE), who became a Republican advisor for Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Cabot Lodge, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush. The photograph immediately stood out when I first came across it while doing research for the book. Here is this powerful and brilliant black woman, with her eyes lowered – almost demurely – surrounded by white faces, none of whom seem to be paying attention! The photo also felt provocative since black women are the least likely of any racial/gender demographic to support the GOP. Considering all of that, I had to have this picture on the cover, as it so perfectly captured the idea of “loneliness.”

What would you have been if not an historian?

LR: I would have been a print or broadcast journalist. I love all things newsworthy, political and pop-culture related!

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

LR: Everyone! All kidding aside, I wrote this book for a general audience interested in politics, history, and civil rights. Within The Loneliness of the Black Republican, I took a measured approach to better understanding the role that African Americans have played in shaping the modern Republican Party. The book also holds lessons for members of both the GOP and the Democratic Party; in short, there’s something here for people of varying ideological backgrounds interested in the experiences of marginalized groups of people trying to gain power within a two-party political system.

My book inverts our understanding of the American political system – how and why people vote the way that they do and how they behave, politically. A great example of this is Jackie Robinson’s story, which I cover in detail, in the book. Nearly everyone knows Robinson for his baseball accomplishments, but few people know about his work with the GOP. Robinson described himself as a “militant black Republican” – he worked extensively with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and lobbied aggressively, on a national stage, to rid the party of its racist and segregationist element.

Although my book is a work of history, it also holds relevant lessons for contemporary politics.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

LR: When I first started my research, I feared that I wouldn’t find enough evidence to support a book-length project. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I found thousands of stories of black Republicans, spanning nearly a century. I was overwhelmed with information – the challenge thus became choosing whose story to tell and how. Initially, I felt terrible that I had to leave out so many stories, but as an author, I had to carve out a representative guide to black Republicanism. On a happier note, I have enough material to begin work on my next project, which will look at black Republican politics, 1980 – present day.

What are you reading right now?

LR: I recently read Megan Francis’ book, Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State, which re-conceptualizes the significance of the NAACP in American politics in the early part of the 20th Century. Next up is Lily Geismer’s book, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party and Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (April 2015). I’ve known all of these authors for years, and it is exciting to see their projects develop, take shape, transform and grow. I’m also trying to work my way though Stephen King’s novel Revival.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?

LR: It’s clear that the characters in The Loneliness of the Black Republican influenced modern day black Republican thought – there are direct links to figures ranging from Clarence Thomas, Tim Scott and Mia Love, to Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Michael Steele. But what completely blew me away was the way in which some of the figures in my book influenced, in part, modern black Democrats. It is uncanny how similar President Barack Obama, New Jersey Senator Corey Booker and even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick are to Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, for example. If we erased the political labels, I’d assume all of the officials came from the same political party.

Tell us something people would be surprised to know about you:

LR: I just had a baby girl in December 2014! I also have a two-year old son.
Our household is a lot of fun, to say the least!


 

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The Loneliness of the Black Republican:
Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power
Leah Wright Rigueur

2015 Black History Month Reading List

We are about halfway into the month of February and well into the celebration of Black History Month. Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History chooses a commemorative theme, and this year’s is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.” To learn more, click, here. In recognition of Black History Month, we’ve curated a must-read book list. Several of our titles have been receiving attention in the press of late, including in this Atlantic piece by Theodore R. Johnson on Leah Wright Rigueur’s new book, The Loneliness of the Black Republican, and in this feature in Raw Story (via The Guardian) on F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature.  You can check out the first chapter of each book in our reading list linked below.

 

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F.B. Eyes:
How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature

William J. Maxwell

 

bookjacket The Hero’s Fight:
African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State

Patricia Fernández-Kelly

 

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Caught:
The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics

Marie Gottschalk

 

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Sea of Storms:
A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina

Stuart B. Schwartz

 

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The Loneliness of the Black Republican:
Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power

Leah Wright Rigueur

 

Final stop on the Gayborhood tour- Seattle, Washington

Ghaziani _ Elliott Bay_image

Amin Ghaziani will make his sixth and final stop of his There Goes the Gayborhood tour at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington at 7PM on December 12th. All of Amin’s previous events have been standing-room-only, people-spilling-out-of-the-doors types of events, so arrive early to grab a seat.

More information can be found on Elliot Bay Book Company’s website as December 12th gets closer.

If you’re in the area, be sure to catch this event!

The Visioneers wins Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis HSS Prize

mccrayPatrick McCray, author of The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future, is the winner of the History of Science Society’s (HSS) Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize. The prize, which” honors books in the history of science directed to a wide public (including undergraduate instruction),” also comes with $1000 and a certificate. For more information on the history of the award, check out McCray’s own blog “Leaping Robot Blog,” or the History of Science Society’s website.

Congratulations Patrick McCray!

“Governor Christie, Fidel Castro, and Hurricane Sandy,” a guest post by Stuart Schwartz

Hurricane Sandy on October 25, 2012 (Source: NASA, MODIS, LANCE, HDF File Data processed by Supportstorm: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sandy_Oct_25_2012_1530Z.jpg)

In late October, 2012 superstorm Sandy swept up from the Caribbean and pounded the Northeast. The damage was horrendous: 268 dead, $68 billion in property loss, the most expensive disaster in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. The images of President Obama and Republican Governor Christie walking the beaches of New Jersey became an icon of collaboration at a time when the country was frustrated by Washington’s seeming deadlock. Obama was swept into office the following month, and Christie’s popularity soared in the aftermath. Sandy was not the only reason for these political results, but exit polls confirmed that it was certainly a factor. It was a demonstration that government can effectively provide help in a time of crisis when those in authority do not hold government in contempt, to paraphrase Paul Krugman. It was a message that resonated with large segments of the public.

Governor Christie gives a no-nonsense update on the state of things, post Hurricane Sandy. Credit:  Alec Perkins. Source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/alecperkins/8155687190/

Governor Christie gives a no-nonsense update on the state of things, post Hurricane Sandy.
Credit: Alec Perkins. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alecperkins/8155687190/

But Hurricane Sandy had come in the midst of a scientific and political controversies about the effects of climate change on the intensity and frequency of cyclonic storms, and about the nature or role of government in protecting citizens from calamities. The response to Hurricane Sandy revealed the complex and sometimes contradictory responses to these debates. Governor Christie’s post-Sandy pleading for Federal aid moved some fellow Republicans to criticize him for “big government” solutions and excessive dependence on Washington, but before Sandy and thereafter on the question of global warming like many of his Republican colleagues he had voiced his own doubts on climate change, and emphasized that he had more immediate problems to solve than to debate such arcane issues. That seemingly “practical” approach contributed to his reelection, and in October of last year in his victory speech, the governor spoke of “the spirit of Sandy,” the sense of community and cooperation in problem solving that could become the way he would meet many kinds of political and social challenges.

Unknowingly, Governor Christie was repeating the arguments of Fidel Castro in a similar situation following the disastrous Hurricane Flora of 1963. Flora, the second deadliest storm in the history of the Atlantic had killed about 8,000 people in Haiti and Cuba. Castro at the time, embarrassed by the Missile crisis mobilized all of the institutions of Cuba in the relief effort. Cuba suffered over 1,200 death which was bad enough, but given the dimension of the storm, the government effort was a tremendous success. The successful cooperation and mobilization of society convinced him that this spirit of Flora could become the attitude in which all the country’s problems were met. Castro’s actions after Flora were used to justify the effectiveness of the Revolution and, in fact, Cuba subsequently became a model for disaster mitigation and preparation, but whatever the immediate political benefits, overtime Castro’s speeches also became “greener,”and like many leaders in the Caribbean, he began to emphasize the need to take global warming and the rise of the oceans seriously.

For the most part, that has not been the case in New Jersey. The problem is that separation of practical issues from long-term issues like global warming is short-sighted. In Sandy, for example, the New Jersey Transit Corporation, basing its decision on past experience failed to move its rolling stock to high ground and as a result suffered a loss of a quarter of its trains and $150 million in damages. New York’s MTA under Governor Cuomo suffered far less because he had taken climate change as a reality and had taken necessary precautions. Both governors had been handicapped, however, by the fact that FEMA funding had been so reduced prior to Sandy that the shoreline maps of areas of possible flooding of New York and New Jersey were decades out of date.

Castro’s experience following hurricane Flora made him an advocate of strong government action in response to natural disasters, but it had also made him responsive to the challenges of environmental change. It remains unclear if Governor Christie who is looking forward to 2016 has learned a similar lesson, and more importantly, if he could make that message appealing to his political party, the leadership of which continues to deny scientific evidence of human caused climate change, or suggests that even if it does exist, there is little that can be done about it. That position combined with a neo-liberal argument for weakening financial support for the public sector, lowering investments in infrastructure, and the dismantling of central authority that has gained much support since the 1980s, and it raises the question for Governor Christie and the rest of us if the “spirit of Sandy” that he so passionately invoked will be enough to confront the challenges of climate change.


Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. His many books include All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World and Sea of Storms. A History of Caribbean Hurricanes from Columbus to Katrina (forthcoming January 2015).

Andrew Delbanco in Ivory Tower


Andrew Delbanco, author of College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, is one of several interviewees in Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack’s movie Ivory Tower. The movie, which made its debut at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, will make its global television premiere on CNN/U.S. on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 9:00pm and 11:00pm Eastern.

“As tuition rates spiral beyond reach for many students, and student loan debt passes $1 trillion (more than credit card debt), the film asks: Is college worth the cost?  From the halls of Harvard, to public colleges in financial crisis, to new models for accessing higher education influenced by Silicon Valley, the filmmakers assemble an urgent portrait of a great American institution at a transformational breaking point.”

Source: CNN, http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2014/11/07/ivory-tower-asks-is-college-worth-the-cost/

For more information on the documentary that is sure to spark conversations about the state of higher education in America, click here.


 

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College:
What It Was, Is, and Should Be
Andrew Delbanco 

 

Q&A with Andrew Needham, author of POWER LINES: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest

In only four decades, Phoenix, Arizona, grew from a town of sixty-five thousand to the sixth largest city in America. But the air-conditioned subdivision homes that drew new residents from the East Coast and Midwest came at a price. As Phoenix grew, so did its reliance on electricity and resources from the neighboring territory of the Navajo Nation. Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest explores the often untold story of Phoenix’s growth—a federally subsidized postwar boom that exploited the Navajo Nation and spurred the roots of the contemporary coal-fueled climate change crisis.

Princeton University Press catches up with Andrew Needham, author of Power Lines, to discuss his inspiration and the challenges of organizing this multifaceted story of Southwest growth.

Needham

PUP: Why did you write this book?

AN: I started thinking about the ideas in this book long before I started graduate school. We were driving from Albuquerque to the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, crossing what I’ve come to know as the eastern portion of the Colorado Plateau, which is a really beautiful mesa country, lots of the stark buttes and redrock sandstone characteristic of the Southwest.

Somewhere in northwest New Mexico, I saw a giant smoke plume on the horizon, which I initially assumed was a forest fire, because the West was in the midst of fire season. When we came over a rise and I saw Four Corners Power Plant, which is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the US, I was outraged, primarily because it seemed to represent a violation of everything we were on vacation to do, go see Big Nature, get away from “civilization.” Of course, I probably used that electricity, unthinkingly, that night.

But that experience started me thinking about how the production of electricity has become largely hidden from contemporary life, even as its use, particularly for the consumer goods in the “post-industrial age,” continues to increase. And it led me to start thinking about patterns of metropolitan development and underdevelopment, which at the time I was writing were largely told as a story of non-white inner cities surrounded by suburbs that people since the 1960s have characterized as a white noose.

As I began researching the electrical power networks that I saw on that car trip, I started to think that we needed to rethink that map of metropolitan inequality to account for all the ways that the land and resources of the metropolitan periphery, that space beyond the suburban frontier, are used as the location for institutions like power plants and landfills. Those institutions serve the needs of predominantly metropolitan consumers but displace most of their negative effects over great spatial distance. So in part, I wrote this book to figure out and explain how these two spaces – in this case Phoenix and the Navajo Reservation – that seem so far apart are actually intimately connected.

PUP: What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

AN: The biggest challenge for me is that the book involves so many pieces that are so disparate. There’s municipal politics in Phoenix and federal oversight of public lands. It contains stories about home builders in Phoenix and stories about federal Indian policy. There’s environmental politics and Indian politics. Figuring out a narrative strategy to have all of these elements makes sense in the same story took a long time.

The first chapter was the hardest to write, because I basically had to narrate the story of a region that didn’t yet exist cohesively, I call it “a region of fragments.” It covers a huge swath of time, from the formation of coal 100 million years ago to the eve of World War II, just to put the story in motion. I think it was worthwhile doing, though, because the pre-history that’s contained in that chapter is really important to the broader story. Phoenix doesn’t grow just because of air conditioning or particularly savvy public officials, it also grows because it’s located near these rich coal supplies that are not developed for reasons having to do with the region’s fragmentation. But I probably went through 30 drafts of that chapter, with many parts that got thrown out because they were interesting but peripheral.


I did not set out to write a book that tells the underlying history of climate change, but I think I accidentally stumbled into writing that book. And I think that lesson, about how our daily actions of turning light switches has dramatic and far reaching consequences for the social and natural worlds we live in, are lessons that many Americans are ready to think hard about. They need to be.


PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

AN: I think there are three contributions the book makes to the way we understand American life in the past 60 or so years. The first is just how dramatically electrical consumption grew over that time period. Between 1945 and 1970, Phoenix sees on the order of a 7500 percent increase in electrical consumption. Phoenix is somewhat anomalous, in that its population grows so much, but even if you break down the per capita consumption, the growth is really stark. The average home in Phoenix in 1945 uses about 1500 kilowatt hours annually. By 1970, that number is above 12,000. And it’s not just air conditioning. The Federal Housing Administration’s underwriting guidelines in the late 1930s ensure that even inexpensive houses will use much more electricity than they did previously, and a lot of local businessmen are deeply involved in promoting (and benefiting from) the growth of Arizona Public Service, the main private utility based in Phoenix.

The second contribution is the story of how the people who lived on these energy lands responded to these dramatic changes. And it surprised me, because it was a far more complicated story than I expected that disrupted many of the stories that told about Indians in modern America. I discovered deep divisions among Navajos responding to these rapid changes: from great hopes that the Navajo Tribe could harness this development to replicate the kinds of things Phoenix had done to attract high tech industry and to enjoy consumer modernity — a dream of “two light bulbs in every Hogan” in the words of one tribal official — to beliefs that the tribe could nationalize their energy holdings and become part of “an Indian OPEC,” to arguments that tribal leaders had misused their authority and had betrayed people at the grass roots by negotiating with energy companies.

I think I discovered two really important things in exploring those arguments. The first was that organized political action had surprising efficacy in contesting the ability of energy companies to claim resources as long as it happened before infrastructure was built. Once there was infrastructural investment made, in the form of coal mines, power plants, and transmission lines, however, political challenges proved much more difficult. The second, more simply, was that Navajos, and other people living near this new landscape of energy production, have grappled far longer with questions about where electricity comes from and what damages its production does than metropolitan Americans, who are just beginning to think about these questions in relation to the current crisis of climate change.

Finally, the book tells how coal became the fuel that powers modern America. Coal seems to symbolize the 19th century, railroads and steel production, not the 21st, but it’s coal-fired power, power whose production is “hidden” on the periphery of metropolitan America, that’s created “post-industrial” society. When people think of electricity in the Southwest, they think of the dams on the Colorado River. And these did allow a vision of modernity powered by, as Lewis Mumford wrote when the first of those dams were going up, “clean, flowing energy.” But the other side of that was ever-rising consumption. Water’s energy was limited, both by the capacity of the falling water in the Colorado River and by politics, which rendered new dams both overly costly and environmentally destructive by the early 1960s. Coal served as a convenient alternative, both for environmentalists who sought to save “the living river” and for private utility executives who sought to avoid the federal control involved with the dams. And this story was replicated, in different local forms, across the nation between 1970 and today, when 594 new coal burning power plants were built.

PUP: Who do you see as the audience for this book?

AN: Like all authors, I think everyone would benefit from reading my book. Particularly the editorial boards of the New York Times and NPR. But seriously, I think, beyond its core academic readerships of urban, western, American Indian and environmental historians, it has interesting lessons for people interested in how the built environment of the past half-century, the built environment of suburbia has reshaped both human society and the natural world. I did not set out to write a book that tells the underlying history of climate change, but I think I accidentally stumbled into writing that book. And I think that lesson, about how our daily actions of turning light switches has dramatic and far reaching consequences for the social and natural worlds we live in, are lessons that many Americans are ready to think hard about. They need to be.

Check out the introduction of Power Lines here. For more on Andrew Needham’s work, hop over to KPCC, Southern California Public Radio — Andrew was interviewed earlier this fall. During the interview, he discusses the background behind this fall’s historic settlement between the US government and the Navajo Nation regarding misuse of land.

Cowardice: A Brief History, the song

Walsh_CowardiceCowardice: A Brief History explores a subject that is as important as it has been overlooked. The book shows that over the course of modern western history, the idea of cowardice has faded–a welcome trend because the fear of being judged cowardly has led to much recklessness and violence. Yet when this trend goes too far, when cowardice is dismissed as an absurd or irrelevant idea, we lose an essential part of our ethical vocabulary. So while the book condemns specious and harmful invocations of cowardice, it also argues that a rigorous and nuanced conception of cowardice–one that condemns failures of duty born of excessive fear, to give a quick definition–is worth keeping.

The book focuses on the archetypal home of cowardice, the battlefield. Sometimes I felt like I was in a battle (mostly with myself) in writing it. It took me a long time–almost twenty years--to finish. But the last part of the book escapes from war to explore cowardice in everyday life, in religion and crime and in love (another kind of battlefield). As I was writing this part I was actually able to have some fun–even to the point that I wrote lyrics and sent them to the amazing Chandler Travis who put them to music and recorded a demo you can listen to here. We titled the tune… “Cowardice: A Brief History.”

This is probably the only scholarly book to have its own eponymous song released with it. This is probably the only song that alludes to The Temptations and the Russian General Georgy Zhukov (1896-1974) in the same verse. And this is probably not the sort of thing a writer should do if he wants to maintain any sense of dignity, gravitas, etc.

But one of the things Cowardice advocates is not giving in to the cowardice of fearing excessively what people might think. The book argues that fear of cowardice can–sometimes–actually be useful in battling against other fears, more useful even than the aspiration to courage. The existence of the book itself is a modest example of this usefulness. It didn’t require me to be courageous, but once I decided that it was my duty to write it, to start a conversation that would not take place without a book called Cowardice, the fear of being cowardly helped me finish it.


This is a guest post by Chris Walsh, associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University.

Cowardice: A Brief History  

Chris Walsh