Politics and Current Events

David Hall on The Last Hurrah

March 15, 2016
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David Hall on The Last Hurrah

In timely coincidence with today’s primaries and the book’s return to print, The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor received some well-tailored praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Hall, writing in the Columbia Daily Herald,  who suggests we: Take a breather from the daily pounding of politics and reflect: chaos, confusion, and gutter campaigning are not new. . . . Even today’s politics are not speeding away. We have survived travail through democracy. Good and thoughtful fiction lets us pause and reflect. Honing in on The Last Hurrah, an almost-story adapted from the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley, he writes of the book’s foreboding about the nature of the relationship between media and politics: Another poignant tale of American politics is The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor. Set in an old and mainline northeastern city, the novel examines the dying days of machine politics when largess held voters in sway. Frank Skeffington, 72, believes he is entitled to one more term. His political compass loses its bearing against a young, charismatic challenger, void of political experience but adorned with war medals and good looks. O’Connor’s 1956 novel was prescient in portraying the impact television would have on politics. While The Last . . .

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Sixteen for ’16: A primer for Bernie Sanders

February 22, 2016
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Sixteen for ’16: A primer for Bernie Sanders

A free chapter from Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America by Salvatore Babones (Policy Press) *** Back in the good old days, that is to say the mid-1990s, taxpayers with annual incomes over $500,000 paid federal income taxes at an average effective rate of 30.4%. For 2012, the latest year for which data are available, the equivalent figure was 22.0%. The much-ballyhooed January 1, 2013 tax deal that made the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all except the very well-off will do little to reverse this trend: The deal that passed Congress only restores pre-Bush rates on the last few dollars of earned income, not on the majority of earned income, on corporate dividends, or on most investment gains. Someone has had a very big tax cut in recent years, and the chances are that someone is not you. In the 1990s taxes on high incomes were already low by historical standards. Today, they are even lower. The super-rich are able to lower their taxes even further through a multitude of tax minimization and tax avoidance strategies. The very tax system itself has in many ways been structured to meet the needs of the super-rich, resulting in a . . .

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The Party Decides on The Brian Lehrer Show

January 27, 2016
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The Party Decides on The Brian Lehrer Show

The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform is having quite a week—and quite an election season, in general. The book was adopted early by Nate Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog, which led to explorations of its hypothesis here and here, and most recently here: where Silver posits the book as the most “misunderstood” of the 2016 primary season. The point of Silver’s statement rests on whether or not a Trump nomination would destroy the Republican Party. The book’s argument is that party elites—unelected insiders—control who ultimately ends up nominated at the convention, and that decision is made many months before the primary campaign season even begins. Was anyone but Trump the nominee (say Marco Rubio, or even Jeb Bush), then The Party Decides had it right all along; if Republicans put forward DT, then it may be less a sign that the statistically supported data of the book is incorrect, and more a case of the possible dissolution of the Grand Old Party. In the meantime, you can hear more about the book and what a Trump nomination might signify on today’s episode of The Brian Lehrer Show below: To read more about The Party Decides, click here. . . .

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The New York Times Book Review on Nut Country

December 15, 2015
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The New York Times Book Review on Nut Country

From Sam Tanenhaus’s review of Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy for the New York Times Book Review: Whenever we’re in danger of forgetting that the modern Republican Party is captive to a movement, one new excitement or another will jolt us back to reality — whether it is a trio of high-flying presidential candidates who’ve collectively served not a single day in elective office or an uprising by congressional Jacobins giddily dethroning their own leader. Each new insurrection feels spontaneous even as it revives antique crusades to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, “get rid” of the Supreme Court or — most persistent of all — rejuvenate the Old South. Half a century before Rick Perry indicated secession might be an option for Texas, John Tower, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, accepted the warm greeting of his new colleague, Senator Richard Russell, the Georgia segregationist, who reportedly said, “I want to welcome Texas back into the Confederacy.” Tower is one of the more statesmanlike figures in “Nut Country,” Edward H. Miller’s well-researched and briskly written account of Dallas’s transformation from Democratic stronghold to “perfect test kitchen” of a new politics of Republican protest that combined . . .

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An interview with Richard H. King on Arendt in America

November 20, 2015
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An interview with Richard H. King on Arendt in America

  Richard H. King’s Arendt and America considers a unique reception history—that of America on Hannah Arendt, and not the other way around. Situating Arendt within the context of US intellectual, political, and social history, King examines how time spent in her adopted homeland and the relationships she formed while living there allowed her the necessary time and space to develop some of her most compelling contributions to critical thought, including the idea of the modern republic as an alternative to totalitarian rule, and the concepts behind the “banality of evil.” Recently, Kind engaged in an hour-long interview with Lillian Calles Barger, for the New Books in Intellectual History series. From that interview’s header: Her interests were neither social nor cultural, but the political sphere. In Cold War America, she became part of a moral center of the New York intellectuals and forged relationships with people such David Reisman, Dwight MacDonald, Irving Howe, and Mary McCarthy. Arendt expressed a continual concern with the nature of political action, the possibility of new beginnings and the idea of the “banality of evil,” introduced in the controversial 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem.  Difficult to categorize ideologically, Arendt sought a “worldly” politic, rather than politics based in idealism or pragmatism. . . .

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Stephen Colbert and News at Work

September 21, 2015
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Stephen Colbert and News at Work

In a piece for the Atlantic on the debut of Stephen Colbert’s new late night gig, Megan Garber leverages some scholarship from Pablo Boczkowski’s News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance, which positions the thriving competition and rampant imitation prominent among journalists as impetus for our desires to instantly consume—and then avoid acrimonious public conversations about—breaking news (especially that of the political kind). Garber sees Colbert as a song-and-dance Charlie Rose, rather than a David Letterman, and goes on to frame his debut as part of the slow creep of politics into entertainment and entertainment into politics, ultimately noting Boczkowski’s discussion of chatting about politics with our peers. olitics and late-night comedy have long been happy, if occasionally awkward, bedfellows. Clinton, saxophoning with Arsenio. Bush, chatting with Leno. Obama, chatting with ferns. But Colbert was, in subtle but significant ways, different. He wasn’t treating Jeb as a celebrity, giving him an easy opportunity for free, and content-free, media; he was treating him as a person who is running for political office. He was actually interviewing him. He was trying to have a conversation with him about things that directly affect people’s lives. (Same, to some extent, with George Clooney, Colbert’s first . . .

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Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jamelle Bouie on The Submerged State

September 16, 2015
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Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jamelle Bouie on The Submerged State

  An excerpt from an exchange between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jamelle Bouie on Twitter yesterday, in which (among many other things, which each deserve further explication to do justice to their conversation, so check it out in full here) they discuss the relationship between “the submerged state” and race in the United States:   To read more about Suzanne Mettler’s The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy, click here.   . . .

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Welcome to Nut Country

September 8, 2015
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Welcome to Nut Country

Edward H. Miller’s Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy explores how a coterie of civic-minded operatives, backroom business brokers, evangelical leaders, and other representatives of the far-right generated a populist movement based on the dollar, the Bible, and an anti-civil rights agenda that would remake the Republican party in their own image, beginning at home in Dallas. Below follows a brief excerpt from a Q & A Miller did recently with the Dallas Morning News. You can read it in full here. *** In our politics today, what do you hear of the tone that dominated Dallas in the middle of the last century? I see it echoing throughout the presidential campaign. It’s safe to say that a lot of the incendiary speech has certainly trumped the careful deliberation among the right, and conspiratorial thinking that was long a characteristic of “Nut Country” in the 1950s is very much in vogue today. Donald Trump consistently doubts the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate. The apocalyptic doomsday rhetoric that ultraconservatives like H.L. Hunt, Dan Smoot, W. A. Criswell used is very much part of politics today. This does little to improve our public discourse. When I hear people like . . .

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N. D. B. Connolly on “Black Culture is Not the Problem”

May 1, 2015
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N. D. B. Connolly on “Black Culture is Not the Problem”

N. D. B. Connolly, assistant professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and author of A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida, on “Black Culture is Not the Problem” for the New York Times: The problem is not black culture. It is policy and politics, the very things that bind together the history of Ferguson and Baltimore and, for that matter, the rest of America. Specifically, the problem rests on the continued profitability of racism. Freddie Gray’s exposure to lead paint as a child, his suspected participation in the drug trade, and the relative confinement of black unrest to black communities during this week’s riot are all features of a city and a country that still segregate people along racial lines, to the financial enrichment of landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods. The problem originates in a political culture that has long bound black bodies to questions of property. Yes, I’m referring to slavery. To read more about A World More Concrete, click here. . . .

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Can We Race Together? An Autopsy

April 8, 2015
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Can We Race Together? An Autopsy

“Can We Race Together? An Autopsy”* by Ellen Berrey *** Corporate diversity dialogues are ripe for backlash, the research shows, even without coffee counter gimmicks. Corporate executives and university presidents are, yet again, calling for public discussion on race and racial inequality. Revelations about the tech industry’s diversity problem have company officials convening panels on workplace barriers, and, at the University of Oklahoma spokespeople and students are organizing town-hall sessions in response to a fraternity’s racist chant. The most provocative of the efforts was Starbucks’ failed Race Together program. In March, the company announced that it would ask baristas to initiate dialogues with customers about America’s most vexing dilemma. Although public outcry shut down those conversations before they even got to “Hello,” Starbucks said it would nonetheless carry on Race Together with forums and special USA Today discussion guides. As someone who has done sociological research on diversity initiatives for the past 15 years, I was intrigued.  For a moment, let’s take this seriously What would conversations about race have looked like if they played out as Starbucks imagined, given the social science of race? Can companies, in Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz’s words, “create a more empathetic and inclusive society—one conversation . . .

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