Saturday, March 22, 2014
The Crusades of Cesar Chavez by Miriam Pawel
Cesar Chavez founded a labor union, launched a movement, and inspired a generation. He rose from migrant worker to national icon, becoming one of the great charismatic leaders of the 20th century. Two decades after his death, Chavez remains the most significant Latino leader in US history. Yet his life story has been told only in hagiography—until now.
In the first comprehensive biography of Chavez, Miriam Pawel offers a searching yet empathetic portrayal. Chavez emerges here as a visionary figure with tragic flaws; a brilliant strategist who sometimes stumbled; and a canny, streetwise organizer whose pragmatism was often at odds with his elusive, soaring dreams. He was an experimental thinker with eclectic passions—an avid, self-educated historian and a disciple of Gandhian non-violent protest.
Drawing on thousands of documents and scores of interviews, this superbly written life deepens our understanding of one of Chavez’s most salient qualities: his profound humanity. Pawel traces Chavez’s remarkable career as he conceived strategies that empowered the poor and vanquished California’s powerful agriculture industry, and his later shift from inspirational leadership to a cult of personality, with tragic consequences for the union he had built. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez reveals how this most unlikely American hero ignited one of the great social movements of our time.
Miriam Pawel is an award-winning reporter and editor who spent twenty-five years working for Newsday and the Los Angeles Times.
This book review in the Los Angeles Times highlights the book's look at Chavez's treatment of undocumented immigrants:
"Pawel does not shy away from the more disturbing sides of Chavez and the UFW. Chavez railed against illegal immigration, encouraging deportations — even though in parts of California most farm workers were undocumented, and many were willing to organize and become part of the UFW.
Cesar's cousin, Manuel Chavez, working for Chavez and the UFW, hired thugs to beat up migrants at the border in Arizona and bribed local police to let the vigilantes do their work, a project, as Pawel notes, decidedly at odds with Cesar's `steadfast commitment to nonviolence.'"
The Crusades of Cesar Chavez is likely to contrast sharply with the soon-to-be-released film Cesar Chavez.
Friday, March 21, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Living the Dream: New Immigration Policies and the Lives of Undocumented Latino Youth
Living the Dream: New Immigration Policies and the Lives of Undocumented Latino Youth by Maria Chavez, Jessica L. Lavariega Monforti, Melissa R. Michelson, available September 2014
In 2012, President Obama deferred the deportation of qualified undocumented youth, forever changing the lives of the approximately five million DREAMers currently in the US. Formerly “illegal,” a generation of Latino youth have begun to build new lives based on their newfound “legitimacy.” In this book, the first to examine the lives of DREAMers in the wake of Obama’s action, the authors relay the real life stories of more than 100 DREAMers from four states. They assess the life circumstances in which undocumented Latino youth find themselves, the racializing effects generated by current immigration public discourse, and the permanent impact of this policy environment on DREAMers in America.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California by Simone Cinotto
Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California by Simone Cinotto 277 pages March, 2014 ISBN: 9781479832361
Winner of the 2013 New York Book Show Award in Scholarly/Professional Book Design
From Ernest and Julio Gallo to Francis Ford Coppola, Italians have shaped the history of California wine. More than any other group, Italian immigrants and their families have made California viticulture one of America’s most distinctive and vibrant achievements, from boutique vineyards in the Sonoma hills to the massive industrial wineries of the Central Valley. But how did a small group of nineteenth-century immigrants plant the roots that flourished into a world-class industry? Was there something particularly “Italian” in their success? In this fresh, fascinating account of the ethnic origins of California wine, Simone Cinotto rewrites a century-old triumphalist story. He demonstrates that these Italian visionaries were not skilled winemakers transplanting an immemorial agricultural tradition, even if California did resemble the rolling Italian countryside of their native Piedmont. Instead, Cinotto argues that it was the wine-makers’ access to “social capital,” or the ethnic and familial ties that bound them to their rich wine-growing heritage, and not financial leverage or direct enological experience, that enabled them to develop such a successful and influential wine business. Focusing on some of the most important names in wine history—particularly Pietro Carlo Rossi, Secondo Guasti, and the Gallos—he chronicles a story driven by ambition and creativity but realized in a complicated tangle of immigrant entrepreneurship, class struggle, racial inequality, and a new world of consumer culture.
Skillfully blending regional, social, and immigration history, Soft Soil, Black Grapes takes us on an original journey into the cultural construction of ethnic economies and markets, the social dynamics of American race, and the fully transnational history of American wine.
Simone Cinotto teaches History at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
From the Booskshelves: Midnight in México: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness by Alfredo Corchado
In the last six years, more than 80,000 people have been killed or disappeared in the Mexican drug war, where trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business. In a country where the powerful are rarely scrutinized, noted Mexican American journalist Alfredo Corchado refuses to shrink from reporting on government corruption, murders in Juarez, or the ruthless drug cartels of Mexico. A paramilitary group spun off from the Gulf cartel, the Zetas, controls key drug routes in the north of the country. In 2007, Corchado received a tip that he could be their next target—and he had 24 hours to find out if the threat was true.
Rather than leave his country, Corchado goes out into the Mexican countryside to investigate the threat. The more curious he becomes, the more secrets he uncovers. As he frantically contacts his sources, Corchado suspects the threat is his punishment for returning to Mexico against his mother’s wishes. His parents had fled north decades earlier after the death of their young daughter, and they raised their children in the California field where they worked as migrant farmers.
Corchado returned to Mexico as a journalist in 1994, convinced that Mexico would one day foster political accountability and leave behind the pervasive corruption that has plagued its people for decades. But in this land of extremes, the gap of inequality—and injustice–remains wide. Even after the 2000 election that put Mexico’s opposition party in power for the first time, the opportunities of democracy did not materialize. The long-ruling PRI had worked with the cartels, taking a piece of their profit in exchange for a more peaceful, and more controlled, drug trade. But, the party’s long awaited defeat created a vacuum of power in Mexico City, and in the cartel-controlled states that border the U.S. The cartels went to war with each other in the mid 2000s, during the war to regain control of the country instituted by President Felipe Calderón, only the violence flourished.
The work Corchado lives for could kill him, but he’s not ready to leave Mexico—not yet, maybe never. Midnight in Mexico is the story of one man’s quest to report the truth of his country as he races to save his own life. It is his search for home and in the darkest hours his determination to find hope. At the dawn of a new sexenio and as Democrats and Republicans debate immigration reform, Corchado’s book is an essential read.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Stephen Steinberg in the Boston Review has this to say about a new book by a pair of Yale Law School professors:
"The tiger couple is chasing its own tail, which is to say, they are stuck in circular reasoning. In their new book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua, author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Jed Rubenfeld tackle the question of why certain groups are overrepresented in the pantheon of success. They postulate the reason for their success is that these groups are endowed with “the triple package”: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The skeptic asks, “How do we know that?” To which they respond: “They’re successful, aren’t they?”
"But Chua and Rubenfeld proffer no facts to show that their exemplars of ethnic success—Jewish Nobel Prize winners, Mormon business magnates, Cuban exiles, Indian and Chinese super-achievers—actually possess this triple package. Or that possessing these traits is what explains their disproportionate success. For that matter, they do not demonstrate that possessing the triple package is connected, through the mystical cord of history, to Jewish sages, Confucian precepts, or Mormon dogma. Perhaps, as critics of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have contended, success came first and only later was wrapped in the cloth of religion. In other words, like elites throughout history, Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars enshroud their success in whatever system of cultural tropes was available, whether in the Talmud, Confucianism, Mormonism, or the idolatry of White Supremacy. The common thread that runs through these myths of success is that they provide indispensable legitimacy for social class hierarchy."
Monday, March 17, 2014
After all the green beer has been poured and the ubiquitous shamrocks fade away, what does it mean to be Irish American besides St. Patrick’s Day? Who’s Your Paddy traces the evolution of “Irish” as a race-based identity in the U.S. from the 19th century to the present day. Exploring how the Irish have been and continue to be socialized around race, Jennifer Nugent Duffy argues that Irish identity must be understood within the context of generational tensions between different waves of Irish immigrants as well as the Irish community’s interaction with other racial minorities. Using historic and ethnographic research, Duffy sifts through the many racial, class, and gendered dimensions of Irish-American identity by examining three distinct Irish cohorts in Greater New York: assimilated descendants of nineteenth-century immigrants; “white flighters” who immigrated to postwar America and fled places like the Bronx for white suburbs like Yonkers in the 1960s and 1970s; and the newer, largely undocumented migrants who began to arrive in the 1990s. What results is a portrait of Irishness as a dynamic, complex force in the history of American racial consciousness, pertinent not only to contemporary immigration debates but also to the larger questions of what it means to belong, what it means to be American.
The Great Irish Famine is the most pivotal event in modern Irish history, with implications that cannot be underestimated. Over a million people perished between 1845-1852, and well over a million others fled to other locales within Europe and America. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The 2000 US census had 41 million people claim Irish ancestry, or one in five white Americans. Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (1845-52) considers how such a near total decimation of a country by natural causes could take place in industrialized, 19th century Europe and situates the Great Famine alongside other world famines for a more globally informed approach. The Atlas seeks to try and bear witness to the thousands and thousands of people who died and are buried in mass Famine pits or in fields and ditches, with little or nothing to remind us of their going. The centrality of the Famine workhouse as a place of destitution is also examined in depth. Likewise the atlas represents and documents the conditions and experiences of the many thousands who emigrated from Ireland in those desperate years, with case studies of famine emigrants in cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow, New York and Toronto. The Atlas places the devastating Irish Famine in greater historic context than has been attempted before, by including over 150 original maps of population decline, analysis and examples of poetry, contemporary art, written and oral accounts, numerous illustrations, and photography, all of which help to paint a fuller picture of the event and to trace its impact and legacy. In this comprehensive and stunningly illustrated volume, over fifty chapters on history, politics, geography, art, population, and folklore provide readers with a broad range of perspectives and insights into this event.
Monday, March 3, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Italian Immigrant Radical Culture The Idealism of the Sovversivi in the United States, 1890-1940 by Marcella Bencivenni
Maligned by modern media and often stereotyped, Italian Americans possess a vibrant, if largely forgotten, radical past. In Italian Immigrant Radical Culture, Marcella Bencivenni delves into the history of the sovversivi, a transnational generation of social rebels, and offers a fascinating portrait of their political struggle as well as their milieu, beliefs, and artistic creativity in the United States. As early as 1882, the sovversivi founded a socialist club in Brooklyn. Radical organizations then multiplied and spread across the country, from large urban cities to smaller industrial mining areas. By 1900, thirty official Italian sections of the Socialist Party along the East Coast and countless independent anarchist and revolutionary circles sprang up throughout the nation. Forming their own alternative press, institutions, and working class organizations, these groups created a vigorous movement and counterculture that constituted a significant part of the American Left until World War II.
Italian Immigrant Radical Culture compellingly documents the wide spectrum of this oppositional culture and examines the many cultural and artistic forms it took, from newspapers to literature and poetry to theater and visual art. As the first cultural history of Italian American activism, it provides a richer understanding of the Italian immigrant experience while also deepening historical perceptions of radical politics and culture.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Reform Without Justice: Latino Migrant Politics and the Homeland Security State by Alfonso Gonzales
Placed within the context of the past decade's war on terror and emergent and countervailing Latino rights movement, Reform without Justice addresses the issue of state violence against migrants in the United States. It questions why it is that, despite its success in mobilizing millions, the Latino immigrant rights movement has not been able to effectively secure sustainable social justice victories for itself or more successfully defend the human rights of migrants.
Gonzales argues that the contemporary Latino rights movement faces a dynamic form of political power that he terms "anti-migrant hegemony". This anti-migrant hegemony, found in sites of power from Congress, to think tanks, talk shows and the prison system, is a force through which a rhetorically race neutral and common sense public policy discourse, consistent with the rules of post-civil rights racism, is deployed to criminalize migrants. Critically, large sectors of "pro-immigrant" groups, including the Hispanic Congressional Caucus and the National Council of La Raza, have conceded to coercive immigration enforcement measures such as a militarized border wall and the expansion of immigration policing in local communities in exchange for so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Gonzales says that it is precisely when immigration reformers actively adopt the discourse and policies of the leading anti-immigrant forces that the power of anti-migrant hegemony can best be observed.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Color Matters: Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America Edited by Kimberly Jade Norwood
Color Matters: Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America Edited by Kimberly Jade Norwood. Routledge – 2014
In the United States, as in many parts of the world, people are discriminated against based on the color of their skin. This type of skin tone bias, or colorism, is both related to and distinct from discrimination on the basis of race, with which it is often conflated. Preferential treatment of lighter skin tones over darker occurs within racial and ethnic groups as well as between them. While America has made progress in issues of race over the past decades, discrimination on the basis of color continues to be a constant and often unremarked part of life.
In Color Matters, Kimberly Jade Norwood has collected the most up-to-date research on this insidious form of discrimination, including perspectives from the disciplines of history, law, sociology, and psychology. Anchored with historical chapters that show how the influence and legacy of slavery have shaped the treatment of skin color in American society, the contributors to this volume bring to light the ways in which colorism affects us all--influencing what we wear, who we see on television, and even which child we might pick to adopt.
Sure to be an eye-opening collection for anyone curious about how race and color continue to affect society, Color Matters provides students of race in America with wide-ranging overview of a crucial topic.
Here is the contents of the volume:
Introduction Kimberly Norwood
1. The Ubiquitousness of Colorism: Then and Now, Kimberly Norwood and Violeta Foreman
2. The Origins of Colorism in Early American Law, Paul Finkelman
3. The Rise and Fall of the One-Drop Rule: How the Importance of Color Came to Eclipse Race, Kevin D. Brown
4. A Darker Shade of Pale Revisited: Disaggregated Blackness and Colorism in the "Postracial" Obama Era, Taunya Banks
5. Interracial Intimacy in the Context of Colorism: How Skin Color Matters, Kellina Craig-Henderson
6. Fragmented Identity: Psychological Insecurity and Colorism among African Americans, Vetta Sanders Thompson
7. Colorism and Blackthink: A Modern Augmentation of Double Consciousness, Kimberly Jade Norwood
8. The Implications of Skin Color vis-à-vis Discrimination: Revisiting Affirmative Action, Ronald Hall and Adrienne Johnson
9. A New Way Forward: The Development and Preliminary Validation of Two Colorism Scales, Richard D. Harvey, Kira Hudson Banks, and Rachel E. Tennial
Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, the George Polk Award for International Reporting, and the Grand Prize of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, ENRIQUE’S JOURNEY puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States. The book won the 2011 Williams College Book Award Program, the 2006 California Book Award, Silver Medal in non-fiction, and the 2006 Christopher Book Award. It has been translated into eight languages, chosen by 66 universities and scores of high schools nationwide as a common or freshman read, and selected by 11 cities as a "One City" read.
At a time when America is embroiled in a national debate on immigration that will shape the country’s future, Sonia Nazario argues that we urgently need a different approach. Instead of continuing the same three ineffectual strategies--greater border enforcement (costing $18 billion a year), temporary guest worker programs, and pathways to citizenship--she calls for a new approach that addresses key “push” factors that propel migrants, especially women and children, to leave their homelands. She argues that instead of spending billions on walls that don’t work, the U.S. must improve conditions in four countries that send 74% of migrants who come to the U.S. illegally by increasing aide to help improve education for girls, lowering birthrates; promoting micro-loans to help women start job-generating businesses; and gear trade policies to give clear preference to goods from these four countries. As the Latino electorate is felt more acutely at the polls and businesses demand more immigrant workers as the economy grows, political leaders are increasingly confronting the immigration issue. House Republican leaders on January 30th proposed changes that include tougher border enforcement, a better system for temporary workers, more visas for high skilled workers, and a path to legalization for children, but not necessarily for half of the 11.7 million in the U.S. illegally.
A revised and updated version of Enrique's Journey was published today by Random House! The new edition truly re-works the original with an updated, compelling epilogue about the family, chapter on immigration, never before seen photos of Enrique and his family, as well as a Q & A with the author.
Friday, February 7, 2014
All aspire to liberty and security in their lives but few people truly enjoy them. This book explains why this is so. In what Conor Gearty calls our 'neo-democratic' world, the proclamation of universal liberty and security is mocked by facts on the ground: the vast inequalities in supposedly free societies, the authoritarian regimes with regular elections, and the terrible socio-economic deprivation camouflaged by cynically proclaimed commitments to human rights. Gearty's book offers an explanation of how this has come about, providing also a criticism of the present age which tolerates it. He then goes on to set out a manifesto for a better future, a place where liberty and security can be rich platforms for everyone's life. The book identifies neo-democracies as those places which play at democracy so as to disguise the injustice at their core. But it is not just the new 'democracies' that have turned 'neo', the so-called established democracies are also hurtling in the same direction, as is the United Nations. A new vision of universal freedom is urgently required. Drawing on scholarship in law, human rights and political science this book argues for just such a vision, one in which the great achievements of our democratic past are not jettisoned as easily as were the socialist ideals of the original democracy-makers.
Click here for a review of the book by David Cole.
Alvaro Huerta appeared on the "Tavis Smiley" show (PBS) this week. An interdisciplinary scholar, Huerta is the author of Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate. Huerta is a visiting scholar at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center. He holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley, where his dissertation focused on Mexican immigrants and their social networks in Los Angeles's informal economy.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
“A brilliant and innovative take on an issue close to the hearts and minds of families who have one foot planted firmly on both sides of the border. It is a deportation story in reverse: a bold re-envisioning with unexpected consequences, mystery, and insight.”—Tim Z. Hernandez, author of Mañana Means Heaven
After Wopper Barraza’s fourth drunk driving violation, the judge orders his immediate deportation. “But I haven’t been there since I was a little kid,” says Wopper, whose parents brought him to California when he was three years old. Now he has to move back to Michoacán. When he learns that his longtime girlfriend is pregnant, the future looks even more uncertain. Wopper's story unfolds as life in a rural village takes him in new and unexpected directions. This immigrant saga in reverse is a story of young people who must live with the reality of their parents’ dream. We know this story from the headlines, but up to now it has been unexplored literary territory.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Living in Infamy: Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship by Pippa Holloway
Felon Disfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship examines the history of disfranchisement for criminal conviction in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the post-war South, white southern Democrats expanded the usage of laws disfranchising for crimes of infamy in order to deny African Americans the suffrage rights due them as citizens, employing historical similarities between the legal statuses of slaves and convicts as justification. At the same time, our nation's criminal code changed. The inhumane treatment of prisoners, the expansion of the prison system, the public nature of punishment by forced labor, and the abandonment of the idea of reform and rehabilitation of prisoners all contributed to a national consensus that certain categories of criminals should be permanently disfranchised.
As racial barriers to suffrage were challenged and fell, rights remained restricted for persons targeted by such infamy laws. Criminal convictions-in place of race-continued the disparity in legal status between whites and African Americans. Decades later, after race-based disfranchisement has officially ended, legislation steeped in a legacy of racial discrimination continues to perpetuate a dichotomy of suffrage and citizenship that is still effecting our election outcomes today.
Friday, January 31, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Sacrificing Families Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders by Leisy J. Abrego
Sacrificing Families Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders by Leisy J. Abrego 2014, Available Now
Widening global inequalities make it difficult for parents in developing nations to provide for their children, and both mothers and fathers often find that migration in search of higher wages is their only hope. Their dreams are straightforward: with more money, they can improve their children's lives. But the reality of their experiences is often harsh, and structural barriers—particularly those rooted in immigration policies and gender inequities—prevent many from reaching their economic goals.
Sacrificing Families offers a first-hand look at Salvadoran transnational families, how the parents fare in the United States, and the experiences of the children back home. It captures the tragedy of these families' daily living arrangements, but also delves deeper to expose the structural context that creates and sustains patterns of inequality in their well-being. What prevents these parents from migrating with their children? What are these families' experiences with long-term separation? And why do some ultimately fare better than others? As free trade agreements expand and nation-states open doors widely for products and profits while closing them tightly for refugees and migrants, these transnational families are not only becoming more common, but they are living through lengthier separations.
Leisy Abrego gives voice to these immigrants and their families and documents the inequalities across their experiences.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
The United States is still typically conceived of as an offshoot of England, with our history unfolding east to west beginning with the first English settlers in Jamestown. This view overlooks the significance of America’s Hispanic past. With the profile of the United States increasingly Hispanic, the importance of recovering the Hispanic dimension to our national story has never been greater. This absorbing narrative begins with the explorers and conquistadores who planted Spain’s first colonies in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the Southwest. Missionaries and rancheros carry Spain’s expansive impulse into the late eighteenth century, settling California, mapping the American interior to the Rockies, and charting the Pacific coast. During the nineteenth century Anglo-America expands west under the banner of “Manifest Destiny” and consolidates control through war with Mexico. In the Hispanic resurgence that follows, it is the peoples of Latin America who overspread the continent, from the Hispanic heartland in the West to major cities such as Chicago, Miami, New York, and Boston. The United States clearly has a Hispanic present and future. And here is its Hispanic past, presented with characteristic insight and wit by one of our greatest historians.
Click here for a review of Our America in the Economist.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Martin Luther King may not have had a vote in Congress, but he and the movement he helped lead were integral to getting the civil rights bill introduced. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of that bill, now known as the Civil Rights Act. Among other things, the act outlawed discrimination in public accommodations — including restaurants, hotels and motels — ending the era of legal segregation in those places.
Todd Purdum is the author of the forthcoming book An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Purdum is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a senior writer at Politico. He joins Fresh Air's Terry Gross on NPR to talk about the legislative and political battle to get the civil rights bill passed. Click the audio link to listen to the interview.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock In White Advantage by Daria Roithmayr
Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock In White Advantage by Daria Roithmayr 205 pages January, 2014
This book is designed to change the way we think about racial inequality. Long after the passage of civil rights laws and now the inauguration of our first black president, blacks and Latinos possess barely a nickel of wealth for every dollar that whites have. Why have we made so little progress? Legal scholar Daria Roithmayr provocatively argues that racial inequality lives on because white advantage functions as a powerful self-reinforcing monopoly, reproducing itself automatically from generation to generation even in the absence of intentional discrimination. Drawing on work in antitrust law and a range of other disciplines, Roithmayr brilliantly compares the dynamics of white advantage to the unfair tactics of giants like AT&T and Microsoft. With penetrating insight, Roithmayr locates the engine of white monopoly in positive feedback loops that connect the dramatic disparity of Jim Crow to modern racial gaps in jobs, housing and education. Wealthy white neighborhoods fund public schools that then turn out wealthy white neighbors. Whites with lucrative jobs informally refer their friends, who refer their friends, and so on. Roithmayr concludes that racial inequality might now be locked in place, unless policymakers immediately take drastic steps to dismantle this oppressive system.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Before Robert M. Gates received a call from the White House in 2006, he thought he’d left Washington politics behind: after working for six presidents in both the CIA and the National Security Council, he was happy in his role as president of Texas A&M University. But when he was asked to help a nation mired in two wars and to aid the troops doing the fighting, he answered what he felt was the call of duty.
Now, in this unsparing memoir, meticulously fair in its assessments, he takes us behind the scenes of his nearly five years as a secretary at war: the battles with Congress, the two presidents he served, the military itself, and the vast Pentagon bureaucracy; his efforts to help Bush turn the tide in Iraq; his role as a guiding, and often dissenting, voice for Obama; the ardent devotion to and love for American soldiers—his “heroes”—he developed on the job.
In relating his personal journey as secretary, Gates draws us into the innermost sanctums of government and military power during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, illuminating iconic figures, vital negotiations, and critical situations in revealing, intimate detail. Offering unvarnished appraisals of Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Presidents Bush and Obama among other key players, Gates exposes the full spectrum of behind-closed-doors politicking within both the Bush and Obama administrations. He discusses the great controversies of his tenure—surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan, how to deal with Iran and Syria, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Guantánamo Bay, WikiLeaks—as they played out behind the television cameras. He brings to life the Situation Room during the Bin Laden raid. And, searingly, he shows how congressional debate and action or inaction on everything from equipment budgeting to troop withdrawals was often motivated, to his increasing despair and anger, more by party politics and media impact than by members’ desires to protect our soldiers and ensure their success.
However embroiled he became in the trials of Washington, Gates makes clear that his heart was always in the most important theater of his tenure as secretary: the front lines. We journey with him to both war zones as he meets with active-duty troops and their commanders, awed by their courage, and also witness him greet coffin after flag-draped coffin returned to U.S. soil, heartbreakingly aware that he signed every deployment order.
In frank and poignant vignettes, Gates conveys the human cost of war, and his admiration for those brave enough to undertake it when necessary. Duty tells a powerful and deeply personal story that allows us an unprecedented look at two administrations and the wars that have defined them.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
From the Bookshelves: Lives in the Balance: Asylum Adjudication by the Department of Homeland Security Andrew I. Schoenholtz, Philip G. Schrag and Jaya Ramji-Nogales
Although Americans generally think that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is focused only on preventing terrorism, one office within that agency has a humanitarian mission. Its Asylum Office adjudicates applications from people fleeing persecution in their homelands. Lives in the Balance is a careful empirical analysis of how Homeland Security decided these asylum cases over a recent fourteen-year period. Day in and day out, asylum officers make decisions with life-or-death consequences: determining which applicants are telling the truth and are at risk of persecution in their home countries, and which are ineligible for refugee status in America.
In Lives in the Balance, the authors analyze a database of 383,000 cases provided to them by the government in order to better understand the effect on grant rates of a host of factors unrelated to the merits of asylum claims, including the one-year filing deadline, whether applicants entered the United States with a visa, whether applicants had dependents, whether they were represented, how many asylum cases their adjudicator had previously decided, and whether or not their adjudicator was a lawyer. The authors also examine the degree to which decisions were consistent among the eight regional asylum offices and within each of those offices. The authors’ recommendations, including repeal of the one-year deadline, would improve the adjudication process by reducing the impact of non-merits factors on asylum decisions. If adopted by the government, these proposals would improve the accuracy of outcomes for those whose lives hang in the balance.
On February 6: Georgetown University Law Center will be hosting a combination presentation of the data and book party at 5 P.M. that afternoon. Professor Karen Musalo (UC Hastings) will be commenting. If you would like to have an invitation, please contact Phil Schrag at firstname.lastname@example.org.