Andrew Cuomo and the Estranged Left

cuomo2Andrew Cuomo, today being re-elected Governor of New York, is admired, feared, respected, hated. In his recent book, All Things Possible, Cuomo writes:

At the end of your career, the only thing that matters is the lasting effect of your actions. Otherwise, what’s the point? You have to be willing to incur opposition if you actually want to get something meaningful done. All the difficult issues are controversial, by definition. But that’s the point of public service and what separates the statesmen from the journeymen in my opinion.

There is no reason to believe this is just idle rhetoric from a future presidential candidate. Coming in the context of eulogizing the political career of a Westchester County executive who helped him early in his career, this statement both reflects and attempts to justify Cuomo’s well-known ruthlessness. And hey, what’s wrong with being ruthless when it’s the only way to get the job done (especially in Albany)? “Be realistic—you can’t please everyone on your way to getting shit done.” That seems to be the motif of All Things Possible and the motto that drives Cuomo’s career. Keep reading →

Bringing the People Back to American Democracy

ReidMcConnellThe Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans by Mickey Edwards. Yale Press, 2012; 208 pp.

Mickey Edwards served the people of Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives for sixteen years before leaving office in 1993. During his tenure, he held various senior positions—from the chairmanship of the highly visible Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Relations to the chairmanship of the back room House Republican Policy Committee. Edwards has remained in the public discourse, teaching at various prestigious universities; appearing on public television and radio; and chairing task forces for the Brookings Institution, the Constitution Project, and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2008, he also wroteReclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost—And How It Can Find Its Way Back, which implores Americans to return to valuing the Constitution in the way that the Founding Fathers did. Keep reading →

Zombie City

DetroitCentralStationDriving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in the Motor City by George Galster. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. 328 pp.

Urbanists across America—likely across the world—are familiar with the woes of the Motor City. Descriptors like “plight,” “blight,” or even “ruin” abound. Detroit itself has less than half the 1.8 million population of its postwar peak. Its anchor industry—the automotive—was only saved from disaster by a government bailout. Symbolic of its misery, the city’s economic core greets visitors with a gigantic bronze fist, a monument to Motown’s heavyweight champion, Joe Louis.

In Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in the Motor City, author George Galster combines historical anecdotes with sociological hypotheses in an attempt to explain its woes. He does not hammer on the statistical indicators of Detroit’s depression. Instead, he pounds relentlessly on what he sees as the city’s dual historical conflicts: labor versus capital and white versus black. Keep reading →

Known Unknowns in Policing

NYPDshieldThe City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control by Franklin E. Zimring. Oxford Press, 2011. 257 pp.

Police are nothing new in America, but the national discussion regarding their role in society is growing. The past year has witnessed mass protests spring up in several cities. These have been nearly uniformly handled awkwardly, commonly with asymmetric violence. The spotlight has turned to the officers who forcefully disperse protests as well as the administrators and elected officials who are responsible for their actions and for public safety.

After peaking in 1990, crime in the United States declined tremendously. The drop in crime in New York City, however, dwarfs this improvement. America’s largest city has enjoyed a fall in crime more than twice as long in duration and steeper than the national average. The statistics are no secret, yet a policy-relevant explanation for this anomalous shift eludes scholars. Frank Zimring gives it a try with The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control. Unfortunately, in this book he falls short. He does not deal sufficiently with the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk tactic and his own reasoning leaves his conclusion on shaky footing. Keep reading →

The Powerlessness of the Powerful

jackhammerA Governor’s Story: The Fight For Jobs And America’s Economic Future by Jennifer M. Granholm and Dan Mulhern. PublicAffairs, 2011. 312 pp.

Many Americans who follow national affairs superimpose the plight of Detroit – once the symbol of American manufacturing and exporting prowess – on the state of Michigan. After the adoption of neo-liberal free trade agreements in the 1990s, jobs began to leak out through the cracks of an antiquated industrial framework that had not adapted to new technologies or management theories. Jennifer Granholm was elected to Michigan’s highest office as this leak burst into an outright flood. Keep reading →

Policy Without Politics

windfarmBack to Work: Why We Need Smart Government For A Strong Recovery by Bill Clinton. Knopf, 2011. 196 pp.

In a November 2011 interview, Bill Clinton declared that the midterm election one year prior was “devoid of fact.” He thus set out to inform Americans how we arrived in our current state of economic distress and political morass. Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government For A Strong Recovery is his succinct and accurate treatment of these issues and a compilation of policy prescriptions to – as the book clearly hammers home – “get America back in the future business.” Keep reading →

Civil Justice in Crisis

SCOTUSRebuilding Justice: Civil Courts in Jeopardy and Why You Should Careby Rebecca Love Kourlis and Dirk Olin; Fulcrum Publishing, 2011; 230 pp.

The independent judiciary is one of the crowning achievements of American government. Alexis de Tocqueville declared it “at once most favorable to liberty and to public order.” Courts form the third pillar of government, upholding our liberty. Sadly, this pillar is cracking under the massive weight of a poorly functioning justice system. Our system, in which judges believe that they have failed their duty if a case goes to trial, has gone off the rails, achieving expediency at the expense of justice. Keep reading →

Railways to Nowhere

railroad-1930-300x231Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America by Richard White; Norton, 2011; 660 pp.

The locomotive is an essential symbol of that famous idea of American expansionism, “Manifest Destiny.” This doctrine declared that American society would stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It was held with such religious fervor that it became the subject of allegorical works of art. Tellingly, the railroads were not viewed so reverently at the time. Indeed, they were popularly depicted as an octopus strangling the United States legal, economic, and political systems.

With Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, Richard White has contributed a coherent and deeply thoughtful account of the rapid growth, rampant mismanagement, and swift decline of the railroads that reached the Pacific coast. White provides his reader trenchant insights to the myriad industries that found themselves intertwined, for better or worse, with the railroads. At times, he also offers criticism of the policies that facilitated the robbery of public (and Indian) lands, abuse of natural resources, and crippling of America’s economy. Keep reading →

A Blazing Twilight

Teddy_Roosevelt_portraitColonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris; Random House, 2010; 784 pp.

Rare is the subject whose life becomes more interesting after two terms as President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt, however, was an exceptional man indeed. Preferring to carry the honorific that recalled his charge up San Juan Hill in 1898, he enjoyed incarnations as a hunter and explorer, lecturer, campaigner, progressive reformer, and founder of America’s last significant third political party, all while maintaining his profession as a prolific man of letters.

Colonel Roosevelt, the third of Edmund Morris’ exhaustive and outstanding trilogy (the Pulitzer-winningThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex were published in 1979 and 2001, respectively), details the final decade of Roosevelt’s life. It is the apt culmination of a staggering amount of research, compiled and spun into wonderful prose that keeps its reader engaged throughout. Keep reading →