Upcoming Events

FDL Book Salon: To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Author: Heather Cox Richardson
Sunday, October 5, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

A distinguished American historian traces the paradoxical evolution of the Republican Party—founded to give the poor equal opportunity, but too often aligned with the country’s elites.

When Abraham Lincoln helped create the Republican Party on the eve of the Civil War, his goal was to promote economic opportunity for all Americans, not just the slaveholding Southern planters who steered national politics. Yet, despite the egalitarian dream at the heart of its founding, the Republican Party quickly became mired in a fundamental identity crisis. Would it be the party of democratic ideals? Or would it be the party of moneyed interests? In the century and a half since, Republicans have vacillated between these two poles, with dire economic, political, and moral repercussions for the entire nation.

In To Make Men Free, celebrated historian Heather Cox Richardson traces the shifting ideology of the Grand Old Party from the antebellum era to the Great Recession, revealing the insidious cycle of boom and bust that has characterized the Party since its inception. While in office, progressive Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower revived Lincoln’s vision of economic freedom and expanded the government, attacking the concentration of wealth and nurturing upward mobility. But they and others like them have been continually thwarted by powerful business interests in the Party. Their opponents appealed to Americans’ latent racism and xenophobia to regain political power, linking taxation and regulation to redistribution and socialism. The results of the Party’s wholesale embrace of big business are all too familiar: financial collapses like the Panic of 1893, the Great Depression in 1929, and the Great Recession in 2008. With each passing decade, with each missed opportunity and political misstep, the schism within the Republican Party has grown wider, pulling the GOP ever further from its founding principles.

Expansive and authoritative, To Make Men Free is a sweeping history of the Party that was once America’s greatest political hope—and, time and time again, has proved its greatest disappointment.

Heather Cox Richardson
is professor of history at Boston College. Previously professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, she received her PhD in 1992 from Harvard’s Program in the History of American Civilization. She is the author of four books, including Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre and West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. She has appeared on a Bill Moyers documentary, “The Chinese in America,” and works with two educational consulting firms to train secondary school teachers and conduct public historical seminars. An OAH Distinguished Lecturer, she is also a member of both the editorial board of the journal American Nineteenth Century History and the national advisory board for the Tredegar National Civil War Center Foundation. She reviews books for popular media like the Chicago Tribune as well as a wide range of scholarly journals. (Basic Books)

FDL Book Salon: The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality

Author: Suzanna Danuta Walters
Saturday, October 11, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

From Glee to gay marriage, from lesbian senators to out gay Marines, we have undoubtedly experienced a seismic shift in attitudes about gays in American politics and culture. Our reigning national story is that a new era of rainbow acceptance is at hand. But dig a bit deeper, and this seemingly brave new gay world is disappointing. For all of the undeniable changes, the plea for tolerance has sabotaged the full integration of gays into American life. Same-sex marriage is unrecognized and unpopular in the vast majority of states, hate crimes proliferate, and even in the much vaunted “gay friendly” world of Hollywood and celebrity culture, precious few stars are openly gay.

In The Tolerance Trap, Suzanna Walters takes on received wisdom about gay identities and gay rights, arguing that we are not “almost there,” but on the contrary have settled for a watered-down goal of tolerance and acceptance rather than a robust claim to full civil rights. After all, we tolerate unpleasant realities: medicine with strong side effects, a long commute, an annoying relative. Drawing on a vast array of sources and sharing her own personal journey, Walters shows how the low bar of tolerance demeans rather than ennobles both gays and straights alike. Her fascinating examination covers the gains in political inclusion and the persistence of anti-gay laws, the easy-out sexual freedom of queer youth and the suicides and murders of those in decidedly intolerant environments. She challenges both “born that way” storylines that root civil rights in biology, and “god made me that way” arguments that similarly situate sexuality as innate and impervious to decisions we make to shape it. A sharp and provocative cultural critique, this book deftly argues that a too-soon declaration of victory short-circuits full equality and deprives us all of the transformative possibilities of full integration. Tolerance is not the end goal, but a dead end. In The Tolerance Trap, Walters presents a complicated snapshot of a world-shifting moment in American history—one that is both a wake-up call and a call to arms for anyone seeking true equality.

Suzanna Danuta Walters has written and lectured extensively on sexuality, popular culture, and feminism and is currently the Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University. She is the author of several books, including All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America and Material Girls: Making Sense of Feminist Cultural Theory.  (NYU Press)

FDL Book Salon: Economics: The User’s Guide

Author: Ha-Joon Chang
Sunday, October 12, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

In his bestselling 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang brilliantly debunked many of the predominant myths of neoclassical economics. Now, in an entertaining and accessible primer, he explains how the global economy actually works—in real-world terms. Writing with irreverent wit, a deep knowledge of history, and a disregard for conventional economic pieties, Chang offers insights that will never be found in the textbooks.

Unlike many economists, who present only one view of their discipline, Chang introduces a wide range of economic theories, from classical to Keynesian, revealing how each has its strengths and weaknesses, and why there is no one way to explain economic behavior. Instead, by ignoring the received wisdom and exposing the myriad forces that shape our financial world, Chang gives us the tools we need to understand our increasingly global and interconnected world often driven by economics. From the future of the Euro, inequality in China, or the condition of the American manufacturing industry here in the United States—Economics: The User’s Guide is a concise and expertly crafted guide to economic fundamentals that offers a clear and accurate picture of the global economy and how and why it affects our daily lives.

Ha-Joon Chang, a Korean native, has taught at the Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge, since 1990. He has worked as a consultant for numerous international organizations, including various UN agencies, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. He has published 11 books, including Kicking Away the Ladder, winner of the 2003 Myrdal Prize. In 2005, Ha-Joon Chang was awarded the 2005 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. (Bloomsbury Publishing)

FDL Book Salon: #Newsfail: Climate Change, Feminism, Gun Control, and Other Fun Stuff We Talk About Because Nobody Else Will

Author: Jamie Kilstein, Allison Kilkenny
Saturday, October 18, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

A hilarious and informative primer on the most urgent issues of our day, from the creators and co-hosts of Citizen Radio, a 100% listener-supported show whose slogan is “independent radio that won’t lead you to war.”

#Newsfail is not your grandmother’s comedic-memoir-slash-political-manifesto. From page one (in a preface titled, “In Which the Authors Interview Ralph Nader in the Bathtub”), comedian Jamie Kilstein and journalist Allison Kilkenny pledge to give you the news like you’ve never gotten it before.

On issues ranging from feminism to gun control, climate change to class war, foreign policy to net neutrality, they tell you how the mainstream media gets it left, right, and utterly, unforgivably, irresponsibly wrong—think Noam Chomsky as channeled by Fred and Carrie from “Portlandia.” #Newsfail is all this, plus the story of Allison and Jamie’s own DIY foray into independent media via their podcast, Citizen Radio, which has featured guests such as Jeremy Scahill, Sarah Silverman, Glenn Greenwald, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and been downloaded millions of times by people all over the world.

Their mission is truth-telling above brainwashing. All you have to do is listen.

Jamie Kilstein is a stand-up comedian, who has been featured on The Conan O’Brien Show, Showtime, Up With Chris, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and NPR’s Weekend Edition. One time, Glenn Beck called him a doofus, which is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him.

Allison Kilkenny
has previously reported for The Nation and has appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show and Up With Chris, and Democracy Now. One time, G. Gordon Liddy told Allison that her writing “makes him want to vomit,” which is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to her. (Simon and Schuster)

The world’s leading scientific and medical experts offer the first comprehensive analysis of the long-term health and environmental consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident

“The clock cannot be turned back. We live in a contaminated world.”
—Hiroaki Koide, Kyoto University

On the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, an international panel of leading medical and biological scientists, nuclear engineers, and policy experts assembled at the prestigious New York Academy of Medicine. A project of the Helen Caldicott Foundation and co-sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility, this gathering was a response to widespread concerns that the media and policy makers had been far too eager to move past what are clearly deep and lasting impacts for the Japanese people and for the world. This was the first comprehensive attempt to address the health and environmental damage done by one of the worst nuclear accidents of our times.

The only document of its kind, Crisis Without End represents an unprecedented look into the profound aftereffects of Fukushima. In accessible terms, leading experts from Japan, the United States, Russia, and other nations weigh in on the current state of knowledge of radiation-related health risks in Japan, impacts on the world’s oceans, the question of low-dosage radiation risks, crucial comparisons with Chernobyl, health and environmental impacts on the United States (including on food and newborns), and the unavoidable implications for the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

Crisis Without End is both essential reading and a major corrective to the public record on Fukushima.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, Winner, Nuclear-Free Future Lifetime Achievement Award

The world’s leading spokesperson for the antinuclear movement, Dr. Helen Caldicott is the co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the 2003 winner of the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom. Both the Smithsonian Institute and Ladies’ Home Journal have named her one of the Most Influential Women of the Twentieth Century. In 2001 she founded the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, which later became Beyond Nuclear, in Washington, D.C. The author of The New Nuclear Danger, War in Heaven (with Craig Eisendrath), Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, and Loving This Planet and the editor of Crisis Without End (all published by The New Press), she is currently president of the Helen Caldicott Foundation/NuclearFreePlanet.org. She divides her time between Australia and the United States.  (The New Press)

FDL Book Salon: Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform

Author: Robert E. Mutch
Saturday, October 25, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

Are corporations citizens? Is political inequality a necessary aspect of a democracy or something that must be stamped out? These are the questions that have been at the heart of the debate surrounding campaign finance reform for nearly half a century. But as Robert E. Mutch demonstrates in this fascinating book, these were not always controversial matters.

The tenets that corporations do not count as citizens, and that self-government functions best by reducing political inequality, were commonly heldup until the early years of the twentieth century, when Congress recognized the strength of these principles by prohibiting corporations from making campaign contributions, passing a disclosure law, and setting limits on campaign expenditures. But conservative opposition began to appear in the 1970s. Well represented on the Supreme Court, opponents of campaign finance reform won decisions granting First Amendment rights to corporations, and declaring the goal of reducing political inequality to be unconstitutional.

Buying the Vote analyzes the rise and decline of campaign finance reform by tracking the evolution of both the ways in which presidential campaigns have been funded since the late nineteenth century. Through close examinations of major Supreme Court decisions, Mutch shows how the Court has fashioned a new and profoundly inegalitarian definition of American democracy. Drawing on rarely studied archival materials on presidential campaign finance funds, Buying the Vote is an illuminating look at politics, money, and power in America.

Robert E. Mutch is an independent scholar who specializes in the history of campaign finance. (Oxford University Press)

FDL Book Salon: Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate

Author: Ken Hughes
Sunday, October 26, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

The break-in at Watergate and the cover-up that followed brought about the resignation of Richard Nixon, creating a political shockwave that reverberates to this day. But as Ken Hughes reveals in his powerful new book, in all the thousands of hours of declassified White House tapes, the president orders a single break-in–and it is not at the Watergate complex. Hughes’s examination of this earlier break-in, plans for which the White House ultimately scrapped, provides a shocking new perspective on a long history of illegal activity that prolonged the Vietnam War and was only partly exposed by the Watergate scandal.

As a key player in the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, Hughes has spent more than a decade developing and mining the largest extant collection of transcribed tapes from the Johnson and Nixon White Houses. Hughes’s unparalleled investigation has allowed him to unearth a pattern of actions by Nixon going back long before 1972, to the final months of the Johnson administration. Hughes identified a clear narrative line that begins during the 1968 campaign, when Nixon, concerned about the impact on his presidential bid of the Paris peace talks with the Vietnamese, secretly undermined the negotiations through a Republican fundraiser named Anna Chennault. Three years after the election, in an atmosphere of paranoia brought on by the explosive appearance of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon feared that his treasonous–and politically damaging–manipulation of the Vietnam talks would be exposed. Hughes shows how this fear led to the creation of the Secret Investigations Unit, the “White House Plumbers,” and Nixon’s initiation of illegal covert operations guided by the Oval Office. Hughes’s unrivaled command of the White House tapes has allowed him to build an argument about Nixon that goes far beyond what we think we know about Watergate.

Chasing Shadows is also available as a special e-book that links to the massive collection of White House tapes published by the Miller Center through Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. This unique edition allows the reader to move seamlessly from the book to the recordings’ expertly rendered transcripts and to listen to audio files of the remarkable–and occasionally shocking–conversations on which this dark chapter in American history would ultimately turn.

Ken Hughes is a researcher at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program. His work as a journalist has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe Magazine, and Salon. (University of Virginia Press)

FDL Book Salon: Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison

Author: Nell Bernstein
Saturday, November 1, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

When teenagers scuffle during a basketball game, they are typically benched. But when Will got into it on the court, he and his rival were sprayed in the face at close range by a chemical similar to Mace, denied a shower for twenty-four hours, and then locked in solitary confinement for a month.

One in three American children will be arrested by the time they are twenty-three, and many will spend time locked inside horrific detention centers that defy everything we know about how to rehabilitate young offenders. In a clear-eyed indictment of the juvenile justice system run amok, award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein shows that there is no right way to lock up a child. The very act of isolation denies delinquent children the thing that is most essential to their growth and rehabilitation: positive relationships with caring adults.

Bernstein introduces us to youth across the nation who have suffered violence and psychological torture at the hands of the state. She presents these youths all as fully realized people, not victims. As they describe in their own voices their fight to maintain their humanity and protect their individuality in environments that would deny both, these young people offer a hopeful alternative to the doomed effort to reform a system that should only be dismantled.

Burning Down the House is a clarion call to shut down our nation’s brutal and counterproductive juvenile prisons and bring our children home.

Nell Bernstein is a former Soros Justice Media Fellow and a winner of a White House Champion of Change award. Her articles have appeared in Newsday, Salon, Mother Jones, and the Washington Post, among other publications. (The New Press)

FDL Book Salon: They Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy

Author: Paul Street
Sunday, November 2, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

This book reflects on key questions raised by recent movements and statements about the status of American politics and polity—from the Tea Party to Occupy, from the 1% to the 47% to the 99% that is the rest of us. These questions have also been raised by previous generations of labor, farmer, socialist, anarchist, and populist protestors and critics: Who owns and rules America beyond the pretense of democratic popular governance? Why does it matter that the nation’s economy, society, culture, and politics are torn by stark class disparities and a concentration of wealth in the hands of a privileged few? What is the price of that savage inequality? And what can “we the people” do about it in defense of democracy, a livable natural environment, and the common good of all? Along the way, this book sharpens readers’ sense of who the US oligarchy are; how their fortunes have changed over the course of American history; how they live and think; and how to detect and de-cloak them. Paul Street is a master at revealing what lies beneath the surfaces of American politics and society and bringing his readers to the forefront of action.

Paul Street is an independent journalist, policy adviser, and historian. Formerly he was Vice President for Research and Planning at the Chicago Urban League. Among his recent books are Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (Routledge, 2005). His many articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune; In These Times; Dissent; Z Magazine; Black Commentator; Monthly Review, Journal of American Ethnic History; Journal of Social History, and other publications.  Website – PaulStreet.org    (Paradigm Publishers)

FDL Book Salon: The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Author: Goerge Lakoff
Saturday, November 8, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

 The essential progressive guide for the issues that define our future: climate, inequality, immigration, health care, and more

Since it became an international bestseller in 2004, Don’t Think of an Elephant! has been the definitive handbook for progressives who want to articulate their goals and values to voters, understand how conservatives think and why people often vote against their best interests, and frame the political debate.

Completely revised and updated to tackle today’s issues, the 10th Anniversary Edition not only explains what framing is and how it works but also reveals why, after a brief stint of winning the framing wars in the 2008 elections, the Democrats have gone back to losing them, and what can be done about it.

In this powerful new volume, George Lakoff delves into the issues that will dominate the midterm elections in 2014, the coming presidential elections, and beyond. He examines the current progressive and conservative frames on climate change, inequality, immigration, education, abortion, marriage, healthcare, national security, energy, and more. He explores why some issues have been difficult to frame, guides readers on how to frame complex issues without losing important context, and drives home the important differences between framing and spin.

Do you think facts alone can win a debate? Do you think you know what makes a Tea Party follower tick? Do you think you understand how to communicate on key issues that can improve peoples’ lives? Whether you answer yes or no, the insights in Don’t Think of an Elephant! will not only surprise you, but also give you the tools you need to develop frames that work, and eradicate frames that backfire.

George Lakoff is the country’s leading expert on the framing of political discourse and one of the world’s most renowned linguists and cognitive scientists. He is the author of numerous books on politics–including Don’t Think of an Elephant!, The Political Mind, Moral Politics, Thinking Points, The Little Blue Book (with Elisabeth Wehling), and Whose Freedom?–as well as numerous books on language and the mind.

Currently Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, Lakoff is a founder of the fields of cognitive science and cognitive linguistics, has previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. For more than two decades, he was codirector of the Neural Theory of Language Project at the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley. He also spent more than a decade as senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, and has served on the international advisory board of Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain, on the science board of the Santa Fe Institute, as president of the International Cognitive Linguistics Association, and on the governing board of the Cognitive Science Society, where he is now a Fellow of the Society. He has lectured at major universities in dozens of countries around the world. His current technical research is on the theory of how the neural circuitry of the brain gives rise to thought and language.  His blogs appear regularly on his website, www.georgelakoff.com. (Chelsea Green Publishing)

FDL Book Salon: Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations

Author: Brandon L. Garrett
Sunday, November 9, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

American courts routinely hand down harsh sentences to individual convicts, but a very different standard of justice applies to corporations. Too Big to Jail takes readers into a complex, compromised world of backroom deals, for an unprecedented look at what happens when criminal charges are brought against a major company in the United States.

Federal prosecutors benefit from expansive statutes that allow an entire firm to be held liable for a crime by a single employee. But when prosecutors target the Goliaths of the corporate world, they find themselves at a huge disadvantage. The government that bailed out corporations considered too economically important to fail also negotiates settlements permitting giant firms to avoid the consequences of criminal convictions. Presenting detailed data from more than a decade of federal cases, Brandon Garrett reveals a pattern of negotiation and settlement in which prosecutors demand admissions of wrongdoing, impose penalties, and require structural reforms. However, those reforms are usually vaguely defined. Many companies pay no criminal fine, and even the biggest blockbuster payments are often greatly reduced. While companies must cooperate in the investigations, high-level employees tend to get off scot-free.

The practical reality is that when prosecutors face Hydra-headed corporate defendants prepared to spend hundreds of millions on lawyers, such agreements may be the only way to get any result at all. Too Big to Jail describes concrete ways to improve corporate law enforcement by insisting on more stringent prosecution agreements, ongoing judicial review, and greater transparency.

Brandon L. Garrett is Roy L. and Rosamond Woodruff Morgan Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law. (Harvard University Press)

FDL Book Salon: The Last Magazine: A Novel

Author: Michael Hastings
Saturday, November 15, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

[This will be a discussion about Michael Hasting's life and last book, lead by Jason Leopold, a friend of Michael Hastings.  We look forward to your comments and questions - bev]

The year is 2002. Weekly newsmagazines dominate the political agenda in New York and Washington. A young journalist named Michael M. Hastings is a twenty-two- year-old intern at The Magazine, wet behind the ears, the only one in the office who’s actually read his coworker’s books. He will stop at nothing to turn his internship into a full-time position, and he’s figured out just whom to impress: Nishant Patel, the international editor, and Sanders Berman, managing editor, both vying for the job of editor in chief. While Berman and Nishant try to one-up each other pontificating on cable news, A. E. Peoria—the one reporter seemingly doing any work—is having a career crisis. He’s just returned from Chad, where, instead of the genocide, he was told by his editors to focus on mobile phone outsourcing, which they think is more relevant. And then, suddenly, the United States invades Iraq—and all hell breaks loose. As Hastings loses his naïveté about the journalism game, he must choose where his loyalties lie—with the men at The Magazine who can advance his career or with his friend in the field who is reporting the truth.

The Last Magazine is the debut novel from Michael Hastings, discovered in his files after his untimely death in June 2013. Informed by his own journalistic experiences, it is wickedly funny, sharp, and fast-paced: a great book about print journalism’s last glory days, and a compelling first novel from one of America’s most treasured reporters. (Penguin / Blue Rider Press)

FDL Book Salon: Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United

Author: Zephyr Teachout
Sunday, November 16, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

When Louis XVI presented Benjamin Franklin with a snuff box encrusted with diamonds and inset with the King’s portrait, the gift troubled Americans: it threatened to “corrupt” Franklin by clouding his judgment or altering his attitude toward the French in subtle psychological ways. This broad understanding of political corruption—rooted in ideals of civic virtue—was a driving force at the Constitutional Convention.

For two centuries the framers’ ideas about corruption flourished in the courts, even in the absence of clear rules governing voters, civil officers, and elected officials. Should a law that was passed by a state legislature be overturned because half of its members were bribed? What kinds of lobbying activity were corrupt, and what kinds were legal? When does an implicit promise count as bribery? In the 1970s the U.S. Supreme Court began to narrow the definition of corruption, and the meaning has since changed dramatically. No case makes that clearer than Citizens United.

In 2010, one of the most consequential Court decisions in American political history gave wealthy corporations the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion treated corruption as nothing more than explicit bribery, a narrow conception later echoed by Chief Justice Roberts in deciding McCutcheon v. FEC in 2014. With unlimited spending transforming American politics for the worse, warns Zephyr Teachout, Citizens United and McCutcheon were not just bad law but bad history. If the American experiment in self-government is to have a future, then we must revive the traditional meaning of corruption and embrace an old ideal.

Zephyr Teachout is Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University.  (Harvard University Press)

FDL Book Salon: Angels by the River: A Memoir

Author: James Gustave
Sunday, November 23, 2014 2:00 pm Pacific time

Reflections on race, environment, politics, and living on the front lines of change

In Angels by the River, James Gustave “Gus” Speth recounts his unlikely path from a southern boyhood through his years as one of the nation’s most influential mainstream environmentalists and eventually to the system­-changing activism that shapes his current work.

Born and raised in a lovely but racially divided town that later became the scene of South Carolina’s horrific Orangeburg Massacre, Speth explores how the civil rights movement and the South’s agrarian roots shaped his later work in the heyday of the environmental movement, when he founded two landmark environmental groups, fought for the nation’s toughest environmental laws, spearheaded programs in the United Nations, advised the White House, and moved into a leading academic role as dean of Yale’s prestigious School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Yet, in the end, he arrived somewhere quite unexpected—still believing change is possible, but not within the current political and economic system.

Throughout this compelling memoir, Speth intertwines three stories—his own, his hometown’s, and his country’s—focusing mainly on his early years and the lessons he drew from them, and his later years, in which he comes full circle in applying those lessons. In the process he invites others to join him politically at or near the place at which he has arrived, wherever they may have started.

James Gustave “Gus” Speth is the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, founder and president of the World Resources Institute, and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has also been administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, chair of the U.N. Development Group, professor of law at Georgetown University, and chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter administration.

He currently teaches at Vermont Law School, and is a senior fellow at the Democracy Collaborative where he is co-chair of the Next System Project. He is also distinguished senior fellow with Demos, associate fellow with the Tellus Insitute, and the recipient of numerous environmental awards. His previous books include America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, and the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. (Chelsea Green Publishing)

FDL Book Salon: The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information

Author: Frank Pasquale
Saturday, January 10, 2015 2:00 pm Pacific time

Hidden algorithms drive decisions at major Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms. Thanks to automation, those firms can approve credit, rank websites, and make myriad other decisions instantaneously. But what are the costs of their methods? And what exactly are they doing with their digital profiles of us?

Leaks, whistleblowers, and legal disputes have shed new light on corporate surveillance and the automated judgments it enables. Self-serving and reckless behavior is surprisingly common, and easy to hide in code protected by legal and real secrecy. Even after billions of dollars of fines have been levied, underfunded regula­tors may have only scratched the surface of troublingly monopolistic and exploitative practices.

Drawing on the work of social scientists, attorneys, and technologists, The Black Box Society offers a bold new account of the political economy of big data. Data-driven corporations play an ever larger role in determining opportunity and risk. But they depend on automated judgments that may be wrong, biased, or destructive. Their black boxes endanger all of us. Faulty data, invalid assumptions, and defective models can’t be corrected when they are hidden.

Frank Pasquale exposes how powerful interests abuse secrecy for profit and explains ways to rein them in. Demanding transparency is only the first step. An intelligible society would assure that key deci­sions of its most important firms are fair, nondiscriminatory, and open to criticism. Silicon Valley and Wall Street need to accept as much accountability as they impose on others. (Harvard University Press)

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