Saturday, November 28, 2009

Democracys Discontent or The World of Mexican Migrants

Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy

Author: Michael J Sandel

The defect, Sandel maintains, lies in the impoverished vision of citizenship and community shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. American politics has lost its civic voice, leaving both liberals and conservatives unable to inspire the sense of community and civic engagement that self-government requires.

In search of a public philosophy adequate to our time, Sandel ranges across the American political experience, recalling the arguments of Jefferson and Hamilton, Lincoln and Douglas, Holmes and Brandeis, FDR and Reagan. He relates epic debates over slavery and industrial capitalism to contemporary controversies over the welfare state, religion, abortion, gay rights, and hate speech. Democracy's Discontent provides a new interpretation of the American political and constitutional tradition that offers hope of rejuvenating our civic life.


Sandel (government, Harvard U.) adds his views to the growing recognition that beneath American affluence and social justice lies a suspicion of government, a lack of control of our lives, and the unraveling of the moral fabric. He traces the problem to an impoverished vision of citizenship and community and a loss of a civic voice that prevents both liberals and conservatives from inspiring a sense of community and civil engagement that self- government requires. He calls for storytellers who can create an inspiring and convincing society to strive toward. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

George F. Will

American political discourse has become thin gruel because of a deliberate deflation of American ideals. So says Michael Sandel in [this] wonderful new book, ...Sandel's book will help produce what he desires -- a quickened sense of the moral consequences of political practices and economic arrangements. -- George F. Will, Newsweek

Kirkus Reviews

A wide-ranging critique of American liberalism that, unlike many other current books on the matter, seeks its restoration as a guiding political ethic.

"Despite the achievements of American life in the last half-century," political theorist Sandel (Harvard) writes, "our politics is beset with anxiety and frustration." He suggests that the growing public mistrust in the federal government, whose manifestations range from the conservative sweep of Congress in the last election to the Oklahoma City bombing, can be addressed only by reevaluating the liberal assumption that "government should be neutral on the question of the good life," and by putting in its place a social-democratic concern for the spiritual well-being of the citizenry. The "utilitarian calculus" of the past has helped preserve individual liberties, Sandel observes, but it finds little room for weighing the finer questions of morality in recommending action. (For instance, Sandel remarks, minimalist liberalism of the sort that is practiced today could scarcely find room for the antislavery arguments of the abolitionists a century and a half ago, relying as those arguments did on "appeals to comprehensive moral ideals.") This indifference to the character of the citizenry, Sandel adds, is not the province of liberalism alone; where liberals have defended abortion rights on the grounds that government has no place in moral issues, conservatives have likewise argued for laissez-faire economic policies, claiming "government should be neutral toward the outcomes" of a market economy. Sandel is strong on tracking the history of this value-neutralization of government; he is less successful in identifying the particulars of a practical yet value-laden ethic that can "repair the civic life on which democracy depends" while not trampling on anyone's liberties—one of the thorny dilemmas of current reformist politics.

A book rich in ideas, if not in blueprints for action.

New interesting book: Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent or A Handbook of Invalid Cooking

The World of Mexican Migrants: The Rock and the Hard Place

Author: Judith Adler Hellman

By the acclaimed author of the bestselling Mexican Lives, a surprising, behind-the-headlines look at the lives of Mexican migrants, in the tradition of Oscar Lewis's classic Five Families

"Either you work, or you work. Those are the two choices!"—Sara, a street vendor in East Los Angeles

In her groundbreaking book Mexican Lives, Judith Adler Hellman profiled fifteen Mexicans, both poor and rich, each of whom was struggling to survive the radical economic and political shifts of Mexico in the 1990s.

The World of Mexican Migrants looks at the aftereffects of these changes through the eyes of those who, no longer able to eke out even a modest living in their homeland, have come to the United States. In New York and Los Angeles, we meet, among others, construction workers, restaurant staff, sweatshop laborers, and street vendors. We encounter deliverymen who race through the streets to bring us our food. We hear stories of astonishing border crossings—including one man's journey riding suspended from the undercarriage of a train, and another's deadly three-day trek across the desert. Back in Mexico, Hellman visits family members of migrants who live on remittances from their husbands and relatives al Norte.

Drawing on five years of in-depth interviews, Hellman offers a much-needed humanizing perspective on the estimated 6 million undocumented Mexican migrants living in the United States, people whose voices are rarely heard in the din of angry political debate and talk-radio rhetoric on immigration.

Kirkus Reviews

A sympathetic, wide-ranging portrait of the lives of Mexicans on both sides of the border. Go to the Mexican consulate in Tucson, Ariz., and you'll be among the few waiting for services; go to the same consulate in New York City, and you'll join a line a block long. That may seem odd, but to Hellman (Political Science/York Univ.; Mexican Lives, 1994, etc.) it speaks volumes about how central New York has become to border-crossers: "Mexicans-depending on whether we count both documented and undocumented people-have one of the highest, if not the highest, birthrates of any national group in the city." But why travel so far from the border? For one thing, there are jobs available, even if too many of them require workers to swallow their pride, since protesting unfair conditions can lead to deportation. Yet there are other considerations, Hellman observes. It's possible to get around by public transportation, which removes the need for private transportation and thus registrations, licenses and other things that require identification. Thus Staten Island and Long Island are full of esquineros, the men who wait on the corner for odd jobs and daily construction work. Meanwhile, down at the border, the Border Patrol is concerned not just with stemming the tide, but with triage. Says one top officer, "economic migrants are just the clutter that we need to brush away so we can get at the really bad guys . . . meaning the dope smugglers and the people smugglers." The presence of so many Mexicans may make some Anglos nervous, but their self-appointed guardians in the so-called Minutemen aren't much help; as critics note, they make big noise but mostly sit in lawn chairs and drink beer while thealambristas hop the fence to become esquineros and do the jobs no one else wants. Humane and helpful, Hellman removes the shrillness from the border debate to show what the crossers do and why they do it-and why most Americans don't object to their presence.

Table of Contents:
Acknowledgments     ix
Prologue     xiii
Introduction     1
The Rock
Beto: Those Not with Us     17
Nopal Verde: The Life of a Town     23
San Rafael: A Life of Cooperation     35
Marta: The Tyranny of In-Laws     45
Dolores: "We Only Speak on Sundays"     57
The Journey
Tomas: Traveling in Style     65
Elena: "Absolutely Still"     77
Angel: Cat and Mouse     83
Fernando: "A Snake's Breakfast"     87
The Tucson Consulate     93
No More Deaths     99
Shanti and Daniel     107
"Walking Around, Living Their Lives"     113
The Hard Place
Carlos: Names and Networks     119
Sara: "Ten Words in Ten Years"     137
Francisco: The Hardest Place     145
To Stay or to Return Home
Julio: A Quick Exit     169
Manuel: Life After Amnesty     177
Patricia: Weighing the Good and the Bad     191
Conclusion     211
A Note on Methodology     233
Notes     243
Glossary     247
Suggested Reading     251

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