A refreshingly original contribution to the ongoing analysis of the American political system.

Technocracy in America

RISE OF THE INFO-STATE

A radical reappraisal of democracy and its decline in the United States.

After a historically acrimonious presidential election, there’s been much hand-wringing about the health of American democracy on both sides of the ideological divide and consternation over a general lack of adequate political representation. Khanna (Connectography, 2016, etc.), a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, argues that American democracy has become indefensibly dysfunctional and that it’s eroding the public’s trust in its chief institutions. The real goal, the author contends, should be a combination of meaningful representation with effective governance—one that requires a diminishment of democracy in favor of technocratic stewardship: “In western thought, a deep complacency has set in that confuses politics with governance, democracy with delivery, process with outcomes,” he notes. “But the ‘will of the people’ is not just to repeat their desires over and over without results.” Khanna recommends a combination of democracy and meritocratic rule—“direct technocracy”—which would chasten the demands of an often myopic public with the long-term judgment of the nation’s “best and brightest.” The author’s model for direct democracy is Switzerland’s, while his exemplar of technocratic oversight is Singapore’s, and he ably discusses both. Philosophically speaking, a combination of the two, he says, would encourage utilitarian outcomes that would ultimately generate the broadest benefits for the greatest number of people. The author provocatively offers a laundry list of governmental innovations to this end; the most notable and ambitious include the leadership of an executive committee instead of a single president; 10-year terms for U.S. Supreme Court justices; and the replacement of the U.S. Senate with a “Governors Assembly.” Khanna’s judgments are sometimes peremptory and strident; for instance, he assumes, without argument, that Brexit is a “debacle” that represents “the triumph of politics over rationality.” Also, he asserts, when discussing the executive branch, that “Seven heads are better than one, period,” without referring to Alexander Hamilton’s arguments for a unified executive branch. Still, this book remains a powerful stimulant to a more searching discussion of the virtues and vices of American democracy, and it deftly combines philosophical discussion with concrete political analysis.

A refreshingly original contribution to the ongoing analysis of the American political system.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 108

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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