In his new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, bestselling author Matt Taibbi explores how the income gap between the wealthy and the poor is also reflected in who is targeted for prosecution and incarceration. “I’m trying to show the two different ways that the criminal justice system works for these two different types of offenders,” said Taibbi at an event at Hunter’s Roosevelt House. Taibbi, who won a National Magazine Award for his columns in Rolling Stone in 2008, was interviewed by ProPublica president and founding general manager, Richard Tofel, to discuss the inequity of American crime and punishment.
In her new documentary film, “Underwater Dreams,” writer and director Mary Mazzio enters the highly charged atmosphere of immigration reform by telling the inspirational story of four sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants who won an underwater robotic competition, defeating an engineering powerhouse team from MIT in the process. “Those kids are now being perceived as role models, and I think they understand the legacy they left in their own community,” said Mazzio, who appeared at a screening of the film at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House and discussed the film’s significance with Nancy Foner, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hunter and the Graduate Center.
The key to containing the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is prevention, according to an expert who has worked extensively in the area. “There needs to be a lot more emphasis on behavioral responses” to limit exposure to the virus, said Stephane Helleringer, assistant professor of public health at Columbia University. Helleringer participated in a panel on the health crisis, discussing disease mortality, sociopolitical implications and the Western response at the Graduate Center, moderated by Leith Mullings, CUNY Distinguished Professor of Anthropology.
Author Salman Rushdie recalled the city of his childhood in The Moor’s Last Sigh, his novel published nearly 20 years ago. “The Bombay that I grew up in, in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, was famous as a city in which the communal tensions of the rest of India didn’t happen — it was one of the reasons why my parents chose to move there,” said Rushdie, who appeared at the Distinguished Writers Lecture Series at Hunter College. The author of 11 novels, including the Booker prize-winning, Midnight’s Child, Rushdie, discussed the complexities of modern day India and Bombay’s transformation into Mumbai as a theme he mined for his earlier work. “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” he said, “is a novel about that moment of transition — the moment where it stopped being Bombay and became Mumbai.”
The crushing indebtedness of college students and their parents — fueled by the virtually unrestricted federal PLUS program that ties borrowing to an escalating “cost of attendance” set by the colleges —is yet another burden to the ailing middle class, says U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Public or private, few colleges offer a nationally recognized option for academic value and affordability such as the package offered at CUNY, where 6 of 10 undergraduates attend tuition free, and 80 percent graduate debt free. At an event moderated by Janet Gornick, professor of political science and director of the Luxembourg Income Study Center at the Graduate Center, Warren was joined by Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman to discuss public policy issues affecting those earning lower incomes, including student-loan refinancing, bankruptcy protection and minimum wage reform.
“We now know he probably should have burned” all the tapes. “It would have looked better,” says author Douglas Brinkley, referring to the recordings President Richard M. Nixon had made in his White House years. Speaking at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House, the best-selling author of The Nixon Tapes, 1971-72, which includes the largest set of tape transcriptions yet published, says the president “thought they would have huge historical value,” outweighing any concerns for secrecy. The tapes played a pivotal role in his downfall, and the transcripts provide additional insight into both the president’s paranoia and his flawed political genius.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson and litigator David Boies were once bitter rivals, arguing against each other before the Supreme Court in Gore v. Bush. Years later, the pair formed a legal odd couple thatbrought them back to the Supreme Court, this time on the same side arguing against California’s Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage. The rivals turned allies are co-authors of Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality, in which they recall their five-year struggle that culminated in a landmark decision overturning Proposition 8 in the 2013 case of Hollingsworth v. Perry. Speaking at the Roosevelt House at Hunter College, the attorneys make an emotional case for marriage equality as well as the legal one. “Marriage is between two people that love one another that want to form a lasting, stable, permanent, eternal relationship with one another who want to become part of the community,” Olson says, “who want to raise their children in a community and who want to be a part of the economy and be part of everything that America stands for.”
A lifelong advocate for health equity, Dr. Adewale Troutman, challenged the graduating class of the CUNY School of Public Health to take chances and to not be afraid of failure. “Consider both your highs and your lows to be your inspiration,” said Dr. Troutman, a professor and associate dean at the University of South Florida and past president of the American Public Health Association. In his keynote address, Dr. Troutman recalled his rough upbringing in the South Bronx and credits his decision to attend Bronx Community College and Lehman College, as the key reason he made it to out of the neighborhood, unlike many of his childhood friends. “These schools not only changed my life, they saved my life.”
With the recent publication in Germany of the notebooks of Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, the controversial figure has been brought back to life. Richard Wolin, a Distinguished Professor of history at the CUNY Graduate Center, says Heidegger’s anti-Semitic views are clear. In a lecture, “Heidegger’s Black Notebooks: National Socialism, World Jewry and the History of Being,” Wolin says anyone who elects to downplay the extent of Heidegger’s “political folly stands guilt by extension of perpetuating the logic of philosopher betrayal.”
The tendency of the rate of return on capital to exceed the growth rate under modern capitalism is “a very strong force pushing toward potentially very large inequalities in wealth,” argues economist Thomas Piketty, author of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Speaking at The CUNY Graduate Center, Piketty says “inequalities may return to, or be even higher than, 19th-century levels.” But that isn’t inevitable. “A proper progressive tax on net wealth” argues Piketty, “can be a way to try to increase wealth mobility and to make this vast quantity of wealth, which is in itself a good thing, more equally distributed.”