About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Santows in Bologna (July 14th to August 7th, 2011)

Our main base during our 24 days in Italy was the city of Bologna, in the province of Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy.  As you can see below, Bologna is not far from Florence or Venice.  It is also close to Pisa, Verona, Modena, and the Chianti region of Tuscany.  We visited all of these places before leaving for London on August 7th!

While Shana and I have both been to Italy before (we honeymooned there), neither of us has ever been to Bologna.  My UMD colleague Matt Sneider has traveled there many times on research over the years, and always waxed rhapsodic about it.  As you will see below, it is a lovely old city, and it is nicely situated for further explorations of other parts of the country.  Indeed, as we later realized, because it is a hub for Ryan Air, cheap travel to North Africa and the rest of Europe is at your fingertips!  The day we were flying out, we realized that we could have been in Marrakesh in just under 2 hours (how cool is that?).  Next time...

We decided early on that renting an apartment would be better than staying at a hotel.  It is of course cheaper, but it would also enable us to better immerse ourselves in daily life.  Since Bologna is renowned for its terrific locally-sourced markets, having a kitchen would allow us to make good use of them.  Our first choice was to swap places with an academic -- they would stay at our house in Providence, while we stayed at their apartment in Bologna.  To that end, we joined a couple of academic sabbatical websites.  While we didn't do a home exchange, what we did do worked out perfectly:  we found a wonderful family to rent our house, and a terrific apartment to rent in Bologna.  Mortgage and rent roughly canceled one another out...

Our apartment is right in the centro, near Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the medieval city.  Via Rizzoli, Via Ugo Bassi and Via dell'Indipendenza all meet at the Neptune Fountain, adjacent to the Piazza.  Via dell'Indipendenza leads right to the train station...and the rest of Europe, really.  Virtually all of the bus lines had stops on or near the Piazza, though the city is remarkably dense, and thus walkable.

In the map below, you will find the Piazza Maggiore roughly in the middle, just to the left of the two towers.  Our apartment is just south and west of the Piazza.

Even better, our apartment (with 3 bedrooms and a lovely little courtyard) is owned by an American photographer with two little kids, Elizabeth Garvey.  Elizabeth was a vital source of information, advice, and leads on babysitters!

Bologna sits at the foot of the Apennine mountains, in one of the richest regions in Italy.  It is also much less touristed (and thus somewhat less expensive) than Florence, Venice or Rome.

Do you like tortellini, lasagna, prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, and Bolognese sauce?

Then the Bologna region is your kind of place.

Do you like high-end shopping under shaded porticos?

Going home to rest between 1:00 and 4:00 pm, so you can eat, drink and chat late into the night?

Climbing ancient towers,  & finding extraordinary churches & public art in hidden piazzas?

Eating the best pasta, cured meat, and gelato in your life?

I thought so.

The first description one generally hears of Bologna is the following:

Bologna la Dotta:  the Learned -- it contains the oldest university in Europe
Bologna la Rossa:  the Red -- generally refers to the city's leftist politics, and its red-hued buildings
Bologna la Grossa:  the Fat -- because the city and region are obsessed with food

Is it any wonder that I was drawn to it?  Food, books, and leftist politics?  Sounds like heaven...and looks like it too, as all of Shana's photographs clearly convey below.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Santows in Venice, July 16 to 18, 2011

Bologna, of course, was to be our Italian home for just over 3 weeks.  But our first real destination after Paris was Venice -- for the Redentore festival.

The Redentore, like most Venetian celebrations, seems to combine the sacred and the profane (or, if you prefer, piety and party).  It honors the end of the plague of 1577, one of the city's worst.  In an age before clean water, contagion and public health were fully understood, cities were frequently devastated by plagues and outbreaks of disease.  This was true well into the 19th century, in the US and elsewhere.  Venice was particularly vulnerable, because it was an island, and it was so well connected to other places through trading ships.  The 1577 plague is believed to have been caused by flea-infested mice brought over on Venetian ships returning from Asia.  One popular story, perhaps true, is that the plague was brought to an end when hundreds of cats were brought in from Syria.  Many at the time (and since) think that constant public devotions by the survivors in Venice's many churches did the trick.

History aside, the Redentore is celebrated with a massive fireworks display, and a huge city-wide party, most of it taking place on a makeshift flotilla of boats loosely attached to one another.  What better way to celebrate the end of a plague than to drink and blow sh*t up?  How could we be in Italy, and miss that?

Shana, as always, captured the essence of Venice -- and our visit -- in photographs.  To see more pictures, go to

Our hotel, the Caneva, was a bed and breakfast near the Rialto and Piazza San Marco:

Maya, on our balcony over-looking a canal

A view from the lobby of our hotel

Venice, as I'm sure you know, is a remarkably unique city.  There are no streets, in the modern sense -- at least not any passable by cars.  Transportation is either on foot, or on boats.  It is also next to impossible to find your way around Venice without a map.  In my experience, most visitors just voluntarily lose themselves in the maze.  That's really the best way to see Venice, because there are constant surprises around every corner.   It is a heavily touristed city -- the permanent population is small, and getting smaller as the island sinks and the water rises -- but one can suddenly and inexplicably find yourself alone, if you wander far enough.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Santows in Paris, July 7th to July 14th

Thursday July 7th

Our Eurostar arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris in the evening, and we took a cab to the apartment. While Mark was once capable of reading French philosophy and literature in the original language, his ability to actually speak the language -- which was never great to begin with -- was immediately tested.  If only I could just wave a copy of Camus' The Rebel at people, and smile stupidly...and have all of my thoughts and desires instantly conveyed.  Well, most of them, anyway.

Our apartment is well equipped, though very cozy.  The bedroom (which we gave to the kids) is light and comfortable.  Shana and I will sleep on the sofa bed in the living room/kitchen portion.  This will enable us to have access to the TV and fridge while the kids are sleeping.  We could also sneak out for a glass of wine around the corner too.

A few views of our Montmartre apartment, and its immediate surroundings, courtesy of Shana:

The kids, playing with Snickers and Rayna -- our constant stuffed companions on the trip (the animals, not the children)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Santows in London

Day One:  London

We landed late last night (London time) after an uneventful flight.  We were greeted by rain (in London?  A tiger, in Africa?).

This morning...a private black taxi tour of Harry Potter's London!

Our tour guide and driver, a lovely chap named Dave, drove in from his home in Stratford-on-Avon just to show us around.  Among other things, we saw Sirius Black's house on Grimauld Place, the entrance to the Ministry of Magic, and of course Platform 9 3/4 (which is at King's Cross Station, a block or two from our hotel).

And just in case you think we Santows have an unhealthy obsession with all things Potter...there are already people camping out at Trafalgar Square for the red carpet premiere of the last Potter movie, which isn't until 4pm tomorrow!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Thoughts on Patriotism, from 2003, at the dawn of the Iraq war

A travel day for me, so I thought I'd give you the piece below, in honor of July 4th.  It is a talk I gave on March 26th, 2003 at St. Al's church at Gonzaga University, Spokane WA -- just as the invasion of Iraq was gearing up.  The occasion was a university-wide peace service.  I think most of it holds up pretty well, eh?

A 12 year-old school girl in Maine wrote the following essay last year for her 6th grade class:
“The American flag stands for the fact that cloth can be very important. It is against the law to let the flag touch the ground or to leave the flag flying when the weather is bad. The flag has to be treated with respect. You can tell just how important this cloth is because when you compare it to people, it gets much better treatment. Nobody cares if a homeless person touches the ground. A homeless person can lie all over the ground all night long without anyone picking him up, folding him neatly and sheltering him from the rain.

School children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning. No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to love a rectangle of red, white, and blue cloth.

Betsy Ross would be quite surprised to see how successful her creation has become. But Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed to see how little of the flag's real meaning remains.”

As an opponent of this war, and an American historian, I have spent a great deal of time recently agonizing over what patriotism demands of us. Like millions around this nation, my acts of protest before the war began have inspired accusations of disloyalty; even within the anti-war movement, many have said that all protests must stop once the first shots are fired – that patriotism demands that we support the troops, and unify behind our leaders and our soldiers. I do not agree. Or, at the very least, I do not share the same definition of patriotism, nor of ‘support.’ Indeed, it is my patriotism that drives me to speak louder now that the war has begun. The logic is simple. If it is right to oppose a wrong when it is being publicly contemplated, how much more important is it to do so when it is in the process of commission? “When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart.”

It is not those who protest the war who need to justify themselves. The burden of proof is on the makers of war. As former President Jimmy Carter said recently, “war is sometimes a necessary evil. But it is ALWAYS an evil.” I’d like to share my thoughts on war, patriotism and support of the troops with you this morning. This will not simply be a plea for peace; it will also be a plea to stop THIS war. I can’t help that. I apologize if this talk will seem strident to you, but I believe it is important for those who support this war, and those who oppose it, and those who aren’t sure, to understand how much in common we share.

Why do I oppose this war? There are many reasons, but among the most important is my belief as an American in the rule of law over the rule of force. Under the new Bush Doctrine, a bold military strategy of preemptive attacks–including the possibility of a unilateral nuclear first strike– is intended to prevent any state or group of states from challenging our preeminent role in the world. The war in Iraq is the first application of this doctrine. Preemptive war, however, is unequivocally illegal. This prohibition was incorporated into the United Nations Charter after WWII as the basis for a new system of collective security in which no state retained the unilateral right to attack another–with two specified exceptions: self defense and Security Council authorization.

All of us should consider whether this radical new strategy is good for our country and the world, and whether it best represents what this nation stands for. What would happen in a world stripped of the very laws designed half a century ago to protect humanity from the carnage of unrestrained force? Can pure military might really defend us from evil and secure our freedom at the same time? The passage of the USA-Patriot Act should tell us no.

Before it is too late, we would do well to heed Sir Thomas More’s advice on the rule of law in the play “A Man for All Seasons.”
And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned around on you,
where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Do you really think
that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
Why do I believe that it is a patriotic act to protest against this war? There are two visions of America, I believe, with deep roots in our history. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America exclusively as a religious nation. It views patriotism as akin to allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our Constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom, in peace and wartime.

The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution, and in the words of the Declaration of Independence. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces reason and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism neither as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country and one's fellow citizens (all over the world), and as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy.

The admirable obligation human beings feel to their neighbors, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens, all too often becomes confused with blind obedience to government. Most of the evils in world history have come from obedience, not disobedience; from conformity, not from dissent. Unity, stability and order are not the only desirable conditions of social life, even in wartime. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to life, liberty and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, patriotism may require us to disobey the law; and citizens may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the eighteenth century, as antislavery people did in the nineteenth century, as Chinese students did in the last century, and as anti-war protesters are doing now.

It is this second vision which is my vision, my patriotism. It is the vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it, and strong enough to defend it against all its enemies, even during wartime. When he spoke out against the Vietnam war, Martin Luther King explained his protest simply: “I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.” If we do not speak out in protest, King continued, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” With Dr. King, I claim, without pretense or apology, a place in the long and honorable tradition of those who demand that American ideals apply to all and oppose the efforts of those, from whatever quarter, who try to reserve them for privileged groups and ignoble causes. The most effective way to love our country, I submit, is to fight like hell to change it. Through most of U.S. history, this brand of patriotism was indispensable to the cause of social change. As the poet Langston Hughes wrote, "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed. Let it be that great strong land of love where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme; that any man be crushed by one above."

Given this vision of patriotism, what does ‘support the troops’ mean to me?

First, 'supporting the troops' means preparing the nation as a whole to join with the soldiers in equally and justly sharing the burdens of a democratically declared war (though this is not, as of yet, a ‘declared’ war). This should include an ongoing public debate over the rightness, the wrongness, and the feasibility of this war. This means to me, among other things, following the precedent of WWII and initiating economic and fiscal policies that call on all of us to sacrifice, and that support the troops and their families. This would decidedly NOT include a series of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and punishing budget cuts in the programs which provide social and economic security for the American working and middle classes -- who provide most of the soldiers, and build most of our weapons.

Second, 'supporting our troops' means seeing to it that they have jobs, and the means to re-adjust to civilian life upon their de-mobilization. Recently, the Republican majority on the House Budget Committee voted for $25 billion in cuts in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, and a $204 million cut in the Impact Aid program that supports the education of soldiers' children. 163,000 veterans of the Gulf War continue to suffer from largely unaddressed illnesses from exposure to the fall out from destroyed chemical weapons, ammunition depots, oil fires, depleted uranium and experimental drugs. I question where the compassionate conservative support for our troops will be in a few years time, when they come back home, and seek employment, a union contract, a safe workplace, a living wage, and a labor market and system of higher education free from racial discrimination. History (as well as the President’s budget) tells us the support of our troops will fall somewhat short of this, unless we speak up for them. Supporting the troops doesn’t mean abject silence. It means seeing them as real human beings, with families, with fears, with rights, with opinions, and with moral consciences which will be stretched to the limit by the nature of modern war. And as human beings who will hopefully live long lives upon their return.

Last, and most important: supporting the troops means speaking up on their behalf, and demanding that our elected representatives do so as well. The men and women in our armed forces are duty-bound to follow the orders of our commander-in-chief. That is their job; it is their citizenship duty, and they should be honored and respected for fulfilling it, in an age when too many of us see democracy as a spectator sport. I salute them for their sacrifice on behalf of our nation. I thank them for their willingness to risk their lives. Even as I praise our servicemen and women, however, I regret that the President of the United States has ordered them to start a preemptive war fought without international support. A preemptive, unilateral war is unworthy of the honor and tradition of the U.S. military. Our armed forces should not be invading and occupying other countries. In a democracy, it is we the people that send them to war; it is we, the people, who choose when to bring them home. They die in our name, and they kill in our name. To attempt to cut off public discussion once the war starts – or even to question whether the public has any legitimate say at all – both undermines our essential values, and jeopardizes our soldiers far more than any protest ever could. We cannot shirk this responsibility, nor can we allow others to fulfill it for us. We must speak up for the soldiers, regardless of what we think about the war itself. Do you want to know how to support the troops in wartime? Do not be a cheerleader. Be a citizen. Speak up for them, in all their diversity. When we silence any of us, we silence them as well.

The idea of 'support our troops' is troubling for those who oppose this war, because it is being used by many to hammer dissenting voices into silence. Given my definition of support above, I intend to get louder, not quieter, once the war begins. It is my patriotic duty to do so.

I would like to conclude with the words of Mark Twain:

“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Cynicism, government, and subsidiarity

I cross-posted my piece on "Penny-wise and (Rand) Paul Foolish" on RIFuture.org yesterday.  The article below is a response to a commenter, who raised 2 points:
1.  Given the functioning of our public school system in recent decades, isn't my call for universal public pre-k overly optimistic, if not misinformed
2.  Rather than giving the IRS more authority -- since government does very few things well anyway -- should we just simplify the tax code? 
First, your point and mine with regard to the IRS aren't incompatible.  I'm all for simplifying the federal tax code.  It would cut down on abuse, and make enforcement easier.  Unfortunately, pols from across the political spectrum share the responsibility for having made the code so immensely complicated.  

Suzanne Mettler has a really important article in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, in which she points out how tax expenditures and credits have essentially substituted for other forms of policy in recent decades.  My sense is that my fellow liberals are particularly guilty of this.  Unable to win the argument politically for a stronger and more expensive social safety net, or more authoritative regulations, tweaking the tax code seems to have become the apparently 'cost-free' way to make policy that liberals, moderates and many conservatives can agree on.  The problem, of course, is that writing the tax code with a dry erase marker means that someone else can re-write it...and when regs and codes get re-written, it is usually to the benefit of the privileged, outside of the light of public scrutiny.  The tax code is also an awkward and often inefficient tool for making social policy.
 If we simplify -- and lord knows there are lots of ways to do that -- we can return the tax code to its primary purpose, which is of course to raise revenue.  I don't think all purposeful taxes are bad, far from it (I like the estate tax, and a carbon tax, and many others), but simpler would be better...as long as the system retains its progressive nature.  Right now, in terms of actual taxes paid, the American tax system (federal income, payroll, state, property) has lost most of its progressivity.  This is in part responsible for the massive expansion of inequality in this country in recent decades.
Second, your cynicism about government (can we pull off public pre-k; govt spending is nearly always wasteful) was precisely what I was aiming at in my post.  I see the same sentiment from all sides of the political spectrum.  I think that kind of cynicism about government is factually inaccurate, politically dangerous, and -- to be frank -- intellectually lazy.  I don't want to get into public education too much here, but one gets a little tired of the constant laments about the poor quality of the system from liberals and conservatives alike.  The fact of the matter is that the system works well for the vast majority of American school kids.  Where it falls short is in the education of the poor, and students of color.  While obviously some of that is connected to flaws in how we've structured school governance and finance (particularly in cities), as much if not more of it stems from the fact that we have a lot of child poverty in this country, and that we geographically concentrate so much of that poverty, particularly among people of color.  The failures of our public schools are failures of political will, more than they are failures of government as such (in other words, the 'public' part of 'public schools' isn't the issue).
So much of our public discourse has shifted in this direction in recent decades.  One consequence, which I lament even if you don't, is the virtual elimination of liberalism from mainstream political reality.  Another, which we are discovering right now on the debt ceiling, the deficit, the Great Recession, global warming, etc, is that we have rendered ourselves incapable as a nation of grappling with the biggest issues we face.  Other than Obama's health care bill, I find it hard to name any large-scale issue that our federal government has fully addressed since the early 70s environmental legislation.  My point, in the end, was that people across the political spectrum should be able to agree on a basic point (one finds this consensus in other wealthy countries):  that government has certain basic responsibilities, and that progressive forms of taxation are the best way to pay for them. 
Personally, I'm one of those rare left-liberals who finds the Catholic notion of 'subsidiarity' convincing.  American conservatives often argue that subsidiarity is simply a call for smaller government, and more room for the marketplace.  I'm no theologian (I'm not even Catholic), but I think this is a misunderstanding.  It does insist that as many decisions as possible should be left to the local level, where citizens are more likely to be directly engaged.  But at its core is an ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, family and community.  That means larger and more interventionist government where its appropriate, with a preference for decentralization...but only if that best serves the ethical imperative. 
If American conservatives want to criticize poor government, fine -- I'm with them on that.  But when it slides into criticism of governance itself, they lose me. 

Friday, July 01, 2011

Wisdom on inequality from the belly of the beast

This, from Bloomberg today:

Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin told the New America Foundation that economic inequality, caused by stagnating incomes for most Americans and rapid growth in wealth for the richest 1 percent, is hindering the U.S. economic recovery. She described income inequality as "destabilizing," because it "undermines the ability of the economy to grow sustainably and efficiently." “Finding ways to help more Americans safely grow their incomes and net worth in real terms arguably diminishes the destructive influence of income inequality by giving everyone a more secure footing in the economy and the same kind of flexibility and choice available to the more affluent,” Raskin said.

Raskin is hardly the first mainstream economist to see a connection between inequality and today's economic stagnation (Raghuram Rajan got there first) but she is the first one in a policy-making position that I've seen. Wage stagnation, income inequality and economic insecurity have of course dominated the lives of most American families for decades now, long before the Great Recession.  Indeed, one could argue (as Rajan and Robert Reich have) that the inequality may have played a major role in causing the economic downturn.  There is little doubt, however, that it continues to hamper our ability to get out of it.

Unfortunately, the best responses to the effects of inequality and income stagnation on economic demand -- Keynesian fiscal policy, a strengthened safety net, a revived labor movement, and so forth -- are unavailable in the present political environment.  The Fed can do little on its own, though one hopes that Raskin's clarion call is heard over on Capitol Hill...and in the White House, as the days tick down toward debt ceiling day.