BR Blog

July 21, 2014 Solving New York City's Housing Crisis Robert C. Hockett

Eight years after the nation’s housing markets began tanking in the summer of 2006, one-fifth of the nation’s outstanding mortgage loans remain underwater, their owners indebted for more on their loans than their homes are now worth. Another fifth of our mortgagors have so little positive equity that they are effectively underwater. Look at particular cities and particular neighborhoods therein, moreover—especially neighborhoods of color—and you’ll find underwater loan rates of 50 percent or higher. 

For the nation’s hard-hit cities, then, periodic, wishful talk of “housing recovery” is a bad joke. Among these cities is the nation’s largest—New York, where four of five boroughs fare poorly. As a new report issued last month by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) demonstrates, some 60,000 NYC home-owning families are in crisis, their...

July 17, 2014 From the Archive: Gaza Boston Review

As the violence in Gaza continues, a historical understanding of the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestine conflict is as valuable as ever. Revisit these pieces from the BR archive on the region's prospects for peace, American policy towards Israel, and related issues.

In our December 2001/January 2002 issue, Georgetown legal scholar Lama Abu Odeh opened a forum on binationalism—the creation of a single state uniting Israel and Palestine. "While it now has the status of a 'utopian' political proposal," she writes, "talking about binationalism in practical terms may force people to confront more seriously the limits of alternative approaches, and their own denial about those limits."

At the height of the second intifada, Rabbi and lifelong Zionist Ben-Zion Gold gave a speech lamenting the failure of the American Jewish diaspora to "rise up against the subjugation and humiliation of the Palestinians."

In 2008, Helena Cobban recounted the rise of Hamas and the organization's 2006 "spectacular mass bust-out from Gaza into Egypt" that "assumed the dimensions of...

July 16, 2014 Taking the Government for Granted Claude S. Fischer

Construction workers paint the Hoover Dam. Photo: Library of Congress


For such a smart guy, New York Times “Upshot” Editor David Leonhardt made a surprising misstep in the July 15th issue, writing, “When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.” One can understand how this misstep—the snarky comment about “the norm”—happened. Leonhardt was focusing on special, targeted initiatives for the poor, many of which fail. But he missed the forest for the trees—or the government for the programs.

Americans commonly do not notice the successful operation of government, including the federal level; they, too, snarkily diss government. They do not notice the success because, like air, is all around them and taken for granted. To say government is generally successful is, of course, not to say government operations are optimal. We should strive for A-grade performance, not settle for B grades. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that attaining A grades for the government would call for more of it.

The Norm...

July 11, 2014 Trench Democracy in Schools #3: An Interview with Principal Vanessa Gray Albert W. Dzur

This conversation is the seventh in the series Trench Democracy: Participatory Innovation in Unlikely Places. Innovative democratic professionals are recreating some of our most fundamental institutions, shaping new democratic practices and struggling against the sometimes profoundly counter-democratic tendencies of contemporary American institutions. While their work is always in progress, their experiences hold value for anyone interested in democracy’s future.

Vanessa Gray is the principal and co-founder of Forest Grove Community School, an independent public charter school located in a coastal agricultural town 25 miles West of Portland, Oregon. The school has a total of 200 students from first through eighth grades. Principal Gray and I talked recently about how democratic practice in her school and student voice there can make a difference in students’ lives. Before we begin, though, let’s put in our ear buds and listen to some classic rock.


Osborne, let’s call him, was in the upper school at Forest Grove Community School and the last student one would expect to sign up for the yearly student-run talent show. He had more than enough to worry about at an age when young people are...

July 11, 2014 A Hobby Lobby Afterthought Simon Waxman

An intrauterine device, one of the contraceptives that Hobby Lobby objected to.


Any time the Supreme Court presents us with a major decision, it is tempting to ask what exactly the implications will be. But beyond the imminent effects of the holding, we cannot know until the Court begins citing its opinion down the road. We are left to divine possible futures from the murky crucible of the justices’ words.

Since the Court released its opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the majority decided that closely held for-profit corporations may claim a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, that process of divination has been unceasing. The yield—will scientologist bosses be exempt from covering mental health care? will President Obama’s executive order preventing discrimination against gays and lesbians in federal hiring be scuttled?—has been disturbing or welcome, penetrating or overwrought, depending on where one stands on the questions of religious freedom at stake.

The Court never agreed that access to contraceptives is a compelling government interest. The consequences may be significant.

Amid all the talk, though, little heed has been paid to one of the Court’s more transparent foreshadowings: eventually religious objectors may be freed from contraception mandates entirely...