Promises Betrayed: Waking Up from the American Dream [NOOK Book]


The award-winning New York Times op-ed columnist probes the widening gap between

American ideals and American realities, and urges us to do something about it

Bob Herbert is the conscience of the op-ed page of The New York Times, and his work is characterized by a strong moral vision and a deep understanding of the human costs of political decisions. From partisan politics to popular culture, from race ...

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Promises Betrayed: Waking Up from the American Dream

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The award-winning New York Times op-ed columnist probes the widening gap between

American ideals and American realities, and urges us to do something about it

Bob Herbert is the conscience of the op-ed page of The New York Times, and his work is characterized by a strong moral vision and a deep understanding of the human costs of political decisions. From partisan politics to popular culture, from race relations to criminal justice, few journalists bring to life so movingly the stories of ordinary people caught between the American dream and American realities. Whether it is the inherent injustice of the death penalty or the demagoguery of the war on terrorism, Herbert questions whether we are truly upholding our ideals or merely giving them lip service.

In Promises Betrayed, Herbert makes the case that in recent years America has too often failed to live up to its creed of fairness and justice in the lives of working people, racial minorities, children, and others not among the powerful. He introduces us to real people facing real problems and trying to maintain their dignity along the way, and he blows the whistle on imperious public officials who think the rules of common decency do not apply to them. Herbert's tenacious reporting has resulted in the overturning of many wrongful convictions and the release of dozens of innocent people from prison. In these and so many other ways, Herbert keeps us all honest and lives up to the journalist's credo: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
On the New York Times's Op-Ed page, Herbert offers reportage-based columns, a counterpart-earnest, rueful, angry-to Maureen Dowd's savage comedies and Paul Krugman's closely argued economic indictments. If Herbert fails to find new language to describe the abuse of power and lack of social justice in the U.S., he is reliable in continuing to bring the news. His strongest work here is a series on Tulia, Tex., where a ne'er-do-well white undercover agent sent 46 black "drug traffickers" to prison on scant evidence; Herbert's columns spurred Justice Department redress. Sometimes his columns are prompted by studies from interest groups, but that doesn't mean he doesn't get out of the office, meeting young unemployed and undereducated Chicagoans, for example. At times, Herbert writes with effective passion; his stance against the war in Iraq is enhanced by his reflection on "Know Your Enemy" posters he saw in his own service days. Too often, however, Herbert's voice is lost amidst his dutiful qouting of sources, attentuating his power. (May 4) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Crusading op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Herbert uses plenty of potent examples to show us how badly America has let down minorities, working people, and children. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
There's a fire burning in America's basement, New York Times columnist Herbert urges in this well-chosen collection of op-ed pieces. No one's rushing to put it out. Instead, "we're behaving as if we cannot even smell the smoke."What's wrong with America today? Well, Herbert suggests, it's hard to put a finger on the one big prime mover; suffice it to say that even though we are the world's sole superpower, at least for the moment, and richer than Croesus, "there is a sense of things out of whack, of the center caving, of obligations unmet and promises betrayed." That's the kind of thing that happens when a black man is lynched in a small Southern town, when in another small Southern town the word of a single rogue cop can put more than 10 percent of the African-American population in jail on suspicion of drug dealing. That's the kind of thing that happens, too, when citizens are rounded up en masse, the police reasoning that they can sort out the guilty from the innocent-the same logic applied in New York City, in other words, as in Guantanamo Bay. And so on. Herbert is outraged by the countless outrages wrought by the Bush era, and though his displeasure sometimes provokes rhetorical excess-does anyone but a straw man imagine that education is really a national priority, after all?-in the main it comes wrapped in plenty of facts and figures and specifics, none of them pretty. The op-ed format, of course, doesn't allow much room for sophisticated argumentation, seldom affording more than a few hundred words at a pop; and journalism is by its definition ephemeral, so that many of the instances that prompted these pieces will soon be forgotten. Even so, Herbert holds up better than most,and his explorations of such things as the outsourcing of American jobs and the Halliburtonization of the Iraq War, though not the final word, ought to still raise a few hackles among readers of a certain bent. Heroes and villains, good guys and bad: white-hot dissent from a practiced pen.
From the Publisher
"Beneath the sharp analysis and straightforward prose of Bob Herbert's columns is dogged and, often, ferocious reporting. Herbert is determined to narrate in vivid detail the tragedies and triumphs of invisible Americans in their everyday lives. Whether writing about criminal injustice in Tulia, Texas, or worlds at war in Iraq, Herbert brings to bear on his subjects fierce intelligence, no-nonsense reasoning, and unflinching honesty. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of the American people-and, by extension, of our country-as we plunge headlong into the twenty-first century."

-Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"Bob Herbert's strong, brilliant voice consistently reminds America of where we still fall short of the ideals of the nation we want to be and can become."

-Marian Wright Edelman

"You will not forget the people in this book. They are people Bob Herbert will not let us forget. His journalism has the power of Dickens to enable us to see life as others experience it. In an era that may one day be known for the tragic meltdown of American journalism, Bob Herbert brings us back to the fundamentals-to what happens to our craft when it is practiced by a man who considers it a calling."

-Bill Moyers

"Bob Herbert is the conscience of a great newspaper, a powerfully compelling and consistent voice for underdogs of all colors, ages, and genders. With Promises Betrayed, you can read him in one big, bracing, highly nutritional dose that will propel you off the couch and into action!"

-Barbara Ehrenreich

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429900485
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Bob Herbert has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 1993. He was previously a correspondent for NBC News and a reporter, columnist, and member of the editorial board for the New York Daily News. He has taught journalism at Brooklyn College and at Columbia University, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and commentary. He lives in New York City.

Bob Herbert has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 1993. He was previously a correspondent for NBC News and a reporter, columnist, and member of the editorial board for the New York Daily News. He has taught journalism at Brooklyn College and at Columbia University, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and commentary. He lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

From Promises Betrayed:
On the morning of July 23, 1999, law enforcement officers fanned out and arrested more than 10 percent of the tiny African-American population of Tulia, Texas, a hot, dusty town of 5,000 about fifty miles south of Amarillo.
The humiliating roundup was intensely covered by the local media, which had been tipped off in advance. Men and women, bewildered and unkempt, were paraded before TV cameras and featured prominently on the evening news. They were drug traffickers, one and all, said the sheriff.
Among the forty-six so-called traffickers were a pig farmer, a forklift operator, and a number of ordinary young women with children.
If these were major cocaine dealers, as alleged, they were among the oddest in the United States. None of them had any money to speak of. And when they were arrested, they didn't have any cocaine. No drugs, money, or weapons were recovered during the surprise roundup.
It is not an overstatement to describe the arrests in Tulia as an atrocity. The entire operation was the work of a single police officer who claimed to have conducted an eighteen-month undercover operation. The arrests were made solely on the word of this officer, Tom Coleman, a white man with a wretched work history, who routinely referred to black people as "niggers" and who frequently found himself in trouble with the law.
In trial after trial, prosecutors put Coleman on the witness stand and his uncorroborated, unsubstantiated testimony was enough to send people to prison for decades.
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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Why America stopped working
Introduction : a fire in the basement 3
1 Power and the powerless 13
Pt. 2 Criminal injustice
2 A disgrace in Tulia 37
3 Innocence is no defense 63
4 The ultimate penalty 89
Pt. 3 Barely getting by
5 Where does the money go? 109
6 The vanishing American job 120
7 Corporate values 145
Pt. 4 Black and white
8 What happened to the dream? 161
9 Double standards 177
10 The party of Lincoln 193
Pt. 5 The America of George W. Bush
11 Compassionate conservatism 211
12 How goes the war on terror? 234
13 Misleadership in Iraq 250
14 Body count 276
Pt. 6 Herbert's heroes
15 A roll call for our time 305
Conclusion : what kind of America do we want to live in? 328
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Bob HerbertBarnes & Your book is titled Promises Betrayed. What promises are you referring to?Bob Herbert: They're the promises we tend to think are encompassed by that mythic ideal, the American Dream. I grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s and '60s, when it seemed as though the dream was in the process of being fully realized. In the book, I refer to this period as "America's great postwar run." Work was plentiful, and it was becoming easier and easier for kids to get a decent education. Schools and housing and highways were built, and a standard of living was established that was the envy of the world. Big advances were made in civil rights, women's rights, and civil liberties. The nation committed itself to protecting the rights of workers, consumers, even the criminally accused. We became more conscious of the environment and eventually made it a priority. It was a remarkable period. And being young, I thought it would go on forever.B& How have things changed?BH: You don't hear people talk that much about the American Dream anymore. The U.S. may be the world's richest and most powerful nation, but as a society we're no longer committed to guaranteeing the rights and lifting the standard of living of ordinary citizens. Working men and women are being dealt the jokers in the deck. Those who are already wealthy and powerful have a stranglehold on the nation's resources as never before.We're reneging on promises that go all the way back to the New Deal. We've allowed the politicians and their well-heeled handlers to tell us we can't build first-class schools or provide employment at a reasonable wage for all. We're told we can't follow through on the promise of Social Security. We can't always deliver health care or affordable drugs to the sick and infirm. We can't clean up the slums or rescue the children trapped by poverty. Don't get me started. The truth is we can, but we won't. At some point during the last several years, America seemed to lose its nerve, and its can-do spirit morphed into a disturbing faintheartedness.A great nation has tremendous obligations. And right now we're not meeting ours.B& You've been described as "the conscience" of the New York Times Op-Ed page. How do you feel about that label?BH: It's flattering, but I don't think of myself as the conscience of anything. I'm a reporter and commentator whose job in large part is to point out some of the things in our country that are going haywire. I frequently write about underdogs because they're the ones getting shoved around. The powerful interests don't need my help. They've got big, booming megaphones. I try to give a voice to others who have a right to be heard.B& Were you surprised at President Bush's reelection?BH: I was not surprised. For one thing, I never believed the Democrats had a chance of carrying Florida. I'd written stories about voter intimidation and other shenanigans going on down there and had long since come to the conclusion that if the election were close, the GOP would find some way -- any way -- to ensure that President Bush would prevail. So that was a big handicap to start with.Then there's the fact that John Kerry, though dogged, was not a charismatic candidate, did not clearly differentiate himself from Bush on the war, and did not make nearly a strong enough appeal to crucial elements of the Democratic base: poor people and blacks.B& Would a better-informed American voter have reelected him?BH: A better-informed America would never have elected George W. Bush in the first place.B& Many of your columns take up the cause of specific people in jeopardy. Have you been able to directly help any of these people through your reporting?BH: I have been able to help some people in jeopardy, but not nearly enough. There are columns in the book about LaCresha Murray, an 11-year-old girl who was convicted of a homicide she never committed. The columns helped get her released from prison. I wrote a long series of columns about dozens of black residents in Tulia, Texas, who were falsely accused of narcotics trafficking and sent off to prison. The columns were very instrumental in obtaining justice in those cases. All of the convictions were eventually overturned. There were death penalty cases in which columns I wrote were likely influential, if not decisive.It's the cases you're not able to affect that haunt you -- people who you know are innocent but remain in prison; or immigrants who have done nothing wrong but are nevertheless uprooted from their homes here in America and forcibly returned to treacherous situations in their native countries.B& Do you feel the media has been as tough on Bush as they were on Clinton?BH: Not for a moment. The media has not been nearly as tough on Bush. Remember Whitewater? It turned out to be nothing. Monica? That was a grotesque personal failing but not in any way comparable to the launching of this misguided war in Iraq, the criminal misuse of intelligence, the gruesome treatment of wartime prisoners - many of them innocent - on Bush's watch, the squandering of the enormous budget surpluses and the astonishing transfer of wealth from working people to very rich. I could go on and on…B& In your opinion, what's the most under-reported story in politics today?BH: I'll mention a couple. There's the plight of millions of ordinary working Americans who are insecure about their employment, mired in debt, struggling to make ends meet, and living from day to day without adequate health insurance or provisions for retirement. A key aspect of that story is the way mainstream politicians -- especially, but not exclusively, Republicans -- have run roughshod over the interests of those workers and their families.The other grossly under-reported story is the truth about the war in Iraq: the terrible misery it has inflicted on tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and thousands of American G.I.s and their families. Falluja had to be leveled in order to save it. Now the residents who have returned are drinking putrid water, and their kids are going to school in tents.B& Second terms have historically been tough for presidents. How do you think President Bush's has gone so far?BH: I didn't think the president had a good first term. But he won reelection and feels he has a mandate to do more of the same. I'm not so sure the second term is the problem. The biggest problems he'll face are the chickens coming home to roost from the wrong-headed policies he's imposed throughout his administration. We've still got the war to deal with, and the little matter of paying for it. We've got budget and trade deficits as far as the eye can see. We've got consumers up to their ears in debt with no relief in sight. We've got extremely high oil prices and nothing in the way of a sound energy policy. And we've got a world that is extremely complex and increasingly dangerous, and yet we're not adequately preparing Americans -- intellectually or economically -- to cope with it.Politics has triumphed over substance, and we'll eventually pay a fearful price for that.
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