Roger Lancaster’s NYT Op-Ed on Just Laws for Sex Offenders

Roger N. Lancaster, professor of anthropology and cultural studies at George Mason University and author of Sex Panic and the Punitive State, recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times on how restrictions for sex offenders should be determined and the implications of creating policies in direct response to traumatic events. Read his take below:

Roger Lancaster photo
Panic Does Not Make for Good Policy
by Roger N. Lancaster
FEBRUARY 20, 2013

Sexual violence, like other forms of violence, is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are appropriate and effective.

The U.S. legal landscape was reshaped by federal laws passed in the mid-1990s, in response to heinous but statistically unusual crimes involving stranger abduction, rape and murder. The Wetterling Act required convicted sex offenders to register with local authorities, and Megan’s Law required law enforcement to notify neighbors about the presence of a sex offender in their community. As a result, all states now post searchable online lists of at least some categories of registered sex offenders. The U.S. Department of Justice links all the states’ registries in a single searchable site, available to neighbors, employers, landlords and the public at large.

Sex Panic and the Punitive State

Just laws are supposed to deter crime, apply proportionate punishment and rehabilitate offenders. U.S. sex offender laws fail on all three counts.

These public lists do include some violent repeat offenders, which was the original aim of the laws. But the registries have grown rapidly — to nearly three-quarters of a million registrants at latest count. Culpability and harm vary greatly in the offenses for which people are registered. Some states require exhibitionists and “peeping Toms” to register. By best estimates, a large majority is registered for conviction on first offenses involving neither violence nor coercion (or even, in some cases, physical contact). Many registrants would not be classified as criminal under European laws, which set lower ages of consent than do American laws. Registrants even include minors who had consensual sex with their high school sweethearts, or who traded self-taken sexually explicit photos with their peers (“sexting”). […] Read the full article at the New York Times.

The Story Behind Chile’s Oscar-Nominated Film “No”

"No" posterGuest Post by Mary Helen Spooner

The real life events behind No, the Chilean film nominated for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language film, are even more compelling than what appears on screen. In 1988 General Augusto Pinochet held a one-man presidential plebiscite seeking to extend his rule for another eight years. It was not the first time his regime had held a referendum. In 1978, following a United Nations resolution condemning human rights violations in Chile voters were asked to cast “yes” or “no” ballots in support of Pinochet “in the face of international aggression against Chile.” The official results of the vote, held without an electoral registry, showed 75 percent in favor of the regime. In September of 1980 the regime held another plebiscite to ratify its new, authoritarian constitution and to extend Pinochet’s rule for another eight years. Once again, the vote was held without an electoral registry and the results showed 67 percent in favor.

According to the terms of this new constitution, a third plebiscite would be held in 1988 in which voters would be asked to cast “yes” or “no” ballots for a presidential candidate nominated by the regime. If the “yes” vote won, this candidate would rule for another eight years; if the “no” won, an open presidential election would be held a year later. But this time voters would be registered, political parties would be officially recognized and polls monitored by party representatives as well as international observers. And in a move which regime officials probably regretted, both “yes” and “no” campaigns would be given 15 minutes of television time every evening for four weeks prior to the vote.

Patricio Bañados
Patricio Bañados

Given the irregularities surrounding the regime’s two previous plebiscites, it was not easy for the “no” campaign to convince Chileans that this referendum would be clean and that the voting would be secret. The “no” broadcasts used all the tricks of modern advertising and an unrelenting cheerfulness to get its message across: Chile, la alegria ya viene. Chile, happiness is on its way.

The film shows how campaigners were under surveillance—and the reality was more menacing. Patricio Bañados, the television and radio personality who hosted the “no” broadcasts, told me in an interview that he had received death threats—some via anonymous phone calls, and at least one delivered indirectly by a cab driver inquiring if he’d ever thought about how he’d like to die. Behind the scenes there were indications that Pinochet might suspend the plebscite and launch a repressive crackdown if the results showed he was losing. American ambassador Harry Barnes sent a cable to Washington (PDF) warning that

“Pinochet’s plan is simple: A) if the “yes” is winning, fine; B) if the race is very close, rely on fraud and coercion ; C) if the “no” is likely to win clearly then use violence and terror to stop the process. To help prepare the atmosphere the CNI [the regime’s secret police] will have the job of provoking adequate violence before and on October 5. Since we know that Pinochet’s closest advisors now realize he is likely to lose, we believe the third option is the one most likely to be put into effect with substantial loss of life.”

On the night of the plebiscite regime officials released some very partial returns showing Pinochet ahead, with a fraction of the vote counted. Then, ominously, there were no more announcements. At midnight the commanders of Chile’s navy, national police and air force entered the presidential palace for a meeting with Pinochet, and Air Force commander General Fernando Matthei decided it was time “to pull out the detonators.” He approached a group of Chilean journalists and told them the “no” vote had clearly won. At their meeting Pinochet tried to get Matthei and the other commanders to sign a document giving him enhanced powers, including more control over the navy, air force and police—but they refused.

And so began Chile’s democratic transition. The following year elections were held, with a new civilian president and congress taking office.


Mary Helen Spooner is a journalist who began working in Latin America in 1977, including nine years as a foreign correspondent in Chile. She has reported for ABC News, The Economist, The Financial Times of London, and Newsweek. She is the author of the UC Press books The General’s Slow Retreat: Chile After Pinochet and Soldiers in a Narrow Land: The Pinochet Regime in Chile, Updated Edition.

UC Press Podcast: Joshua Bloom on the Rise of the Black Panther Party

Black against Empire cover imageIn the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Black Against Empire co-author Joshua Bloom talks about the political and cultural dynamics that gave birth to the Black Panther Party, why Oakland in particular was the perfect setting for a dawning revolutionary movement, and the lasting historical impacts of what the Panthers fought for.

Bloom is a Fellow at the Ralph J. Bunche Center, and editor of the Black Panther Newspaper Collection at UCLA, the pages of which inform the richly detailed history in the book. Black Against Empire analyzes key political questions, such as why so many young black people across the country risked their lives for the revolution, why the Party grew most rapidly during the height of repression, and why allies abandoned the Party at its peak of influence. Bold, engrossing, and richly detailed, this book cuts through the mythology and obfuscation, revealing the political dynamics that drove the explosive growth of this revolutionary movement, and its disastrous unraveling.


Orrin Pilkey in the New York Times: How Not to Cope with Rising Sea Levels

The World's BeachesWhy do we rebuild our beaches, homes, and roads close to the shoreline only to see them washed away time and time again? Orrin H. Pilkey, emeritus professor of Earth Sciences at Duke University and author of The World’s Beaches, takes on this controversial subject in a recent op-ed for the New York Times. Pilkey addresses the impulse to “come back stronger and better” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, arguing that “though empowering, [this] is the wrong approach to the increasing hazard of living close to the rising sea. Disaster will strike again. We should not simply replace all lost property and infrastructure. Instead, we need to take account of rising sea levels, intensifying storms and continuing shoreline erosion.”

Noting a personal connection to the havoc natural disasters wreak—his parents’ home in Mississippi was flooded and subsequently destroyed in two separate hurricanes—Pilkey writes:

That is madness. We should strongly discourage the reconstruction of destroyed or badly damaged beachfront homes in New Jersey and New York. Some very valuable property will have to be abandoned to make the community less vulnerable to storm surges. This is tough medicine, to be sure, and taxpayers may be forced to compensate homeowners. But it should save taxpayers money in the long run by ending this cycle of repairing or rebuilding properties in the path of future storms. Surviving buildings and new construction should be elevated on pilings at least two feet above the 100-year flood level to allow future storm overwash to flow underneath. Some buildings should be moved back from the beach.

Although local governments are spending millions of dollars replenishing beaches, he says, “this is not the time for a solution based purely on engineering.” Ultimately, Pilkey argues, “officials should seek advice from oceanographers, coastal geologists, coastal and construction engineers and others who understand the future of rising seas and their impact on barrier islands.”

Read the full article in the New York Times.

The UC Press Guide to the Affordable Care Act

Inside National Health Reform

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, you may want to take a look at Inside National Health Reform, John McDonough’s firsthand account of the intense effort required to bring this legislation into law. McDonough served as Senior Advisor on National Health Reform to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions between 2008 and 2010, and served as an advisor to the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

In the book, McDonough describes the ACA’s inner workings, revealing the rich landscape of the issues, policies, and controversies embedded in the law yet unknown to many. Taking us through the Act’s ten titles, he clearly explains what the law means for most Americans’ health coverage, and what changes we can expect to see over the next few years.

For more from McDonough, listen to this interview with him on Public Radio’s KERA, or read this discussion of the role he played in the legislation in The New Republic.

And once you’ve become an expert on national health reform, dig into UC Press’s entire list of books on Health Care Policy!

UC Press Podcast: A People’s Guide to Los Angeles

A People’s Guide to Los Angeles offers an assortment of eye-opening alternatives to L.A.’s usual tourist destinations. It documents 115 little-known sites in the City of Angels where struggles related to race, class, gender, and sexuality have occurred. They introduce us to people and events usually ignored by mainstream media and, in the process, create a fresh history of Los Angeles. Roughly dividing the city into six regions—North Los Angeles, the Eastside and San Gabriel Valley, South Los Angeles, Long Beach and the Harbor, the Westside, and the San Fernando Valley—this illuminating guide shows how power operates in the shaping of places, and how it remains embedded in the landscape.


And here’s a capsule review of A People’s Guide to Los Angeles from our friends at Booklist to give you a bit more context about the book.

Author Reflections: In Your Eyes A Sandstorm

Arthur Nelson is a remarkable man. Late last year we published his book, In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian. Starting with the basic question: “Who are the Palestinians?”, this compelling book of interviews reaches beyond journalistic clichés to let a wide variety of Palestinians answer the question for themselves. Beginning in the present with Bisan and Abud, two traumatized children from Jenin’s refugee camp, the book’s narrative arcs backwards through the generations to come full circle with two elderly refugees from villages that the children were named after.

As compelling as this is, and what isn’t compelling about someone willing to contribute understanding and perspective to the ongoing Palestinian discussion, it wasn’t what ultimately moved me to push “Publish” on this post.

What did, and I certainly hope you find it compelling as well, is this article from The Guardian. In 2009, while working in Gaza, Arthur was attacked on the street by a knife-wielding stranger. Last year, the Guardian commissioned him to interview the man who attacked him. This is the resulting feature article.

That said, Arthur has put together a first-rate website to give readers deeper context to his articles and books. Speaking of books, here are reviews of In Your Eyes a Sandstorm from The Jewish Daily orward and The National.

Deeper Context: Eating Bitterness

Have you noticed how far a newscast will go to slap a “local interest” angle on an otherwise perfectly newsworthy international story, as if we couldn’t possibly care about something happening on the other side of the globe without seeing another American somehow involved?
Take China, for instance. Every year over 200 million peasants flock to China’s urban centers, providing a profusion of cheap labor that helps fuel the country’s staggering economic growth. In her new book, Eating Bitterness: Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration, award-winning journalist Michelle Dammon Loyalka follows the trials and triumphs of eight such migrants—including a vegetable vendor, an itinerant knife sharpener, a free-spirited recycler, and a cash-strapped mother—offering an inside look at the pain, self-sacrifice, and uncertainty underlying China’s dramatic national transformation. At the heart of the book lies each person’s ability to “eat bitterness”—a term that roughly means to endure hardships, overcome difficulties, and forge ahead. These stories illustrate why China continues to advance, even as the rest of the world remains embroiled in financial turmoil. At the same time, Eating Bitterness demonstrates how dealing with the issues facing this class of people constitutes China’s most pressing domestic challenge.

Beyond that, Michelle has created a great supplemental website to give much of the background and context to her book.

One would think that this alone would make for a compelling story, but say you also drop a common American object of desire into the mix, namely either an iPhone or an iPad,  and suddenly the issue is brought into sharp focus with an ABC “Nightline” feature and a front page New Times story. One of the other valuable voices in the Times was an op/ed by Michelle seeing the issue through the research she’d completed for the book. This, also, appeared in the Times, this time from their tech and gadget reporter, David Pogue.

The Occupy Movement as a Teachable Moment

As the Occupy movement continues to grow and influence the global economic debate, two of our editors came forward with what titles they would recommend people consider if they want to gain perspective on the issues behind the debate. If you have any UC Press titles you’d like to add to the list, please us know in the comments.

From Naomi Schneider, Executive Editor:

Rallying for Immigrant Rights: The Fight for Inclusion in 21st Century America edited by Kim Voss and Irene Bloemraad




Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge and photographs by Michael S. Williamson, with a foreword by Bruce Springsteen




The Activist’s Handbook: A Primer, Updated Edition with a New Preface by Randy Shaw





Changing Inequality by Rebecca Blank





Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged by Katherine S. Newman and Rourke O’Brien





From Niels Hooper, History Editor-

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige




The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All by Peter Linebaugh





Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, A new direction for labor by two of its leading activist intellectuals by Bill Fletcher and Fernando Gapasin




Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics by Rebecca Solnit





The Modern World-System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 by Immanuel Wallerstein

London’s Riots and the Politics of Race: Guest Post by Natasha K. Warikoo

Balancing ActsOn August 4th, British police shot Mark Duggan, a black British criminal suspect, in Tottenham, London. A peaceful demonstration of Duggan’s supporters demanding to know just what happened and why policed fired at him quickly turned into violence and looting that spread to all major cities of England. Much of the media coverage of the events in Britain and abroad suggested that race was driving the malaise felt by looters and rioters across the country. However, soon writers could not ignore the diverse faces of rioters and looters on the streets of London and beyond, most obviously demonstrated by the London Metropolitan Police’s site devoted to identifying criminals caught on camera. In a twist on the recognition of the multiracial nature of the 2011 riots, British historian David Starkey, in an interview aired on BBC, suggested that “the whites have become black”, attributing a negative, anti-society culture to black Britons that is now spreading to the white working class. Although Starkey’s racist comments were simplistic and offensive, they demonstrate that those on the left and right in Britain now understand that conflicts between police and young men in Britain are not limited to or even preponderant among black young men.

Aside from socioeconomic conditions, repeated police encounters like Duggan’s anger young men. However, in contrast to the United States, young white working class men in Britain also frequently experience random “stop and searches”. In my research with teens attending diverse secondary schools I found that both Afro-Caribbean and white working class young men in London were frequently stopped by police. In Chapter 4 of Balancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City, I describe how these encounters usually happened on the student’s public housing complex, and students perceived that their style—especially hoodies—had something to do with police perceptions. This finding contrasted with what I heard in New York, where black young men were overwhelmingly more likely to have been stopped by the police than their white and Asian peers.

The politics of race in Britain and the United States differ sharply, and those differences come into sharp relief in Balancing Acts. I found that students at a New York high school were much more racially divided than Londoners. They identified their school’s social groups by race and ethnicity, they were more likely to share friendships and date in-group peers, and they identified who they were comfortable with and uncomfortable with in racial and ethnic terms. Londoners, in contrast, were more likely to think about race-based styles and tastes. For example, one young woman in London told me this about the social groups at her school:

It’s like, there is all black in my group…There is one mixed race person and there is one white person, but the white person…she is more, like, you know, black. The way she behaves is like a black person, and she likes black things….And then you have the all white girls group. It’s mixed—it’s got, oh you might get a one black girl in it. She behaves like more like a white girl….

Race absolutely matters in Britain, and has played a role in social exclusion, for sure. But, it doesn’t always explain social phenomena the way we think it would from the vantage point of the United States.


Natasha Kumar Warikoo is Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.