The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Recently at the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences: November 6 -17, 2017

Regine SpectorRegine A. Spector / Photo Credit: John Solem for UMass Amherst
Friday, November 17, 2017

Faculty at the UMass College of Social and Behavioral Sciences undertake research to engage the most pressing issues of our time. Our faculty are often called upon by press for their expertise. Below is a summary of the accomplishments, publications, and interviews of our faculty this past week.

The pentagon spends $250 million on war every day—what else could we do with that money?
A news analysis on projects the U.S. government could have funded with just part of the $1.46 trillion spent on war-related costs between 2001 and June 2017 includes a reference to a study done by Gerald C. Friedman, economics, that says paying for expanded Medicare for more than 16 million people would cost about $5,527 per person. Friedman is incorrectly identified as being from the University of Amherst. (Newsweek)

New data shows how the Trump administration is destroying the State Department
Paul Musgrave, political science, comments in a story about how understaffing at the U.S. State Department is damaging the foreign policy apparatus and he says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bears much of the blame. “Secretary Tillerson’s term has led to widespread demoralization in the foreign service, the dismissal or resignation of people with expertise that individually may not be irreplaceable but as a cohort certainly becomes so,” he says. “That hinders the State Department’s ability to enhance U.S. interests through diplomacy.” (Vox)

Elizabeth Warren tarnishing image with money deal
Raymond J. La Raja, political science, says U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is using a joint fundraising committee along with her own political action committee and the Democratic State Committee to raise money, has adopted a system she previously opposed. “She’s doing something that she has criticized the party for doing the past,” he says. “She’s trying to pull off a double pirouette, with winning the Senate and then turning around and possibly running for president (in 2020). She needs money, and she’s taking advantage of it, even though she’s a phenomenal fundraiser.” (Herald)

Is waiting for coal jobs a mistake?
Robert N. Pollin, Distinguished Professor in economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute, says despite promises made by President Donald J. Trump that he will bring jobs back to the coal industry, that isn’t going to happen. He says people in coal mining regions need to be trained for new, cleaner jobs that provide them with the same security and financial support they need. (The Real News Network)

The Central Asianist Podcast with Nate Schenkkan: Order at the Bazaar
Regine A. Spector, political science, is interviewed about her new book “Order at the Bazaar: Power and Trade in Central Asia.” She focuses her research on two bazaars in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and shows how people there build order for themselves within a changing political system that is moving from the Soviet system to capitalism. (

Environmental coalition backs 'polluters penalty' to bolster clean energy investment
A new report from the Political Economy Research Institute says New York is going to need to make some big investments in renewable energy to meet its climate goals. The PERI study says the state needs to spend between $4.5 billion and $5 billion in addition to what is already planned. The study says this would create 150,000 news jobs and could be paid for with a fee on climate pollution, a carbon tax. Robert N. Pollin, co-director of PERI and Distinguished Professor in economics, writes a column where he describes the proposal. (Politico, Times Union, The American ProspectPublic News Services)

In new book, Muslim sisters hope to dispel the mystery behind the hijab
Shaheen Pasha, journalism, and co-author with her sister of the book “Mirror on the Veil: A Collection of Personal Essays on Hijab and Veiling,” is interviewed. In the book, the sisters examine why some Muslim women wear the veil, while other don’t. Neither Pasha or her sister Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi, who is a lecturer at the University of Houston, wear the veil. Pasha says the experience of writing the book showed that Muslim women should be free to decide for themselves whether to wear the hijab, but that decision shouldn’t stereotype them as conservative or liberal with regards to their faith. (Washington Post, 11/17/17; News Office assistance)

Hatch, Lee join GOP in rubber-stamping Trump’s judicial nominees, even one who has never tried a case
Sheldon Goldman, political science, is quoted in a column that criticizes U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah for supporting a federal judicial nominee put forward by the Trump administration who has never tried a case in court and who runs a very partisan blog. Hatch is also criticized for previously blocking judicial appointments made by Democratic presidents strictly on partisan grounds. Goldman says, “I wouldn’t say this is a perversion of the process. But I could say you are going to the brink of a constitutional crisis when you say, ‘My man or nothing moves.’ That’s ominous.” (The Salt Lake Tribune, 11/16/17)

Jane Fountain speaks on information technology and innovation at the World Bank
Fountain presented some of the latest innovations in digital government focusing on developments in Punjab, Pakistan and in the United States federal government. Her lecture examined the limitations and potential of information technology as one tool of many to build state capacity, particularly in less developed countries. (SBS News)

Julie Caswell appointed to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Food & Nutrition Board
The Food and Nutrition Board is a part of the Academies’ Health and Medicine Division, and has a long history of examining the nation’s nutritional well-being and providing guidance to policy makers and the public about the application of nutrition and food sciences to improve human health. Caswell’s three-year appointment is effective as of November 2017. (SBS News)

In conversation with… Alasdair Roberts, Director of the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy
Transparency, governance and government legitimacy were just a few items on the agenda when Alasdair Roberts sat down with CPI’s Katie Rose in Washington, DC recently. Roberts, who heads up the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy, explains why he believes governments generally perform well when it comes to their fundamental responsibilities, but challenges remain in how they stay connected and relevant to their citizens. (Centre for Public Impact)