The “war on terrorism” has inaugurated a new era in the American polity, a sea-change that has not only threatened to overturn traditional limits on government power but also corrupted the political culture – and opened the way to the terminal crisis of the Constitution.
In a revealing series of interviews on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” program, three individuals targeted by the American surveillance state – William Binney, former top NSA official, Jacob Applebaum, an internet security specialist who works with WikiLeaks, and Laura Poitras, an Oscar-nominated documentary film-maker whose work has brought her to the attention of US authorities and led to her harassment by US government agents – give compelling evidence that the answer to the question in the title of this piece is clearly an emphatic no.
Binney resigned his position with the National Security Agency (NSA) after 40 years in protest at the government’s increasingly totalitarian methods of data-collection and retention, without judicial oversight. The government has targeted him: in 2007, his home was invaded by FBI agents after he went to the Senate Intelligence Committee with revelations about illegal NSA spying on American citizens: they pointed guns at him, and warned that he would “not do well” in prison. Applebaum and Poitras have been detained, searched, and interrogated every time they have re-entered the US from abroad – Poitras over 40 times – and had their laptops seized and presumably copied. None of these individuals have been charged with a crime.
So not only aren’t we allowed to defend our rights in court (because of State Secrets privilege), if we try to convince the legislature to reinstate our rights, our homes are invaded and our lives threatened. Despicable.
“One of the most amazing statistics of the last decade: not a single War on Terror victim — not one, whether foreign or American — has been permitted to proceed in an American court in an effort to obtain compensation for illegal treatment by the U.S. Government; instead, American courts have unanimously dismissed those cases at the outset, without reaching their substance. Even when everyone knows and admits that the U.S. Government abducted a totally innocent person and shipped him off to Syria to be tortured, as is true for [Maher] Arar, American federal judges shut the courthouse door in his face, accepting the claims of the Bush and Obama DOJs that to allow the victim to obtain justice for what was done to him would be to risk the disclosure of vital “state secrets.” They accepted this Kafkaesque secrecy claim even after the Government of Canada published to the world a comprehensive report detailing what happened to Arar.”—
wow i physically can’t stop crying. i think my body is expelling all of it’s fluids. good i’ll dry up like a raisin and never have to pay back my student loans. sometimes i think about self immolating in DePaul Central and it gives me the strength to go on.
i remember in high school aaron and i used to think of funny ways to kill ourselves and one was to hire a crane to swing you into a building with big glass windows so they’d see you coming and SPLAT. that’s what i would love to do outside of President Holschneider’s office or maybe the Sallie Mae building.
cannot believe i’m wasting my time in paris on this bullshit fucking online class that has absolutely nothing to do with anything meaningful or useful. this shit is gunna bring my gpa down so hard, that is if i even pass it, given that the midterm made no motherfucking sense. why the fuck wasn’t this class offered for summer, i shouldn’t be wasting my goddamn time on this.
We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”
But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.
Along with “Of Mice and Men,” my groups read: “Sounder,” “The Red Pony,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.” The students didn’t always read from the expected perspective. Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage. About “The Red Pony,” one student said, “it’s about being a dude, it’s about dudeness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read “The Grapes of Wrath” and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes.
And yet I do not know how to measure those results. As student test scores have become the dominant means of evaluating schools, I have been asked to calculate my reading enrichment program’s impact on those scores. I found that some students made gains of over 100 points on the statewide English Language Arts test, while other students in the same group had flat or negative results. In other words, my students’ test scores did not reliably indicate that reading classic literature added value.
Until recently, given the students’ enthusiasm for the reading groups, I was able to play down that data. But last year, for the first time since I can remember, our test scores declined in relation to comparable schools in the city. I felt increased pressure to bring this year’s scores up. All the teachers are increasing their number of test-preparation sessions and practice tests, so I have done the same, cutting two of my three classic book groups and replacing them with a test-preparation tutorial program. Only the highest-performing eighth graders were able to keep taking the reading classes.
Since beginning this new program in September, I have answered over 600 multiple-choice questions. In doing so, I encountered exactly one piece of literature: Frost’s “Road Not Taken.” The rest of the reading-comprehension materials included passages from watered-down news articles or biographies, bastardized novels, memos or brochures — passages chosen not for emotional punch but for textual complexity.
By “using data to inform instruction,” as the Department of Education insists we do, we are sorting lower-achieving students into classes that provide less cultural capital than their already more successful peers receive in their more literary classes and depriving students who viscerally understand the violence and despair in Steinbeck’s novels of the opportunity to read them.
We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts. By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all. We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound. We may succeed in raising test scores by relying on these methods, but we will fail to teach them that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them.
In the series of extracts from my almost-finished book on the history of moral thought, I have reached Chapter 15, which looks at existentialism, and primarily the work of Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. This extract is from the section that explores Sartre’s concept of freedom and his relationship to Marxism.
Imagine, Kierkegaard wrote in his pseudonymously published The Concept of Anxiety, a man standing at the edge of a cliff. When he glances over the edge, he is overcome with dread, not just because he is filled with fear at the thought of falling, but also because he is seized by a terrifying impulse deliberately to leap. ‘He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy’, Kierkegaard gnomically observed. That dizziness ‘is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss.’ For if ‘he had not looked down’, he would not have felt that dread. What grips that man, Kierkegaard suggests, is dread of the possibilities open to him; what he experiences ‘is the dizziness of freedom’.
Sartre, too, sees what he calls ‘anguish’ as the condition of human freedom. Since nothing can determine our choice of life for us, neither can anything explain or justify what we are. There is no inherent meaning in the universe. Only we can create meaning. Albert Camus, the French-Algerian novelist and fellow existentialist, called this sense of groundlessness the ‘absurdity’ of life. There is, Camus observes in The Myth of Sisyphus, a chasm between ‘the human need [for meaning] and the unreasonable silence of the world’. Religion is a means of bridging that chasm, but a dishonest one. ‘I don’t know if the world has any meaning that transcends it’, he writes. ‘But I know that I do not know this meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it.’ Camus does not know that God does not exist. But he is determined to believe it, because that is the only way to make sense of being human. The only way to find meaning, the only way to bridge the chasm between the cold, silent world and the human need for moral warmth, is to create our own meaning, our own values. Sartre similarly sees the world as absurd in the sense that there is no meaning to be found beyond the meaning that humans create. The price of making meaning is anguish.
The recognition that humans have to bear responsibility for our lives and the values we create is the source of anguish. A wholly authentic or truly human life, Sartre suggests, is only possible for those who recognize the inescapability of freedom and its responsibility and are happy to live with anguish. But humankind, Sartre agrees with TS Eliot, mostly ‘cannot bear too much reality’. They fear, they dread, they feel enchained by, the responsibility of freedom.
Humans try to avoid the anguish that comes with looking over the cliff edge by hiding the truth from themselves, by pretending that there is no cliff, that something or someone has erased that edge. There are, Sartre suggests, many ways in which people do this. The most important, and the idea for which Sartre is probably most celebrated, is that of ‘bad faith’. People often try to evade the terrifying realities of the human condition by ordering their lives according to some preordained social role, in essence by turning themselves into objects, in an effort to deny the burden of subjectivity.
Years ago I went to college to study accounting, and like millions of other Americans I took out loans to pay for it. A few years later I got a temporary job in the accounting department at Bain & Co., and after 6 months of reliable work I was thrilled to be offered a full-time position.
However, just a few weeks after starting in my new position the company fired me because my debt-to-credit ratio was too high. I later learned that 60% of employers now check credit reports, which typically include student debts. How are you supposed to pay off your student debts if you can’t get (or keep) a job BECAUSE of your debts? And what do my student debts have to do with my ability to do a job well anyway?
25 states have debated bills in the last year to restrict this practice, and in a number of these states one company has fought hardest against these efforts: credit reporting company TransUnion.
What’s ironic is that Penny Pritzker, TransUnion’s Chair and part owner, sits on President Obama’s Jobs and Competitiveness Council, which advises the President on putting Americans back to work. How can someone advise on national job creation when her company sells products that may keep qualified people out of work?
It was recently announced that in the coming weeks TransUnion will be sold to two private equity companies, including Goldman Sachs. If Penny Pritzker is serious about job creation, she should do what she can to ensure that her company stops this abusive practice before the company is sold.
“Nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.”—Sweatshop labor is back with a vengeance. (via motherjones)
On Tuesday, Wallace and his friend Albert Woodfox will mark one of the more unusual, and shameful, anniversaries in American penal history. Forty years ago to the day, they were put into solitary confinement in Louisiana’s notorious Angola jail. They have been there ever since.
They have spent 23 hours of every one of the past 14,610 days locked in their single-occupancy 9ft-by-6ft cells. Each cell, Amnesty International records, has a toilet, a mattress, sheets, a blanket, pillow and a small bench attached to the wall. Their contact with the world outside the windowless room is limited to the occasional visit and telephone call, “exercise” three times a week in a caged concrete yard, and letters that are opened and read by prison guards.
“You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off. If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.” On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off. The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem. There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail? Yeah. He does. About every two weeks. This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well. So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights. For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.”
Can every one of my male followers read this? And please, before you get defensive (“I would never rape anyone!”) keep in mind, women being afraid of Shrodinger’s Rapists (oh my god i still can’t get over the encompassing brilliance of this phrase) is a conditioned, learned response from being immersed in rape culture and the evolution of sexism and sexual violence in our society from the day we’re born. And unfortunately, it’s very difficult to unlearn without the efforts of all genders to dismantle it. Which is where you come in.