Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"I'm All Ears"

The so-called "warrantless wiretapping" program is one of the most controversial steps taken by the Bush administration in its so-called War on Terror. The Bush White House has said that the wiretaps are necessary in these "perilous times" and that national security and the preservation of state secrets are reason enough to justify the program. Candidate Obama denounced the program and said the program was "illegal", but as a senator Obama also voted to protect phone companies that complied with Bush's requests for phone records and that granted the administration easier access to intercept private phone calls.

Read the attached New York Times story by clicking on the title of this post. Or listen to the On the Media clip below. Ask yourself: Should the government have the right to listen in on private phone calls WITHOUT establishing probable cause? What dangers might result from such a program?

Friday, November 14, 2008

"The Company We Keep"

In Friday's Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg penned a surprisingly poignant column about the supposed shame Guantanamo Bay brings upon the United States. I was particularly struck by the parallels to our own studies, especially regarding civil liberties in our "Perilous Times" unit.

Steinberg's introduction to this topic was the case of Bo Kyi, a dissident from the country of Myanmar, who spoke in Chicago recently about the plight of his friends back home who received 65-year prison sentences for "attending protests [and] distributing leaflets." Sound familiar?

Interestingly, several other speakers at this event mentioned the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, and their hope that the United States would soon shut down this facility, which many citizens believe has become a "blot on America's reputation." 

But Steinberg lamented that too many Americans do not view this detention facility as a problem:
They don’t understand the company we’re keeping, don’t realize just how frequently torture is used around the world. Nor do they grasp that their excuse — national security — is the exact same rationale offered up by every barbarous regime for the confinement and abuse of heroic champions of justice such as Bo Kyi.
Sound familiar?

In the post-September 11 world, why should we even care about what others think of us? Read the entire (very short) article. Do you agree with Steinberg's argument(s)? What has our own history taught us? Think about your own studies grappling with the events of 7 eras of American warfare. And consider these parting words from the author: 
The truth is, in times of peril, our nation’s overreactions — from Lincoln suspending habeas corpus to the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II to Guantanamo Bay — never make us safer, never improve the situations they were meant to confront.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Perilous Projects

Please visit the wonderful site set up by the NTHS Librarians.

NOTE: Group Leaders are italicized.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

November 4th, 2008

Why We Vote

Texting on a keyboard phoneImage via WikipediaHappy Election Day!
Hopefully, your candidate won, although I wonder what it means to be president during these perilous times ;)

Chances are, your parents voted or will vote today. Perhaps that's simply a result of one's education, income or other "intrinsic" factors. Or is it possible that external forces played a bigger role?

This election season has been saturated with TV ads, direct mail campaigns, political emails and "robo-calls". And let's not forget the rather old-fashioned door-to-door canvasses. Which method would you guess is most successful in motivating people to go to the polls? After listening to this short radio piece (less than 8 minutes total), critically analyze the findings and ask yourself a hard question: should we even strive for higher voter turnout?

The transcript of this show (NPR's On The Media) is available HERE. Just a preview: Yale professor Donald Green, who conducted over 100 studies on the most effective methods of getting out the vote would seem to decisively vindicate certain methods over others.
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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

If you believed your government was acting unethically -- or contrary to its own principles -- what would you do about it?

Here are a few hypothetical examples: If you were alive in Nazi Germany you would have done anything to stop the awful genocidal machine at the heart of the government, right? If you were alive in, say, 1850, and had the chance to stop slavery or to help the cause of abolitionists, you would do everything in your power to do so, wouldn't you? Or, to take some American examples from the 20th Century, if you knew there were clear injustices -- Jim Crow laws, forced sterilization of women deemed "unstable," policies that discriminate against and deny services to homosexuals -- you would clearly do everything in your power to stop those injustices, right?

In circumstances such as these, I would like to believe I would have taken a courageous stand against injustice, but I can't know for certain.

The hard question: What do you think you would have done?

The really hard question: What injustices do you see around you right now? What are you willing to do in response?