The INTERCEPTED Podcast from Chicago

October 12, 2018

Jeremy Scahill with Eve Ewing, Charlene Caruthers, Jamie Kalvin, Malcolm London, and me at the Logan Square Auditorium. Quite a night!

This will be dazzlingly different

October 11, 2018


October 11, 2018

For Brett Kavanaugh.: Beer and Sympathy

October 9, 2018
From my friend Susie Day @ Snidelines:
Dear Brett,
Now that you’re a confirmed Supreme Court justice, it must be a huge relief to realize that whatever you did or did not do to Christine Blasey Ford never really mattered.
Thing is, I actually do believe Christine Blasey Ford. But I’m not sure that makes me, as a woman, any safer. People like me believed Anita Hill, and where did that get us? Hardly anybody in power noticed there was a systemic problem, and sexual harassment never went away. So Brett, what with your ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court and all, I have decided that, in order for people like me to survive, we have to believe you, too.
Ergo. I hear you, Brett. There, there. Do you want my hankie? I’m using empathy now — how’m I doing?
I hear, Brett, that you feel rejected by us liberal haters, who don’t understand the good that all your hard-drinking, serious puking, and ruthless genital thrusting have wrought on society. You feel that you’ve been asked to bear shame for your actions, and to reject your deeply felt identity as a bully. But I get you, Brett – bullies are people, too.
Yes, inside every inebriated, pussy-grabbing, belligerent Beltway thug is a terrified, whinging child, whose deepest desire is not to be humiliated by some emotionally abusive Father Figure. “Golly,” you shudder to yourself, “what if, because of this confirmation kerfuffle, President Trump secretly sees me now as some sort of girly-man, being gang-banged in a torn nightgown by a bunch of fake-news feminists? After all, he saw me … crying.”
I’m guessing, Brett, that you feel violated.
Your social station, however, demands that you keep your feelings private. You see, despite the advantages of coming from the haute bourgeoisie, Brett, life, in some ways, has been harder for you than for most of us peasants. As a white, heterosexual, upper-class male, you’re expected to shoulder heavy societal responsibilities.
Think of Oedipus, for example. If his father had been some lower-middle-class drugstore clerk instead of a king, do you think Oedipus would have gouged out his own eyes after he realized he’d just had sex with his mother? No. The neighborhood would have hushed it up, and everybody would have gone on calling everybody else and their dog “motherfucker” anyway.
Like Oedipus, you belong to the eye-gouging class. It’s been rough, hasn’t it, Brett? You’ve been forced to give up yin for yang, to chug that beer and grope those snatches and snap those locker-room towels until your buddies gouged out those favors that helped you up that ladder so you could arrive at the top of our judicial system, where they were already expecting you.
Clearly, it’s acceptable for aspiring prep-school rapists to be welcomed at most levels of our government. And I admit how most of us uptight losers never noticed when you were appointed White House Staff Secretary or Circuit Judge for the DC Court of Appeals. It was only when you were about to get a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court that we got mad.
You’ve got a right to your feelings, Brett.
So you go on, follow your dream! Dance, Brett! Yes, dance on that great glass roof of society — all the while laughing down at the struggling women below, who stupidly think it’s a ceiling.
The Supreme Court should not be closed to you, simply because you got roaring drunk and tried to rip the clothes off a fifteen-year-old girl, while your friends laughingly egged you on. Heck, your federal Father Figure has done way worse. I can hear him right now, advising you:
“Next time some rude elevator screamers accuse you of sex crimes, don’t get mad! Just say some undocumented Mexicans did it — too much cerveza. That way, you won’t raise the liberal stink you did by saying, ‘That never happened.’”
Remember to take care of Number One, Brett Kavanaugh. There’s too much on your plate for you to internalize the fact that women and queers and children of all genders, classes, and every race, face sexual harassment, humiliation, rape, even death, from men – especially men who want to be just like you.
#MeToo is an amazing movement. But below the #MeToo media conversations, god-knows-what continues to go on. Given the gathering rage in our boys-against-girls zeitgeist — when boys like you feel violated while girls like Christine Blasey Ford speak their truth — I wonder how bad it may have gotten for sex workers who hook up with johns like you and Donald Trump. How much spite and anger they’ll have to soak up, and in what form. My dad, who grew up on the streets of Tulsa, naturally assumed that every woman would be raped at least once in the course of her life. At the dinner table he told me, “When it happens to you, scream. Scream your head off.”
I recently came across the obituary of Freddie Oversteegen, a Dutch woman, who died early this September, at 92. In the 1940s, Freddie, with her sister Truus and their friend Hannie Schaft, was part of an underground cell that killed occupying Nazi troops. As nubile, seductive teenagers, they met German soldiers in bars, then lured them into the woods, where the soldiers were executed.
Thankfully, Brett, that will never happen to you. Given the nature of your current Father Figure and our current Fatherland, you won’t be one of those soldiers. You’ll be one of the men sending in the troops.

Radio: Loud and Clear

October 2, 2018


October 1, 2018

If you pick up Arne Duncan’s How Schools Work hoping to learn something about, well, unsurprisingly I suppose, about “how schools work,” you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s no policy prescription here, no substantive analysis whatsoever, and no actual accounts or examples of how schools work. Instead we’re treated to random stories that circulate around several stuttering themes: Duncan’s dismay and then anger when poor kids are told they’re doing OK by school people when in reality they don’t have the skills to go to college; his encounters with enraged parents that happily end when they chill out after he shows them that his heart is true and his intentions pure; and his insistent defense of “big data” and high stakes standardized tests when promoting his preferred school “reform” goals.

The subtitle isn’t especially helpful either: “An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.” That might have proved useful, but the reader searches in vain for fresh  perspectives or insights, for some discovery or surprise, contradiction or conflict, for an inquiring  mind thinking out loud as it engages a conversation with itself—anything at all that might be generative. What’s on offer instead is untroubled categories and settled conclusions. Arne Duncan learns nothing at all—neither in his many years at the helm of Chicago’s and then the nation’s schools, nor in the process of writing this personal account. 

Failure and success? An inside account? A good memoir might fruitfully explore all of that, but it would have to be free from the brutality of dogma and self-righteousness, which Duncan can’t quite manage. He’s a dedicated corporate reformer, avidly endorsing the underlying thesis that education is a product to be sold at the market place rather than a fundamental human right and community responsibility, and embracing the entire triple threat: reducing the definition of school success (for other people’s children) to a single metric on a standardized test; marginalizing or crushing the collective voice of teachers; and auctioning off the public space to private managers and entrepreneurs. None of this is up for discussion or review, and that makes the entire account tedious and entirely predictable.

Duncan’s opening sentence is a calculated attention-getter: “Education runs on lies.” Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post points out that that sentence begs for the services of a good editor—education doesn’t run on lies, she says, so perhaps he means that the school system runs on lies; but since there’s no single school system in this country, perhaps he means specific schools run on lies. Whatever. It turns out “lies” is deployed as an all-purpose metaphor: the big lie (which he returns to again and again) is “social promotion,” moving kids along when they aren’t up to par or college-ready; other lies include the lie that poor kids can’t learn, manifest through low expectations by school people and politicians for children of the poor; the lie that self-serving teachers unions tell when they pretend to care more than a fig for the success of public school students; the lie spread by teacher educators that colleges of education effectively prepare teachers for classroom life. All lies according to Duncan. In support of the larger corporate reform agenda, Duncan dutifully side-steps any link (although well-established by authentic research and loads of data) between poverty or racial segregation and school success. Again and again he makes the dubious claim that test scores “don’t lie” and that the solutions to our various problems can be found in “big data”—selectively harvested to be sure.

The only “failure” Duncan will admit to is the classic “failure to communicate:” “Race to the Top” was “misunderstood,” parents and teachers didn’t understand the incredible value for their kids of regular standardized testing, and sometimes he “jammed my foot in my mouth.” He repeats this disingenuous self-criticism so often that it brings to mind the stuttering exchange between the Captain and the prisoner in the classic film “Cool Hand Luke”—every substantive conflict is dismissed with the Captain’s signature line uttered with utter contempt: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The phrase is consistently issued by power to dodge the import of any conflict, and as prelude to doubling down on harsher sanctions and brutal punishments. 

Arne Duncan’s children have always attended schools that work—public schools in the suburbs of Washington, elite private schools in Chicago— and these are schools with small class sizes, full arts programs, excellent facilities, and unionized teachers. Each of his kids is, of course, more than a score. Nothing wrong with any of that. The hypocrisy comes when he sets policy for other people’s children that never mentions class size or the value of the arts or the importance of teachers’ voices when it comes to school policy and practice. Duncan’s prescription for the rest of us is an anemic curriculum and a single-minded obsession with standardized tests.

We need to resist as we insist that in a democracy equality in education is a first principle, and that means that whatever the privileged and the powerful have for their children must become the baseline for what we as a community demand for all of our children. Nothing less.