Auteur Archief: Nat Hentoff

Bringing Civics Classes Back to Schools: Obama Impeachment?

Nat Hentoff

In 1798, only seven years after the First Amendment was ratified as part of the Constitution, President John Adams undermined the First Amendment by pushing the Alien and Sedition Acts through Congress. This law subjected citizens to imprisonment for speech that brought the president or Congress into “contempt or disrepute” (my book, The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America, Delacorte Press, 1988).

That led enough angry Americans to deny Adams a second term, bringing Thomas Jefferson, a leading opponent of the Alien and Sedition Acts, to the presidency. In 1786, Jefferson wrote to a friend about one of the anchors of our freedom of speech: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

But President Barack Obama, since taking office, has continually limited the First Amendment, the most singular and powerful right that distinctly identifies Americans from residents in all other countries on Earth.

Political speech is our quintessential weapon against imperious presidents towering over the Constitution’s separation of powers.

In the past few weeks, more Americans have been awakened to the diminishment of theirs and the press’s rights of free speech. Alerted to revelations of the multiple “scandals” of the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan writes:

“In order to suppress conservative groups — at first, those with words like ‘Tea Party’ and ‘Patriot’ in their names, then including those that opposed ObamaCare or advanced the Second Amendment — the IRS demanded donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made my members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings.”

In this land of the free and home of the brave, the IRS asked such questions as: “What are you thinking about? Did you ever think of running for office? Do you ever contact political figures? What are you reading?” (“This Is No Ordinary Scandal,” Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, May 17).

Dig this: One respondent answered that last query simply: “The U.S. Constitution.”

For an administration that regards the word “Patriot” with suspicion, that must have been disquieting.

As for the Obama Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Eric Holder, it demonstrated its utter disrespect for the First Amendment’s freedom of the press by how it has investigated leaks of classified information to reporters:

“The Justice Department subpoenaed a sweeping two months of AP (Associated Press) phone records from Verizon Wireless last year without notifying the news organization — essentially giving the AP no chance to fight back in the courts” (“Obama’s Leak Obsession Leads to Privacy and Free Speech Abuses,” Roger Aronoff, aim.org, May 23).

Accuracy in Media’s Aronoff quotes Lynn Oberlander, general counsel for The New Yorker, who wrote on the magazine’s website: “Even beyond the outrageous and overreaching action against the journalists, this is a blatant attempt to avoid the oversight function of the courts” (“The Law Behind the AP Phone-Record Scandal,” Oberlander, New Yorker, May 14).

And by invading the privacy of the AP’s reporters and editors, Aronoff writes: “Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt says that sources are now hesitant to talk to the AP because they’re concerned that they’ll be monitored by the government.”

Aronoff quotes Pruitt, who says: “Sources, just in the normal course of news gathering, recently, say we don’t necessarily want to talk to you.

“We don’t want our phone records monitored by the U.S. government.”

These Americans agree with Pruitt, as he tells Aronoff that the Justice Department’s actions are “unconstitutional.”

Aronoff cites a Foreign Policy article from last year, in which Trevor Timm reported: “America’s finest journalism is often produced with the aid of classified information.

The New York Times’ report on warrantless wiretapping and The Washington Post’s expose on CIA secret prisons, both winners of the Pulitzer Prize, are just two of countless examples” (“Obama’s Secret Hypocrisy,” Timm, Foreign Policy, June 2012).

Meanwhile, the president has now slickly “ordered a review … of the Justice Department’s procedures for legal investigations involving reporters.”

He emphasized that “journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs …

“Our focus must be on those who break the law” (“Obama, in Nod to Press, Orders Review of Inquiries,” Mark Landler, The New York Times, May 24).

But, Mr. President, it was the Justice Department that broke the law.

Can you imagine Thomas Jefferson’s reaction to this news?

Obama actually had the gall to tell us that Attorney General Holder, a leading law-breaker in this operation, will direct this official fact-finding review! He directly approved removing Fox News’ First Amendment rights when “prosecutors obtained a search warrant for (Fox News reporter James) Rosen’s phone and email records.”

Next week: I, and other reporters, respond to Obama’s current canny deflections of these charges concerning his extrajudicial commands.

If Thomas Jefferson were still here, he would have instantly condemned them.

Regardless of political parties, though, where is there a Jefferson among us today? Someone who would demand an independent commission with due process rights for the primary witness, President Obama, in a possible impeachment case against him? Mounting evidence, going back to the beginning of his first term, could be examined.

Should there be an actual fully televised impeachment procedure — which could happen if We the People demanded it — public school students watching might call for a return of civics classes to their schools, newly reminded that they are self-governing Americans.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.


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Teachers and Education Reformers Bypass Individual Students

Nat Hentoff

The March 18 headline in USA Today blares: “More teachers are grouping kids by ability.” What’s wrong with that? Because the actual problems of individual kids are overlooked when students, especially those starting in elementary schools, are tracked as a group by what they’ve learned.

But Patrick Boodey, principal of the Woodman Park School in Dover, N.H., tries to remind us in the same story: “As a teacher, you know in your heart you need to meet the needs of each child” (Greg Toppo, USA Today, March 18).

Really? How many teachers do know that and act accordingly?

Disturbing answers to that question are documented in the most important article on education I’ve seen in many years: “The ‘Quiet’ Troubles of Low-Income Children,” by Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard School of Education. The article was first published in the March/April 2008 issue of the Harvard Education Letter and is also included in a valuable book: Spotlight on Student Engagement, Motivation and Achievement (Caroline T. Chauncey and Nancy Walser, editors; Harvard Education Press, 2009).

I have been an observer and interviewer of students in many classrooms around the country, and caught signs of some of these “quiet troubles.” But I had nowhere near the research depth of Weissbourd, whose revelations should be seen by teachers, principals, school boards and legislators in cities, states and the U.S. Congress.

His article, of course, should also be seen by those parents whose own troubles give them hardly any breathing room to focus on how well their children are actually able to learn in school.

Weissbourd, whom I have also interviewed, cites a study he conducted with other researchers:

“Some teachers fail to detect vision and hearing problems and sleep deprivation. Kids who are depressed and withdrawn can also escape teachers’ notice. One reason may be that teachers are often consumed by small numbers of students with loud problems. Teachers may also stop registering these quieter problems because they know that their schools don’t have the resources or time to deal with them.

“As one school counselor puts it, ‘You have to be extraordinarily withdrawn to be referred to me.’”

At a school where I was a guest lecturer on the Bill of Rights for a short time, one female eighth-grader in the back row never said a word in class or looked in my direction. After class one day, I came over to her and found that when she listened closely — she was hard of hearing — she was very interested in poetry. We talked for a while about Emily Dickinson. It was quite a large class, and she told me no teacher had noticed her hearing problem.

That reminded me of another school I once visited, where teachers did pay close attention to “the whole child.” There, a fifth-grade boy said to me: “Gee, in this school, they know my name!”

Weissbourd writes, “The number of children with undetected or untreated vision problems is a national scandal. In any urban classroom, it’s not uncommon to find one or two children squinting at their books or at the blackboard. By one estimate, at least 25 percent of urban students have uncorrected vision problems.

“Part of the problem is that kids lose their glasses easily, and it can take Medicaid up to six months to replace them. When they do come, they’re often big and chunky — the kind of glasses that no school-age child wants to wear.”

A “quiet trouble” I hadn’t known about: “Staff members in one elementary school I have worked with estimate that about one-quarter of their students experience sleep deprivation consistently enough to interfere with learning,” he writes. “That percentage is likely to be far higher in high school.”

Weissbourd suggests that “schools can … work with community health centers to prevent sleep deprivation among children — for example, by coordinating messages to parents about the importance of establishing bedtime routines and reducing late-night television watching.”

And what about the “quiet troubles” of some of these children’s parents?

Weissbourd writes: “Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of parents will suffer from acute, severe depression, experiencing some combination of fatigue, loss of appetite, withdrawal, hopeless moods and suicidal thoughts.

“But a range of studies suggests that 30 to 60 percent of low-income parents will suffer from moderate depression for longer periods of time.

“I am not talking about mental illness. I am talking about the steady drizzle of helplessness and hopelessness that can afflict those trapped in poverty for many years, especially when these adults are isolated and in constant stress.”

While “many of these people, despite their depression, are warm, effective parents … children of depressed parents are more likely to suffer from an array of problems, including development delays, juvenile delinquency and depression. What’s more, it’s far harder for depressed parents to do the things critical for their children’s school success.”

Are you aware of these quiet, smoldering troubles being recognized — and acted upon — by many school boards, education reformers and legislators? Presidents who have school-age children send them to private schools, so they’re often silent about all of this, including in their state of the union addresses.

If more of the citizenry were not silent, many of these students’ blighted lives could begin to be revived. They’d be surprised at their new capacities to become lifelong learners.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.


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Our Royal Supreme Court Chains Fourth Amendment

Nat Hentoff

In the 47th paper of “The Federalist,” James Madison grimly warned: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or e… Lees verder

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