October 2, 2011

Small Victories

Print More

Yes, I know that the world’s sluggish economy has just suffered its worst quarter since the 2008 credit crisis. Yes, I am aware that the Euro, in its ebullient pastel glory, is on the brink with a sovereign debt across the continent that makes B.o.B at Level B look fiscally responsible. Yes, I know that the U.S.’ political stalemate has reached such epic proportions that protesters on the left are organizing pillow fights on Wall Street and dissidents on the right have turned Herman Cain into a viable candidate. In these trying times, we must settle for small victories, two of which occurred this past week and thus deserve due recognition.

On September 27, J. Cole, one of hip-hop’s most underrated up-and-comers and a personal favorite of mine, released Cole World: The Sideline Story. Critics’ reactions have been generally positive. Many praised Cole’s theatrical style and technical ability, noting the eclectic influences across the album, from screeching guitar solos to the dubstep riddled “Mr. Nice Watch ft. Jay-Z.” Though commentators have complained that the young rapper can get overly emotional — Rolling Stone’s Jody Rosen claims at times the “melodrama feels rote” — most agree that the album is a strong debut. Cole’s mind wanders, pondering the ethics of abortion from both a man and woman’s perspective on “Lost Ones.” Simultaneously conversational and rhythmic verse captures multiple perspectives on a highly contentious subject. Cole also grapples with topical issues as he argues that he could “make Wesley pay his taxes” on “Can’t Get Enough ft. Trey Song.” Like it or not, by referencing Snipes, the wealthy actor famous for both his federal tax evasion and his interpretation of Blade, J. Cole evokes a polemic debate about the justice in our tax system that has crippled our society.

Another win came on Friday as a U.S. drone strike killed two U.S. citizens-turned-al-Qaeda-operatives, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn. The strike might have also taken out Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi bomb-maker who may have been responsible for the creation of the underwear bomb. Awlaki, born in New Mexico, lived in Yemen and became a spiritual and suspected operational leader for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The cleric was best known for virulent sermons that served as inspiration for some of the world’s most nefarious terrorists. Samir Khan, on the other hand, was a North Carolina native who reached notoriety by editing al-Qaeda’s English-language Inspire magazine. Khan oversaw the publication of vitriol and deadly instructional articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

Though many strict constitutionalists, including the ACLU, have argued in court against putting Awlaki on the government’s hit list, preferring instead to put him on trial in the U.S., a federal judge threw out the suit in 2010, choosing to treat the al-Qaeda member as an enemy combatant rather than a criminal living abroad who deserves due process. The decision relates back to the 1942 Ex parte Quirin and the later 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decisions, in which the Supreme Court stated that even U.S. citizens could be denied habeas corpus and treated as belligerents in times of war if they pledged allegiance to the enemy. The ever-expanding scope of the War on Terror has left some fearful of the potential repercussions of such a policy, although I think most would agree that a drone strike against al-Qaeda operatives plotting in a country with an enormous power vacuum doesn’t really push the boundary of tyranny. I, for one, would give the president a very conditional pat on the back, hoping that the strike was opportunism and not the beginnings of expanding policy.

Stuck inside the bubble of Ithaca, it’s often hard to tell whether the vision of a world on the brink of collapse is media sensationalism or if things are as bad as they seem. Pardon my optimism, but I believe that with a week of prelims in front of me I deserve these pick-me-ups. J. Cole’s album is currently number one on iTunes and Obama will probably receive a short-lived boost in the polls following the drone strike, so can’t we, too, temporarily rejoice? Is it too much to ask to stop the flow of bad news every once in a while?

Let’s hope the economy turns around soon, though. I’m going to get sick of Cole World pretty quickly, and Obama’s approval ratings are still awful compared to 2009.

Original Author: Adam Lerner