Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky is a senior fellow at Demos and a writer on social justice issues. His latest book is The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

Recent Articles

The Democracy of Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 576 pages) Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is a promise a long time coming. In 1971, when Zimbardo was a young psychology professor at Stanford University, he presided over a psychology experiment exploring what happened when normal students were immersed in two distinct roles: One group were to be prison guards -- in a makeshift prison set up in the basement of the psychology lab -- and the other group were to be prisoners. The experiment, peopled by well-adjusted, paid volunteers, was to last for two weeks. Within days, however, told they had to control the prison and provided with virtually no oversight by Zimbardo (in his role as warden), the bulk of the guards had begun engaging in startlingly sadistic, humiliation-based behavior -- dragging prisoners around naked and with bags over their heads, forcing them to do press ups while others sat...

Prison State

Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California by Ruth Gilmore (University of California Press, 412 pages) For those involved in studying critically the U.S. criminal justice system, Ruth Gilmore's Golden Gulag has been a promise long-delayed. The book has been talked about, in often reverential tones, for many years now. After all, in addition to being a first-rank scholar -- Gilmore is a geography professor at USC and director of the university's American Studies and Ethnicity program -- the author is also one of the country's leading anti-prison activists. Who better than her, therefore, to answer two fundamental questions: Why did California build only 12 prisons in the first century-plus of its existence as a state, and 23 more prisons in the decades after 1984? And why did the state's political leadership and electorate support an expansion of corrections expenditures from two percent of the state's general fund in the 1970s to over eight...

Bashing Goliath

Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America by Andrei S. Markovits (Princeton University Press, 302 pages) I feel, having just read Andrei Markovits's Uncouth Nation , a profound satisfaction. It's not that Markovits is a great stylist; he's assuredly not. His sentences are sometimes maddeningly convoluted, and the book itself is poorly organized, with many key examples illustrating his arguments buried deep within the text. Nor is it that I agree with all of his arguments, though I do find most of them compelling. No, the satisfaction comes from seeing someone on the progressive side of the political spectrum actually marshalling the evidence to point out that, while Bush is indeed bad, much of Europe has gone more than just a little loco when it comes to discussing America. Visit Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam or Athens today, talk with leading intellectuals and commentators from all the many different sides of the continent's fractious political discourse, listen in to...

Notes From Underground

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (Harvard University Press, 448 pages) In Sudhir Venkatesh's newly published Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Harvard University Press, 2006), readers are introduced to a cast-royale of rogues, some loveable, others little short of detestable, who inhabit a super-isolated ghetto neighborhood in Southside Chicago. Venkatesh calls the neighborhood Maquis Park -- to protect the people he's writing about, he disguises the identity not only of his subjects but also of the community they live in. For four hundred pages, Venkatesh describes in intimate detail the often bizarre world of economic relationships in this urban edge zone, largely outside the web of economic, political, legal, and law-enforcement structures that dominate mainstream American life. The result is a compelling, deeply disturbing ground-level view of today's underclass. The Columbia University sociologist...

Torture Heavy

David Rose, author of Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights (The New Press), talks with TAP about the brutality of American guards, legal doctrines that guide them, and the casual acceptance of torture carried out by interrogators. What led you to write about the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the first place? I've had a very strong interest in legal, criminal-justice, and human-rights issues for over 20 years. My dad is a lawyer and my sister is a lawyer. I was crime correspondent for the Guardian in the '80s. I did a lot of work on miscarriages of justice. It was obviously an area I had some background in. I was used to dealing with people who had been charged and were going to have trials. And to see a large number of people who weren't [few of the detainees at Guantanamo have been charged with specific crimes], that was very shocking. Vanity Fair asked me to go to Guantanamo, and I went for four days in October 2003. [Subsequently] I managed to interview four of the...

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