Four stories from past week (two of them today) sadden all of us who love American democracy.
First, and most importantly, the President revealed today that he authorized secret surveillance of Americans because of—wait for it—9/11:
"This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States," Bush said.
So, he authorized violating our laws and Constitution, compromising our civil liberties, "under our laws and Constitution, to protect [our] civil liberties" then? Is he channeling Nixon? If so, maybe he'll end his presidency the same way. One can hope, anyway.
Notice, by the way, that he dropped this bombshell on Saturday morning, when people are listening to Wait Wait! Don't tell me instead of reading actual newspapers. This tactic is described in The West Wing episode "Take Out the Trash Day," which has special poingiancy this morning.
Second and third, former Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire died Thursday at the age of 90, and former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy died last Saturday at age 89.
And finally, Emmy-winning West Wing star John Spencer also died, at 58. (Photo: NBC)
The Poynter Institute today sent around a link to the best newspaper corrections of 2005.
Since they also linked to the 2005 plagiarism roundup, I thought it best to give Poynter proper attribution.
Chicago today banned smoking in restaurants starting January 16th. We've now joined New York, Los Angeles, and a number of other cities that also ban smoking in some public places. Reports the Tribune:
Smoking is allowed in freestanding bars and taverns, and within 15 feet of any restaurant bar, until July 1, 2008. A tavern is defined as an establishment that earns at least 65 percent of its revenues from liquor sales.
My previous entry, about Kansas University Professor Paul Mirecki's beating by religious extremists, may not have hit the correct note of irony and outrage.
I've just read the reports from Mirecki's local paper, the Lawrence Journal-World. The essential sequence of events was this:
- Mirecki wrote in an online forum that his upcoming course, "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism, and other religious mythologies," would be a "be a nice slap in [the fundies'] big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category 'mythology.'"
- On November 29th, the Lawrence Journal-World broke the story about how some Kansas legislators called for hearings to look into Mirecki's conduct.
- Mirecki, or the University, cancelled the course. The University president went so far as to call Mirecki's comments "repugnant."
- Mirecki then apologized publicly, saying it was "an ill-advised e-mail I sent to a small group of students and friends that has unintentionally impugned the integrity and good name of both the university and my faculty colleagues."
- Thugs beat the snot out of him.
Let me re-phrase that:
Thugs beat the snot out of him.
The Journal-World bound up some of Mirecki's postings from the Yahoo! discussion group he participates in. A quick read through those postings shows him to believe religous extremists are irrational, intolerant, and a threat to the American way of life.
Good thing those boys knocked some sense into that egghead.
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
—James Madison, Federalist No. 10
For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
—Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1
From today's Chicago Tribune:
Creationism-as-myth professor beaten
LAWRENCE, KANSAS—A college professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he derided Christian conservatives said he was beaten by two men along a rural road.
The Lawrence Journal-World has a long series of stories about this.
For my money, I'm hoping there are enough rational people in Kansas to prevent them blowing up statues and the like.
From yesterday's column from Paul Krugman (reg.req.):
Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.
So where are all those corporate profits going, I wonder?
It was on this day in 1933 that Prohibition ended.
Shortly afterward, marijuana was criminalized, in no small part because the alcohol lobby has always been more powerful, and in the 1930s popularly associated with a different ethnic group, than the marijuana proponents.
I was going to provide links to scholarship to support this point, but there isn't a lot of it out on the Web right now. Even the relatively de-politicized National Institutes of Health and the Journal of the AMA have a dearth of information about the relative dangers of pot vs. booze. (And yes, despite the flap about Plan B, I think the NIH are relatively apolitical. The FDA, on the other hand, not so much under this administration.)
I did find a link to a site about Reefer Madness, which is hi-larious. But it's not really scholarship.
Note: I'll stop parroting the History Channel's daily list for now. But if you're interested in histroy, you should subscribe to it.
It was on this day in 1818 that my native Illinois became the 21st of the United States.
Tangential question: Why does the History Channel put this tidbit in the Old West category?
North Carolina executed the 1,000th person since the U.S. reinstated capital punishment in 1976, putting us 1,000 ahead of our friends and allies in the contest to become the most barbarous democracy on earth.
I don't have time at the moment to go over the problems with the death penalty, except to note that the Jeanine Nicarico case is back in the newspapers in Chicago. The man most likely responsible for Nicarico's murder is finally on trial for it 20 years after a man who couldn't possibly have killed her was sentenced to death for the crime.
There are myriad reasons why no other country in the OECD still kills its prisoners, reasons I will articulate in future posts. For now, though, let me reflect on the passing of this milestone, and sigh.
...that Rosa Parks was jailed for not giving up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala.
Thanks to eagle-eyed attorney Angela Riccetti for a correction to this item.