The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Irony Saturday: Please Tread on Me!

Item One: Bush derides critics of his secret plan to allow the NSA to put American citizens under surveillance without any legal process as "helping the enemy." Presumably he means the enemies of freedom, as he so loves to repeat.

The president used his weekly Saturday morning address to the country to talk about the growing furor over the NSA secret eavesdropping program. In a sign of the interest in the speech, instead of the usual taped radio speech, the president spoke live this morning and it was carried on television. The speech ran about seven minutes, slightly longer than his usual radio addresses.

He chastised the news accounts, saying, "The existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."

Bush said that he authorized the program "using constitutional authority vested in me as commander-in-chief." He argued that the program is consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, and used "to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

"The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time," Bush said. "And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad."

What sort of fiendish terrorist activities are being prevented by the curtailing of civil liberties? Term papers... of DOOM!

Item Two: Hey, I realize that right-wing ideologues are convinced that our nation's educational facailities are secretly radical brainwashing compounds, but there's something distinctly Orwellian about kids studying fascism being detained and questioned by the government of the land of the free.

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Growing up at the end of the Soviet era, I remember the gasps of my fell0w students as we learned of life under a totalitarian regime. People weren't able to speak openly of politics under suspicion of treason. The press was seen as an enemy of the state to be controlled and manipulated. And educated people were anathema. Fortunately, it can only happen here under executive order.

UPDATE: (Jan. 5) It's come to my attention that the story about the Dartmouth student visited by federal agents might just be phony. An item in a recent newsletter by physicist Robert Parks alerted me to this, and I wanted to be sure to post it in the interest of honesty. If I see any more information about the story I'll post another update.