Tuesday, September 16, 2003

We Regret To Inform You That Your Attorney General is a Horse's Ass

Regular readers of Working With Words (can there be any other kind?) no doubt have gathered by now that I think U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is one of the biggest fools alive. His appointment to such a sensitive post is all the proof I need--and there's plenty more besides--of the growing suspicion that the Bush II presidency represents the most radical right-wing administration in American history. But like every blustering ignoramus, the Missouri Mule's arrogant overreaching carries within it the seeds of his own eventual demise (politically speaking). Yesterday he pointedly took on the librarians for their continuing principaled resistance to the Patriot Act's provisions which call upon them to help spy on library patrons on behalf of law enforcement. Who will he take on next: retired septuagenarians school crossing guards? I loved the tart response from the head of the American Library Association's D.C. office (who is, after all, a lobbyist, a breed ordinarily devoted to maximum diplomacy): "If he's coming after us so specifically, we must be having an impact." As you read the coverage of Ashcroft closely in these days of growing media suspicion of the Bush agenda, one senses not merely a rising outrage over the AG's un-American tactics, but almost a "have you no sense of decency, sir?" kind of edge, which of course echoes the famous line used to open the flood gates of criticism to stifle the witchunts of old Joe McCarthy. The Times' provocative choice of words in the headline (Ashcroft Mocks Librarians...) seems designed to spur revulsion, which in this case seems appropriate. Here's rooting for continued junk-yard dog coverage of this entire reckless crew. And a special round of cheers for the librarians. I note via their association's website that in opposing the original act, they chose an apt quote from another sainted figure, Abe Lincoln, who wrote a friend in the closing days of the Civil War: "freedom is not some arbitrary right that is bestowed upon us because of the virtuous nature of our national character. It is a right that we must protect and defend in a time of both promise and peril if we are to remain in the future what we are in the present--a free and honorable people." Like Twain and Orwell, Lincoln's rich and timeless insights continue to infuse our contemporary debates with graceful common sense and sanity.

The Independent Republic of Cleveland Heights. Still, for all the righteous indignation stirred by the Patriot Act, lefty opponents sometimes seem hell-bent on proving that they can be just as silly as their opponents are sinister. Consider, for example, this public meeting scheduled for tonight at 7 in the Cleveland Heights library (according to the Cleveland Indy Media Center's calendar): it's called for the purpose of making "plans for getting a bill passed to ban the Patriot Act from Cleveland Heights." It appears to be organized by the ACLU, since Kim at kalabasi@acluohio.org, is mentioned as the contact. Now, I never attended law school, but I think I'm on pretty firm ground in pointing out that under our system, suburban municipalities don't have the legal authority to override laws passed by the U.S. Congress. And even if latter-day hippies don't know that, shouldn't ACLU lawyers? Of course, all bets are off in Cleveland Heights, home of the "nuclear-free zone," a similarly unenforceable bit of silly suburban sloganeering...

The Beauty of Web Publishing: Quick Rethinking. As I reread that bit of dyspepsia in the item immediately above, I had second thoughts, for a couple of reasons. So let me be clearer. For one thing, I must hasten to add that I love Cleveland Heights and all it stands for. In fact, it goes far further: without Cleveland Heights as a general beacon of urbane intelligence, as well as its various specific institutions (the Cedar Lee, Coventry, etc.) I simply wouldn't live in this area. We'd pack it up and move back to either Chicago or Washington, D.C., where Jule and I lived as young marrieds. Secondly (and in related fashion): while lefty latter-day hippies generally exasperate me, I'd be less than honest if I suggested that I didn't at least honor their intentions.

Anyway, all of that is merely by way of saying that I felt challenged by my own bit of knee-jerk dismissal of the aforementioned anti-Patriot Act meeting to dig a bit deeper into the topic. And here's what I found. This interesting piece in the Seattle Times (which picked it up from the Washington Post) notes that back in April, a small Northern California town became the first municipality in the country to pass an ordinance urging local police to ignore the feds' requests under the Patriot Act. It rightly placed the town's action within a larger context: "Across the country, citizens have been forming Bill of Rights defense committees to fight what they consider the most egregious curbs on liberties contained in the Patriot Act." Furthermore, it notes, Congress' only declared Independent, the infamous Vermont civil libertarian Bernie Sanders, had introduced a bill to restore privacy protections for library patrons. It's enthusiastically backed not just by librarians, but by such groups as the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. That all seems pretty germane to the point, doesn't it? So as the old Latin mass would have it: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...

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