ChuckB's blog

Academia: liberal?

Warning: the following is only loosely related to libraries. It is pertinent to those who work in an academic setting and who think about the political culture of that setting. This kind of thing will go into my blog when I get one.

Jim Henley has some thoughts on why there might be a liberal bias in academia.

The dreaded P*A*

I have to admit I haven't been all that well-informed about the Patriot Act. Since I haven't been working as a librarian for the last 3+ years, I haven't paid as much attention to issues that might bear upon libraries as perhaps I ought to have. The Patriot Act is one of those issues I sort of glossed over.

You should know that I am one of those "be skeptical of government" conservatives, the kind who have some definite libertarian leanings, which means that by default I am inclined to dislike things like the Patriot Act. After all, I think that subversives like Gary Kunsman and Joel Miller have a real point when they claim that the state exceeds its authority and impairs liberty in the "war on drugs". Doubtless I make some fellow conservatives angry when I say that marijuana should be legalized (n.b.: my pot-smoking days are well behind me). I favor the availabilty of strong encryption to normal U.S. citizens (what was the previous administration's ban on cryptography all about, anyway?). So up till now I've I've been grumbling about the state further eroding liberties when the Patriot Act is mentioned.

This evening I finally read the anathematized Section 215 of the Patriot Act to see for myself how bad it is. I confess I'm rather disappointed. Section 215 replaces 3 sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 with two new sections. As far as I can make out, this is what it says:

  • The FBI Director, or another designated high-ranking FBI official may apply for an order to have materials related to an investigation to protect against international terrorism or against espionage;
  • if the investigation is of a U.S. citizen, it may not be triggered simply by actions protected under the First Amendment;
  • the application must be made either to "a judge of the court established by section 103(a) [of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]" or to a U.S. magistrate designated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme to hear and rule on these applications;
  • the application must specify that the investigation for which the materials are needed either complies with subsection (a)(2) [of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978] or is intended to protect against international terrorism or espionage;
  • if the judge issues an order to produce the materials sought, the order should not disclose the purposes of the investigation for which it is issued;
  • no-one may disclose that the FBI sought or obtained materials under this [amended] section [of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978]
  • a person producing materials under this provision shall not be liable for production to others, nor have they waived any privileges in other contexts by producing the materials sought;
  • twice a year the Attorney General must "fully inform" the select intelligence committees of the House & Senate about all requests for materials under section 402;
  • twice a year the Attorney General must provide a report to the House & Senate Judiciary Committees detailing how many applications for materials under this provision were made, and how many were granted, denied, or modified.

As I read this, it looks to me as if requests under Section 215 must be made by very high-ranking FBI officials (i.e. high-profile, highly-scrutinized, publicly accountable people). The request must be made to a very narrowly defined set of high-ranking judges. The Justice Department must give an accounting of its requests to intelligence and judiciary committees (on both of which sit *gasp* Democrats) of the House and Senate. What's more, Section 224 seems to say that Section 215 (as a non-excluded section of Title II of the act) sunsets on December 31, 2005.

Somebody help me here. Did I misunderstand what I read? Did I read the wrong section? Did not the FBI have power before to subpoena library records? What's all this about accountability to Congress? Please note that these questions aren't merely rhetorical. I'm not trying to set up a straw man. I'm not saying I like this section. However, I feel like I had a right to expect something much more nefarious than this based on the build-up from the civil liberties & library communities. I feel cheated. Surely I'm missing something.

I always have comments enabled in my journal. Somebody enlighten me, please. I want to dislike this act.

A sampling of my comments on other blogs

Here are some comments I have recently posted on other blogs, just to
give you an idea of my views on a few topics. I'm not posting these
because they are the last words on their subjects, but because I think
they are reasonably well-argued and come from a more or less
conservative point of view.

  • I stumbled across a posting on a blog I had never read before
    asserting that "Bush misleads public about cause of deficit", blaming
    Bush's tax cuts for the deficit. Read my response (scroll
    down to "Soaking the Rich"). Those who advocate redistribution of
    wealth through progressive taxation must
    hope that the rich stay at least as rich as they are, for the sake of
    those to whom they wish to redistribute.
  • I respond (after the thread had gone stale, unfortunately) to
    Scott Burgess's critique of a pro-life scholar arguing against the
    cloning of blastocysts for research (mine is the inadvertantly
    anonymous comment near the bottom at February 24, 2004 06:57 PM).
    It occurs to me now that I'm not certain of how physiologically
    comparable the blastocysts in question are to human embryos produced
    by natural conception. If they aren't such that they could naturally
    develop into fetuses under the proper conditions, then I would have
    to reconsider at least parts of my argument. Apart from that question,
    I do stand by my assertion that the purpose and method of their
    production is irrelevant to the question of their rights.
  • Keith Burgess-Jackson was kind enough to post my email to him with observations on some forms of objection to theism and to Christianity in particular.

Now you can see just how wise or retrograde I am (depending on your point of view). You can also set me straight through the comments feature.

Something "useful" from the right

Blake Carver has
on the difficulty of hearing the voice of the intelligent
right over all the other noise online. I want to post links to a few
blogs I think worth reading.

These blogs don't express only views I agree with (that
would happen only in my blog, if I had one, and then only about half
the time), but I find that they don't rely on emotionalism or
rhetorical bluster. In my view they present consistent,
well-though-out positions.

There are quite a few others (and I didn't even get theological, either). I could go on, but it's late.

By way of a BTW, I don't listen to talk radio (though I suspect I'd like Hugh Hewitt's show), I don't prefer Fox news over CNN or MSNBC (the only real broadcast news for my money is the Newshour with Jim Lehrer), and I may never read a book by Ann Coulter. I don't like cant or rhetorical fluff when there's no substance to back it up (unless it's very, very funny).

UPDATE: nbruce says you should check out Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day, (a favorite of mine inadvertantly left off this list) including this sample post.


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