Friday, March 09, 2007

My Friday Dump

Friday is the day when bad news are traditionally released, because the smallest possible number of people will hear about them on that day of the week, what with the eager anticipation of the weekend. Today's Friday dump by our government contains that reassuring piece of news that the FBI is busily spying on all of us. Greenwald has a very good post on it (at the Salon, so you need to sit through an ad if you don't subscribe):

Multiple media outlets are focusing on the unsurprising story that the FBI seems to have been abusing its powers under the Patriot Act to issue so-called "national security letters" (NSLs), whereby the FBI is empowered to obtain a whole array of privacy-infringing records without any sort of judicial oversight or subpoena process. In particular, the FBI has failed to comply with the legal obligations imposed by Congress, when it re-authorized the Patriot Act in early 2006, which required the FBI to report to Congress on the use of these letters.

That the FBI is abusing its NSL power is entirely unsurprising (more on that below), but the real story here -- and it is quite significant -- has not even been mentioned by any of these news reports. The only person (that I've seen) to have noted the most significant aspect of these revelations is Silent Patriot at Crooks & Liars, who very astutely recalls that the NSL reporting requirements imposed by Congress were precisely the provisions which President Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a "signing statement" as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act's renewal into law. Put another way, the law which the FBI has now been found to be violating is the very law which George Bush publicly declared he has the power to ignore.

The whole post is worth having to watch the ad. Really.

What else should I dump on you today? Perhaps a cute story about how the biologists and other officials in the Alaskan division of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service must NOT talk about polar bears:

Over the past week, biologists and wildlife officials received a cover note and two sample memorandums to be used as a guide in preparing travel requests. Under the heading "Foreign Travel — New Requirement — Please Review and Comply, Importance: High," the cover note said:

"Please be advised that all foreign travel requests (SF 1175 requests) and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the regional director to the director indicating who'll be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears."

This reminds me of the old Soviet Union.

Then there is this bit of encouraging news (if you are into madrassa-type education for all):

Georgia is poised to introduce two literature classes on the Bible in public schools next year, a move analysts say would make the state the first to take an explicit stance endorsing -- and funding -- biblical teachings.

The Bible already is incorporated into some classes in Georgia and other states, but some critics say the board's move, which makes the Bible the classes' main text, treads into dangerous turf.

On a list of classes approved Thursday by the Georgia Board of Education are Literature and History of the Old Testament Era, and Literature and History of the New Testament Era. The classes, approved last year by the Legislature, will not be required, and the state's 180 school systems can decide for themselves whether to offer them.

This is one of those proposals which sound very good on paper. But I fear that in practice the people who teach these courses will use them for preaching. And why do I fear that? Well, just think of what would happen if a teacher actually taught this material critically. A furor would erupt. So the material will be taught uncritically.