Tuesday, December 27, 2005

You Never Know What Little Johnny's Homework

. . . Might Get Him in Trouble for . . .

My hometown newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, known to be a rather conservative paper in these parts, published the following editorialtoday. I post this editorial and dedicate it to all the others of you who went through a "subversive" period in high school or college.

Watch listed

Doodling? Reading wrong book? Look out

Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, December 27, 2005

As headlines focus on warrantless wiretaps and "cruel, inhuman and degrading" techniques for interrogating detainees, other events affecting Americans' civil liberties occur with little notice.

Here are two examples, on opposite coasts, one close to home in Elk Grove and another in Massachusetts.

A 16-year-old Elk Grove student was pulled out of class Sept. 27 and interrogated by two FBI agents. They focused on an incident two years earlier in a math class. The student had written the letters "PLO" on his binder. His teacher called the PLO a terrorist organization and said anyone who supported it was a terrorist. The student defended the PLO as a legitimate political group that opposed Israeli occupation. A tipster apparently also told the FBI the student had pictures of suicide bombers on his cellphone. He didn't.

Here we had a student innocently expressing his right to free speech. Nothing threatening. Nothing disruptive.

The incident raises obvious questions: Why would the FBI drag a teenager out of class to interrogate him about a 2-year-old doodle on a notebook? Does the FBI assess tips (and the possible motives of tipsters) before touching off needless scares and upending people's lives? Why interrogate people who have been linked to no crimes?

Then there's the story reported in The Standard-Times newspaper in Massachusetts of a University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, student doing a research paper for a history class on fascism and totalitarianism. He requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book" through interlibrary loan for a paper on communism. Two agents of the Department of Homeland Security later showed up at his parents' home in New Bedford, Mass., to interrogate him, telling him they were there because the book was on a "watch list" and the student had spent time abroad.

What else is on that "watch list" - Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" or "Das Kapital"? Hitler's "Mein Kampf"? Other staples in the history of political thought courses?

Such abuses led U.S. senators to filibuster to force changes to the USA Patriot Act. Parts of that law were set to expire Dec. 31, but Congress has agreed to temporarily extend it to work out language among the House, Senate and president. The Senate is holding out for language that would require some connection between the records sought and a person suspected of being a terrorist - which is altogether reasonable.

Incidents such as these make it appear that our national security agencies have no idea what they're doing. So they resort to random, oceanwide fishing expeditions in the vain hope they'll turn up something. That does little to advance the war against terrorism, but it does unnecessarily alienate, humiliate and frighten innocent people whose trust is needed.

Since I haven't really outgrown my subversive phase, I thought it would be a blast to design a course wherein all the books and secondary sources that student were reading would put the Department of Homeland Securtiy on their trail. Good fun, eh?

In fact, your friends at Human Events Online: The National Conservative Weekly have already outlined the syllabus for a new freshman seminar: The Most Dangerous Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

I can imagine students begging to get into that course. Oh, the power.

UPDATE: Faithful reader Sean turned up this article that exposes the UMass Dartmouth story as a hoax. What a trip!