March 16, 1751, James Madison born

March 16, 2019

James Madison, by Walker Hancock, 1976. Statue from the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Architect of the Capitol photo.

James Madison’s birth on March 16, 1751, gets no attention as a federal or state holiday. Journalists usually mark the date with a week of festivities around the date, honoring Madison’s deep dedication to the principles of free press and open government, including his authoring and passing the First Amendment.

Madison’s chief notoriety comes from his work organizing the Philadelphia convention and working to ratify the U.S. Constitution — sometimes he’s called the Father of the Constitution. He also served as Secretary of State in Thomas Jefferson’s administration, and served two terms as President, including the War of 1812.

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Banned Books Week, September 22-28, at the University of Utah Bookstore

September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week special at the University of Utah

Banned Books Week special at the University of Utah

Nice mug!

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Updates on Wisconsin, the War on Education, the War on Americans in Unions, the assault on public employees by Wisconsin Republicans, etc., etc.

April 1, 2011

First, be sure to read Zeno’s work over at Halfway There.  Zeno’s writing will make your mouth water, your pupils expand, your pulse quicken, your hands go all Galvanic on you, and otherwise get your attention — but in this case, his topic is important, too.  Zeno explains the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with a peek inside ALEC’s  sumptuous, legislator-seducing red tent.   He’s got documents from ALEC, secured through not completely legitimate means (but neither are they illegal), and he lays the group bare.  It’s not a pleasant sight if you’re not fond of adipose tissue and necrosis.

Second, at Desmogblog you should check out John Mashey’s work on loose political organizations joined to politically oppose scientists learning about global warming, to oppose publication of findings about global warming, and to oppose government action to do anything to stop global warming.  Interestingly enough, Mashey informs me, the current cast of malefactors in Wisconsin, appear earlier as malefactors in the discussions and actions about global warming.  Coincidence?

And then stay tuned.  There is more to come on the issue of the Republican Party’s rebirth of McCarthyism, and the witch hunt they wish to conduct against historian Bill Cronon, I’m sure.


Historians back Cronon against Wisconsin witch hunt

March 31, 2011

Just the news, folks.  Just the news.

The Organization of American Historians Speaks Out on Academic Freedom and Defends OAH Member and University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor William Cronon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2011

For more information, contact:
Katherine M. Finley, Executive Director
Organization of American Historians
112 N. Bryan Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47401
ph 812.855.7311; fax 812.855.0696

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), led by President Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History at Columbia University, issued the following statement on March 30, 2011, supporting academic freedom and deploring the recent efforts of Wisconsin politicians to intimidate OAH member and professor William Cronon:

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians deplores the efforts of Republican party operatives in the state of Wisconsin to intimidate Professor William Cronon, a distinguished and respected member of our organization and currently the president-elect of our sister association, the American Historical Association. As a professional historian, Professor Cronon has used his extensive knowledge of American history to provide a historical context for recent events in Wisconsin. Requiring him to provide his e-mail correspondence, as the Republican party of Wisconsin has now done, will inevitably have a chilling effect on the capacity of all academics to engage in wide public debate. The timing and character of the Freedom of Information Act request for Professor Cronon’s e-mail correspondence leave no doubt that the purpose of this request is to use the authority of the state to prevent William Cronon from freely exercising his rights as a citizen and as a public employee.

Cronon, a professor of environmental and U.S. western history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has come under fire from the Wisconsin Republican party. A longtime member of the OAH and a former member of its executive board, Cronon is the incoming president of the American Historical Association. He has been thrust into the spotlight for his March 15, 2011, blog post and for a subsequent op-ed piece in the New York Times, critical of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Scott Walker. The OAH Executive Committee believes that the action of the Wisconsin Republican party in requesting e-mails sent by Professor Cronon will have a negative impact on academics who engage in wide public debate.

For Further Reading

American Historical Association, “AHA Deplores Effort to Intimidate William Cronon,” online posting, March 27, 2011, AHA Today http://blog.historians.org/news/1293/aha-council-deplores-recent-intimidation-efforts-aimed-at-cronon.

William Cronon, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here),” online posting, March 15, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/.

William Cronon, “Wisconsin’s Radical Break,” New York Times, March 21, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html.

William Cronon, “Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom,” online posting, March 24, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/.

Posted: Mar. 30, 2011


FOIA “request” in Wisconsin could be violation of whistleblower protection law

March 27, 2011

Wisconsinite Jean Detjen sent me a note correcting my misinformation:  Wisconsin does indeed have a whistleblower protection act.  The law protects Wisconsin state employees, against retaliation for disclosing information about wrongdoing.

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin photo

My reading suggests that, since professors are not specifically exempted, Prof. Cronon, at the University of Wisconsin, is specifically protected.

If the University of Wisconsin gives that answer to the Wisconsin Republican Party, however, the Party will argue that it is not a government official prevented from retaliating against a government employee.  That would be ample reason for the state to deny the FOIA request of the Party flatly and completely.

There is another, potentially more pernicious angle here:  The Republican Party in Wisconsin is, in this case, an agent of the Republicans in the state legislature, those whose tails are on the line for violating Wisconsin law, and as Prof. Cronon outlines it, Wisconsin tradition and historical norms.  It’s likely that the Party is acting at the direction of legislators.

In short, it’s kind of an organized crime action.  I think that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) would cover this sort of action — any retaliation for hire, or by an agent, which creates a pattern or practice of organized crime activities.  Worse for the Wisconsin Republicans, if there were an ambitious U.S. attorney out there somewhere, there is no scienter requirement on RICO actions — that is, there need not be a clear formation of criminal intent.  The mere actions of an organized crime group, even with no intent to break the law, can be a RICO violation.

Even worse for the Republicans, RICO is available for anyone to use.  Were I Prof. Cronon, and were the Republicans to press their FOIA request to court, I’d counterclaim in federal court with the RICO statute.

That’s a nasty escalation.  But in these days, in this case, where a state party organization has gone to the employer of a university professor to get his job after he merely reported history, I wouldn’t take chances that the Republicans would later play fair or nice.

Every step against Cronon, every press release, every statement from a legislator or party apparatchik, provides more evidence of the coordinated effort, and establishes further the “pattern and practice” of organized crime activity.

Maybe cool heads will soon prevail, maybe patriotism and love of the First Amendment will break out among Wisconsin Republicans, and they will retract their demand that Prof. Cronon deliver them all of his e-mails as a professor at  the University of Wisconsin.

Maybe badgers will fly.

“Badger” is supposed to be the mascot of Wisconsin’s top-flight university, not a tool of partisan politics.


Surely ALEC wouldn’t be purging e-mails that are now evidence, would they?

March 26, 2011

You could write a soap opera about this stuff.

You remember Wisconsin?  Remember the teachers, cops, firefighters and other public employee unions?

Of course.  And it’s still a mess.  Gov. Scott  “Ahab” Walker signed into law a bill that would have the effect of abrogating union contracts without any bargaining, but the skullduggery used to sneak the bill through the Wisconsin legislature opened the door to charges that Wisconsin open meetings laws were violated, and a judge has stayed the implementation of the law.

In the meantime, a Wisconsin historian stepped up to lend historical perspective to the whole affair.  He thought he was turning on some lights, but Wisconsin Republicans have treated it like great heat.

[Off-topic note:  Some creatures are negatively photo-tropic, which means they avoid light.  You know, like the way the cockroaches in your first New York apartment scattered when you’d turn on the light.]

So, just as Virginia Attorney General and Chief Inquisitor and Witch Hunter Ken Cucinelli tried with those pesky scientists who keep finding the global temperature rising, Wisconsin Republican legislators have turned on the historian.  Here’s how the  New York Times‘ editorial, “A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin,”  described it:

The historian, William Cronon, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association. Earlier this month, he was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.

In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms. (The Op-Ed article appeared five days after that.)

American Legislative Exchange Council.  ALEC, in K Street lobbyist parlance.

But, Dear Reader, do you see the potential problem here for Republicans in Wisconsin?  They have based their request on a Wisconsin law that prohibits private use of state-supplied e-mail — no politicking, no religious proselytizing.

What about all those ALEC e-mails to Wisconsin Republican legislators?  Sure, they’re more than fair-game for such a witch hunt, too.  And, since it’s the state Republican Party, and not a state or other public official making the FOIA request, surely that means the Republicans would not mind a similar request to cover contacts legislators had with the Wisconsin Republican Party, to the National Republican Party, or even ALEC itself.

Fair is fair, right?

ALEC generally has better lawyers than state legislators, and so we’d expect a group like that to recognize they could be in trouble.

Of course, purging of e-mails now would be a crime, a Watergate-style cover-up, destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice — after it’s become clear that there could be court action and claims of violation of law.

Jean Detjen provided links to the stories of the attacks on the distinguished Prof. Cronon over the last couple of days.  In a Facebook exchange, I noted that ALEC is fair game for such a witch hunt fishing expedition FOIA inquiry, too.

Don’t look now, Ms. Detjen said — but the ALEC site is down.

Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request.

JRun closed connection.

[Here’s a general link — try it, and let me know when the site is back up, if Paul Weyrich and the other ALEC-ians don’t skip to Brazil.]

Surely ALEC wouldn’t be illegally purging e-mails to Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Texas, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Florida legislators, would it?

Update:  As of this evening, March 26, 2011, the ALEC site is back up.  Why was it down?

The NYT editorial closed with this:

The party refuses to say why it wants the messages; Mr. Cronon believes it is hoping to find that he is supporting the recall of Republican state senators, which would be against university policy and which he denies. This is a clear attempt to punish a critic and make other academics think twice before using the freedom of the American university to conduct legitimate research.

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

Well, yeah, Wisconsin’s Republicans wouldn’t want to be caught stifling discussion, nor taking revenge on a whistle-blower — because certainly if Cronon’s e-mails are discoverable with an FOIA request, he is a Wisconsin state employee.  “Whew,” the Wisconsin Republicans might wheeze:  Wisconsin has no specific whistleblower protection.  Ah, the plot thickens:  There are general laws that would appear, to me, a no-longer-practicing-in-that-area lawyer, to offer some protections for any employee engaged in general political speech, or in speech protecting the employee’s rights, or in speech designed to shed light on a wrongful or wrongfully executed official act — that is, Cronon’s evidence showing the unsavory and potentially illegal links of legislators to businessmen and business groups, and the potential conspiracy issues of ALEC’s nationally-directed efforts to use state legislators to gut union laws.

I wish Ahab would just get Jesus and quit thickening the plot.

More, resources, links from Jean Detjen and others:

Obviously, big tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen, in Wisconsin.


The Curse of “Not Evil, Just Wrong” — still evil and wrong

December 10, 2009

At the first post on this material, the thread got a little long — not loading well in some browsers, I hear.

So the comments are closed there, and open here.

In fashion we wish were different but seems all too typical, so-called skeptics of global warming defend their position with invective and insult.  But they are vigorous about it.  What do you think?  What information can you contribute?

Here’s the post that set off the denialists, anti-science types and DDT sniffers, and a tiny few genuinely concerned but under-informed citizens:

I warned you about it earlier. Crank science sites across the internet feature news of another cheap hit on Rachel Carson and science in movie form.

“Not Evil, Just Wrong” is slated for release on October 18. This is the film that tried to intrude on the Rachel Carson film earlier this year, but managed to to get booked only at an elementary school in Seattle, Washington — Rachel Carson Elementary, a green school where the kids showed more sense than the film makers by voting to name the school after the famous scientist-author.

The film is both evil and wrong.

Errors just in the trailer:

  1. Claims that Al Gore said sea levels will rise catastrophically, “in the very near future.” Not in his movie, not in his writings or speeches. Not true. That’s a simple misstatement of what Gore said, and Gore had the science right.
  2. ” . . . [I]t wouldn’t be a bad thing for this Earth to warm up. In fact, ice is the enemy of life.” “Bad” in this case is a value judgment — global warming isn’t bad if you’re a weed, a zebra mussel, one of the malaria parasites, a pine bark beetle, any other tropical disease, or a sadist. But significant warming as climatologists, physicists and others project, would be disastrous to agriculture, major cities in many parts of the world, sea coasts, and most people who don’t live in the Taklamakan or Sahara, and much of the life in the ocean. Annual weather cycles within long-established ranges, is required for life much as we know it. “No ice” is also an enemy of life.
  3. “They want to raise our taxes.” No, that’s pure, uncomposted bovine excrement.
  4. “They want to close our factories.” That’s more effluent from the anus of male bovines.
  5. The trailer notes the usual claim made by Gore opponents that industry cannot exist if it is clean, that industry requires that we poison the planet. Were that true, we’d have a need to halt industry now, lest we become like the yeast in the beer vat, or the champagne bottle, manufacturing alcohol until the alcohol kills the yeast. Our experience with Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the Clean Air Acts and the Clean Water Act is that cleaning the environment produces economic growth, not the other way around. A city choked in pollution dies. Los Angeles didn’t suffer when the air got cleaner. Pittsburgh’s clean air became a way to attract new industries to the city, before the steel industry there collapsed. Cleaning Lake Erie didn’t hurt industry. The claim made by the film is fatuous, alarmist, and morally corrupt.

    When the human health, human welfare, and environmental effects which could be expressed in dollar terms were added up for the entire 20-year period, the total benefits of Clean Air Act programs were estimated to range from about $6 trillion to about $50 trillion, with a mean estimate of about $22 trillion. These estimated benefits represent the estimated value Americans place on avoiding the dire air quality conditions and dramatic increases in illness and premature death which would have prevailed without the 1970 and 1977 Clean Air Act and its associated state and local programs. By comparison, the actual costs of achieving the pollution reductions observed over the 20 year period were $523 billion, a small fraction of the estimated monetary benefits.

  6. “Some of the environmental activists have not come to accept that the human is also part of the environment.” Fatuous claim. Environmentalists note that humans uniquely possess the ability to change climate on a global scale, intentionally, for the good or bad; environmentalists choose to advocate for actions that reduce diseases like malaria, cholera and asthma. We don’t have to sacrifice a million people a year to malaria, in order to be industrial and productive. We don’t have to kill 700,000 kids with malaria every year just to keep cars.
  7. “They want to go back to the Dark Ages and the Black Plague.” No, that would be the film makers. Environmentalists advocate reducing filth and ignorance both. Ignorance and lack of ability to read, coupled with religious fanaticism, caused the strife known as “the Dark Ages.” It’s not environmentalists who advocate an end to cheap public schools.
  8. The trailer shows a kid playing in the surf on a beach. Of course, without the Clean Water Act and other attempts to keep the oceans clean, such play would be impossible. That we can play again on American beaches is a tribute to the environmental movement, and reason enough to grant credence to claims of smart people like Al Gore and the scientists whose work he promotes.
  9. “I cannot believe that Al Gore has great regard for people, real people.” So, this is a film promoting the views of crabby, misanthropic anal orifices who don’t know Al Gore at all? Shame on them. And, why should anyone want to see such a film? If I want to see senseless acts of stupidity, I can rent a film by Quentin Tarantino and get some art with the stupidity. [Update, November 23, 2009: This may be one of the most egregiously false charges of the film. Gore, you recall, is the guy who put his political career and presidential ambitions on hold indefinitely when his son was seriously injured in an auto-pedestrian accident; Gore was willing to sacrifice all his political capital in order to get his son healed. My first dealings directly with Gore came on the Organ Transplant bill. Gore didn’t need a transplant, didn’t have need for one in his family, and had absolutely nothing to gain from advocacy for the life-saving procedure. It was opposed by the chairman of his committee, by a majority of members of his own party in both Houses of Congress, by many in the medical establishment, by many in the pharmaceutical industry, and by President Reagan, who didn’t drop his threat to veto the bill until he signed it, as I recall. Gore is a man of deep, human-centered principles. Saying “I can’t believe Al Gore has great regard for real people” only demonstrates the vast ignorance and perhaps crippling animus of the speaker.]

That’s a whopper about every 15 seconds in the trailer — the film itself may make heads spin if it comes close to that pace of error.

Where have we seen this before? Producers of the film claim as “contributors” some of the people they try to lampoon — people like Ed Begley, Jr., and NASA’s James E. Hansen, people who don’t agree in any way with the hysterical claims of the film, and people who, I wager, would be surprised to be listed as “contributors.”

It’s easy to suppose these producers used the same ambush-the-scientist technique used earlier by the producers of the anti-science, anti-Darwin film “Expelled!

Here, see the hysteria, error and alarmism for yourself:

Ann McElhinney is one of the film’s producers. Her past work includes other films against protecting environment and films for mining companies. She appears to be affiliated with junk science purveyors at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an astro-turf organization in Washington, D.C., for whom she flacked earlier this year (video from Desmogblog):

Remember, too, that this film is already known to have gross inaccuracies about Rachel Carson and DDT, stuff that high school kids could get right easily.

Anyone have details on McElhinney and her colleague, Phelim McAlee?

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Related posts, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

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