Reagan’s Dead

Now is no time to be uncharitable. Ronald Reagan died a long, lingering death that was doubtless heartbreaking for everyone close to him. I never thought I’d find myself saying so, but I admire Nancy Reagan for responding to her husband’s decline by taking on the fundamentalists and flat-earthers (like Bush and cronies) to demand more aggressive embryonic stem-cell research that might lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s. Good for her.

As for the former president himself, it must be noted from the Infospigot perspective that he became the answer to a big presidential trivia question: Which former chief executive lived to the greatest age? (I think John Adams, who remained lucid to the end, was the former title holder; he died at age 90, but that’s a well-known story).

Standing apart from the instant canonization and overnight hagiography of Reagan the Great, the Pious, the Good-Humored, the Brave, the Handsome, the Rugged, the Well-Spoken (who looks especially good when compared with the resident White House squatter), let us remember the Ron who (short list, and everyone has their own favorites):

–Played war heroes and talked tough, but never served in the ranks himself.

–Declared with relish that he would “loose the dogs of war” on

protesters at the University of California, which led to National Guard

helicopters gassing the campus.

–Ran up a deficit higher than an elephant’s eye, then shrugged and walked away from it (an obvious role model for Bush).

–Signed off on, then slept through, Iran-contra.

–Appointed James Watt secretary of the Interior.

–Made ketchup a vegetable.

–Pointed with pride to his union-busting (remember PALCO)?

–Invited the Bush dynasty into the White House.

But hey, he loved macaroni and cheese. What a guy.

Haymarket Square

Haymarket5

May 4, 1886: A bomb kills 12 people (including eight police officers) during a labor rally on Chicago’s near West Side. The bomber was never caught, but police arrested eight leaders of the rally, who were subsequently convicted despite the lack of evidence tying them to the attack. A year and a half after the bombing, despite a worldwide outcry at the miscarriage of justice, four of the organizers were hanged, and one committed suicide.

Actually, I wasn’t thinking of the anniversary at all, but I saw it in a list of events for May 4 (for me, May 4 is mostly the day in 1864 U.S. Grant launched his bloody but ultimately successful campaign against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia). Taking a very short look around, I found a couple of great online resources about Haymarket (which resonated through Illinois and national politics for years afterward and played a role in one of my favorite historical novels, Howard Fast’s "The American," about the life of Governor John P. Altgeld). Check out the Chicago Historical Society’s  detailed history of the case. Also good: The Chicago Public Library’s online Haymarket collections (from which the picture above is taken), which includes a brief writeup on the history of the famous (in Chicago) Haymarket statue memorializing the police victims of the bombing and was still attracting bombing attempts as late as 1970.

April Tornadoes

News of the tornado that hit Utica, Illinois, on Tuesday night made me think about the deadly twisters (see, I still have some newspaper guy in me) that hit northern Illinois on April 21, 1967. I remember the day because Mom picked me up at school and we had to get off the road when an extremely intense thunderstorm swept through; she pulled off Exchange Street into an abandoned farm yard in what is now a commercial area in University Park. It was only about 4 in the afternoon, but the sky was nearly black and it rained so hard for about five or ten minutes that you couldn’t see to drive. As it turned out, storms were sweeping the entire region.  At 4:30, a twister hit a high school in Belvedere, just outside Rockford, killed 24 and injured 400. About 45 minutes later, another tornado struck Oak Lawn and nearby suburbs, about 20 miles north of us, killing 33 and injuring 500.

‘Men of Zeal … Without Understanding’

Some snippets from Olmstead v. United States, a 1928 Supreme Court case that considered whether unauthorized police wiretapping is a violation of the Fourth Amendment (“the right of the people to be secure …  against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”) and the Fifth Amendment (“no person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”). It arose from a bootlegging bust in Washington state in which federal prohibition agents had, in violation of a state law, secretly tapped phone lines to get evidence.

The majority, in a pedestrian and short-sighted opinion (by Chief Justice William Howard Taft) that the current administration would love, ruled, in essence, that it was fine for the agents to tap the lines and listen in because they hadn’t physically intruded on the suspects’ property when they did it.

Associate Justice Louis Brandeis wrote the most important of several dissents. He demonstrated the absurdity of the majority’s finding on the nature of wiretapping and added lessons on privacy, the need for individual protections against government power, and government’s responsibility to act within the law. The passage most apt for today’s America: one in which he warns of the danger of government pursuing “benificent” ends — making sure we’re all secure from terrorists, say — regardless of the means: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

A few passages from Brandeis’s Olmstead dissent:

“… The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect, that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And the use, as evidence in a criminal proceeding, of facts ascertained by such intrusion must be deemed a violation of the Fifth. …

“… Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. …

“Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means-to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal-would bring terrible retribution.”

Prison: Their Home Away from…

I see that Illinois’s last governor, George Ryan, has been indicted. Quite a record for the last half-century of Prairie State governors:

William G. Stratton: Indicted for income-tax evasion (acquitted).

Otto Kerner: Indicted and convicted (bribery and other charges).

Sam Shapiro: Never charged with anything, but then he only had eight months in office.

Richard Ogilvie: Clean, so far as we know. Probably why he only served one term.

Dan Walker: Indicted and convicted–in his post-politics career–as an S&L thief.

Jim Thompson: His career was about indicting other people, for a change.

Jim Edgar: No dirt so far.

George Ryan: Indicted.

Score:

Seven governors.

Four indicted; three unindicted.

Two convicted.

One acquitted.

One with charges pending.