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Save Our Libraries!

When it comes to libraries, all the clichés ring true: perennial sources of wonder; vital points of access for citizens and aspiring citizens alike; the very lifeblood of American democracy. For these reasons, and many others, we should all be alarmed by the 15 percent cut in library funding that Mayor Bloomberg has proposed for fiscal year 2003.

For the Brooklyn Public Library system, a 15 percent reduction in city funding, or 11.1 million dollars overall, would have serious consequences. According to Evan Kingsley, Deputy Director for External Affairs, the loss in city funding, which makes up over 80 percent of the system’s yearly budget, would cause sharp reductions in staff (through attrition), and thus in library hours, which would be restricted to a maximum of 35 hours per week. Most libraries would only be open for five days, with some only open four days. And the cuts would force the Library to reduce (by 15 percent) its budgets for books, electronic services, computer equipment, and all the other necessary items.

Kingsley, however, sees “hope,” specifically coming from the Library’s most reliable ally: the City Council. In the previous administration, the City Council repeatedly resisted Mayor Giuliani’s proposed cuts. But those skirmishes took place during economic good times. Given the current revenue gap, this year it is “not a budget dance,” Kingsley acknowledges. Still, Kingsley is “very, very optimistic” that the City Council, even with its new makeup, is likely to maintain its strong commitment to the libraries. Any Council member can tell you just how important the local library is to their constituents.

For many other areas of the city’s public domain, Mayor Bloomberg has floated proposals to sell corporate naming rights or to initiate other forms of private sponsorship. Such ideas have not been in circulation in the library debate, or at least not yet. But fighting for our libraries ultimately corresponds with a larger, more all-encompassing struggle: to keep our public sphere truly public. We urge you to do all you can to help keep this ideal from becoming as obsolete as the card catalog.


Transparency for Some

The quick passage of the Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act in October of last year brought harsh criticism from many civil libertarians throughout the United States. The act significantly enhances the federal government’s scope regarding domestic surveillance and covert searches and seizures of citizens, as well as the definitions, prosecution, and detention of “terrorists” and “terrorist groups,” going so far as to place parameters in which a protest group involved in a minor vandalism could be deemed “terrorist.” In a time when the public has justified concerns about domestic security, the Bush administration has shifted power away from courts to law enforcement and given more unchecked power to its very own executive branch. The act endangers free speech far more that it enhances real security.

Section 4.11 of the Patriot Act includes a revision that contradicts the First Amendment precedent set by the 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio, which stated that advocacy could be banned only if it represents “incitement to imminent lawless action.” But the Patriot Act now states that immigrants, even after becoming lawful permanent residents, might be found “inadmissibl[e]” for advocating anything that the Secretary of State determines “undermine[s] our anti-terrorism efforts.” In a January speech in Portland, Oregon, President Bush even stated that anyone “who espouses a philosophy that’s terrorist bent, I assure you we will bring that person to justice.” His aides did not elaborate.

Yet while Bush & Co., under the all-powerful aegis of the “fight against terrorism,” seem to be increasingly moving toward a tactic in which political speech and dissent can be legally controlled, they have clamped down on all access to information about their own wheelings and dealings: from George W.’s executive order that disallows the legally mandated access to the papers of the Reagan-Bush era, to the sly transfer of his own gubernatorial records to his dad’s library, rendering them virtually inaccessible to those interested in his connection to Enron; and from Vice President Cheney’s intransigence toward releasing information to the General Accounting Office to, on a more local level, our ex-mayor’s hijacking of the records of his administration.

During a speech at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, Bush stated that America’s continuing war was aimed at nations that “have shown us clearly that they hate freedom, they hate transparency, they hate the rule of law.” This administration, though, has no qualms about legislating against public access to records and quelling democratic political criticism in the name of the “war against terrorism.” Thus, it is time that the public insists that if the administration wants to watch us, we must be able to watch it.

One More Thing

In the spirit of democracy, we invite responses to each and every piece published in the Brooklyn Rail. Write a letter, cook up a longer response, send it by courier pigeon—we’re here to start discussions, not end them. Thank you.


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