Monday, October 29, 2007

Studs Terkel Editorial in NYT Nails Wiretaps

This morning, Studs Terkel had an editorial in the New York Times about the history of the US executive branch’s “dragnet interceptions”. He remembers a lot. He was born in 1912. Terkel is most famous for his oral histories of just folks, such as the people he interviewed for his book “Hard Times”, which is about the depression in the 1930’s. When his latest book (“My American Century”) came out this past May, Terkel was Jon Stewart’s guest on The Daily Show. He was 95 on May 16th and was the same funny, sharp, insightful raconteur he’s always been. Although he said he’s deaf as a post now. Terkel had open-heart surgery when he was 93 and I believe he was one of the oldest, if not the oldest person to ever come through that kind of operation and be able to tell about it. When I was a kid in the 40’s, we listened to Studs on Chicago’s WGN. I remember commercials on WGN for performances of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” that Terkel used to do with Win Stracke in Chicago. Terkel was blacklisted by the McCarthy hearings and wasn’t allowed to work in television for years. But he continued working in radio. He was a mainstay on Chicago’s WFMT from 1952 until 1998. Studs Terkel’s real name is Louis Terkel. He was reading “Studs Lonegan” at the time he was acting in a play with another actor named Louis. The director wanted to keep the two Louis’s straight and started calling Terkel “Studs”. His last professional acting job was in “Sacco and Vanzetti”, which opened this past March. This morning Studs Terkel says in the New York Times: “I am a plaintiff in one of those lawsuits (against American telephone companies who wiretapped Americans), and I hope Congress thinks carefully before denying me, and millions of other Americans, our day in court...Congress is moving in a haphazard fashion to provide a ‘get out of jail free card’ to the telephone companies that violated the rights of their subscribers. Some in Congress argue that this law-breaking is forgivable because it was done to help the government in a time of crisis. But it’s impossible for Congress to know the motivations of these companies or to know how the government will use the private information it received from them.” He ends his column by saying: “I have observed and written about American life for some time. In truth, nothing much surprises me anymore. But I always feel uplifted by this: Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.”

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