The U.S. Surgeon General has just released a report bemoaning the evils of teen drinking. Underage drinking can certainly carry with it serious problems, but the tone of this report (and indeed the very fact of it) says more about the peculiar role of the Surgeon General as a national moralizer than it does about teens hitting the bottle.
The post of Surgeon General, created in 1871, originally involved management of the nation’s military hospital system, and then eventually of the Public Health Service. But in 1968, responsibility for running the Public Health Service was handed over to the Assistant Secretary for Health in what was the predecessor to today’s Department of Health and Human Services, where it still resides today. The Surgeon General thereby lost the bulk of his administrative responsibilities and became instead a kind of national spokesman on public health issues.
Viewing producer James Cameron and director Simcha Jacobovici’s documentary film The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which deals with the alleged discovery of Jesus and his family’s burial crypt in Jerusalem, I found myself more favorably impressed than I thought I would be. I was prepared for something sloppily sensationalistic, partly because of the public-relations hype and partly because some ten years ago Jacobovici made a documentary about the ten lost tribes of Israel, a subject I happen to know something about, that was precisely such a film.
True, there are claims made in The Lost Tomb that might wisely have been toned down a bit, such as the film’s argument that a sarcophagus found in the crypt and not implausibly identified as having belonged to Mary Magdalene proves, à la The Da Vinci Code, that she was Jesus’ wife. Also, although I can understand the logic of putting them in for commercial reasons, I could have done without the dramatic reconstructions of New Testament scenes, which detract from the film’s documentary verisimilitude.
Under what circumstances is it right to lie to federal investigators or to a grand jury? There is only one answer: none. If that is what Scooter Libby did–and it is what a jury of eleven concluded he did by convicting him of four of five counts–then he is guilty as charged. But Libby is still maintaining his innocence. The legal burden now falls on him, not on the government, to show why his conviction should be overturned.
Nevertheless, this case represents a terrible injustice, which was the point of my posting here yesterday that has stirred so much controversy in the comments section. Comparison with the investigation of Bill Clinton, and the perjury charges that were leveled by the House of Representatives when it voted to impeach him, is instructive.
To begin with, both cases featured the familiar phenomenon of runaway special counsels. Although the independent-counsel statute under which Clinton was endlessly investigated and ended in his impeachment has expired, it was a recipe for mischief. By vesting executive authority in a prosecutor not subject to the control of the executive branch, Congress had created a constitutional anomaly, one with unintended and destructive effects that plagued Democratic and Republican administrations alike. True, Fitzgerald’s appointment was the result of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s self-recusal, and he was endowed with a different set of powers from those granted to Kenneth Starr, but he operated every bit like a one-case prosecutor, effectively unchecked by line-authority in the executive branch.
Though Hillary Clinton’s delivery of a speech in a broad southern dialect at an Alabama church was perhaps the most entertaining moment of last weekend’s political follies, Barack Obama delivered the best speech so far in the 2008 primaries. Kudos to whoever wrote it.
His remarks, delivered at a church in Selma, Alabama, circled around the central idea that he, the 45-year-old son of an African man and a white American woman, whose “blackness” has been questioned by black political leaders, is a modern “Joshua.” Senator Obama cited a letter he received from a well-known preacher that said, “if there’s some folks out there who are questioning whether or not you should run, just tell them to look at the story of Joshua, because you are part of the Joshua generation.”