Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 7:31 pm

Two quick thoughts on Aaron Swartz: Lambert Strether’s and mine

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Strether, via Rick Perlstein at The Nation:  “Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz’s [sic] of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal. If Swartz had been Wall Street’s youngest investment banker, he would be alive today.”

Mine: A nation that cannot find places for its Aaron Swartzes is a nation in decline. A nation that persecutes its Aaron Swartzes has turned its face from God and deserves whatever disaster befalls it.

(More on  Swartz by Strether here and here; by Lawrence Lessig here.)

Charlie Pierce, as he so often does, catches the big picture here: Criminal prosecution is the primary means by which powerful government and business interests combine to quash uprising, even of the intellectual variety. Viewed in that sense, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz (for whose removal you can sign a petition here) didn’t screw up and neither did the criminal-justice system. No, they did exactly what they were supposed to do, even though, by any sane measure, ther only two legitimate targets left in this country for the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act are the Roman Catholic Church and Goldman Sachs.

And if even half the wingnuts screaming that the government is coming for all their guns realized that this is the real way the government is coming after them, we’d have fewer mass shootings in particular and a safer, saner country in general.

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8 Comments »

  1. Retired Federal Judge Joins Criticism Over Handling Of Swartz Case

    BOSTON — A prominent retired federal judge is adding to the chorus of criticism of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz following the suicide of Aaron Swartz last Friday.

    Ortiz’s prosecution of the acclaimed Internet activist for hacking has drawn harsh comment from newspaper editorials, online users and a petition to the White House with 35,000 signatures.

    For 17 years, Nancy Gertner sat as a federal judge here in Boston. She says she was troubled by much of what she learned and saw from the bench before leaving in 2011. And she says Ortiz should not have prosecuted Swartz.

    “Just because you can charge someone with a crime, just because a technical crime has been committed, doesn’t mean you should,” Gertner said.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Wednesday, January 16, 2013 3:19 pm @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  2. Swartz’s lawyer had been working with the AUSA on a plea deal in which he’d have copped to a misdemeanor and served no time .JSTOR had already withdrawn its civil suit and urged Ortiz not to prosecute, inasmuch as Swartz, with a Harvard account, accessed the articles legally and many were in the public domain. MIT’s role appears less certain at this point: Did it urge prosecution, or did it just imply by its silence that it thought the prosecution was appropriate? The president of MIT has appointed someone there to lead an internal investigation, and an online acquaintance of mine on the faculty says that while he’s concerned that such investigations in general are usually just a way to buy time and let people forget that anything wrong happened, he happens to trust this particular individual enough to believe that if MIT committed any errors of action or omission, it’ll come out in the wash. I hope he’s right.

    Also, it is impossible to know how to apportion “blame” for Swartz’s suicide between the prosecution and his own depression (which he had discussed openly), and I wouldn’t presume to. My point, independent of Swartz’s mental problems, is that this prosecution, if justified at all — and I grant the possibility that it was — was grossly disproportionate to the nature of the crime and grossly out of context considering all the war criminals and economy-destroyers walking around free.

    Comment by Lex — Thursday, January 17, 2013 8:55 am @ 8:55 am | Reply

  3. US Attorney Ortiz defends Swartz prosecution

    U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, under fire for her office’s prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz after his suicide Friday while facing more than 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines for downloading academic papers, defended her actions in a statement issued late tonight.

    Ortiz’s response states in full:

    “As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life.

    “I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably. The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct – while a violation of the law – did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases. That is why in the discussions with his counsel about a resolution of the case this office sought an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct – a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting. While at the same time, his defense counsel would have been free to recommend a sentence of probation. Ultimately, any sentence imposed would have been up to the judge. At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to seek – maximum penalties under the law.”

    “As federal prosecutors, our mission includes protecting the use of computers and the Internet by enforcing the law as fairly and responsibly as possible. We strive to do our best to fulfill this mission every day.”

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Thursday, January 17, 2013 7:03 pm @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  4. Oh, please. Carmen Ortiz’s political ambitions are so outsized that I knew about them before Swartz ever got into legal trouble (and it’s not like I have either the time or the inclination to follow Massachusetts politics, so that should give you some idea of how unsubtle she has been). If Swartz hadn’t killed himself, I bet he’d have ended up in one of Ortiz’s future TV campaign ads.

    I don’t know and don’t have time to find out, but if you made me guess, I’d say that this got where it did because of a combination of Ortiz’s political ambitions and the stubbornness of MIT, which, of all the parties involved, had the least at stake but which is big and powerful. I could be wrong and don’t much care either way, but that’s my current take, pending additional info. And I won’t be looking for additional info, but the nature of my blog and Twitter feeds is such that I reckon it’ll find me soon enough.

    UPDATE: Missed this at the time, but last Sunday, The Wall Street Journal quoted Swartz’s attorney, Elliot Peters, as saying that as recently as two days before Swartz killed himself, AUSA Stephen Heymann, was insisting on guilty pleas to all 15 counts and active prison time. Obviously, someone’s lying here — Ortiz, Heymann or Peters. I don’t know who it is, but I think that of the three, Peters has the least reason to. That leaves Ortiz or Heymann. Beyond that, I just don’t know.

    Comment by Lex — Friday, January 18, 2013 12:01 pm @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  5. Did Holder’s Department Drive an Internet Pioneer to His Death?

    “He was killed by the government,” he ( the Father ) declared at his son’s funeral.

    Now allies of Internet freedom on Capitol Hill are going after Attorney General Eric Holder for the prosecution of Swartz.

    “I’m not condoning his hacking, but he’s certainly someone who worked very hard,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told the Huffington Post. “Had he been a journalist and taken that same material that he gained from MIT, he would have been praised for it. It would have been like the Pentagon Papers.”

    Issa said he’s assigned an investigator to the case to gather the facts before proceeding further.

    Swartz and Issa were allies in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and Issa praised Swartz’s work toward “open government and free access to the people” — including in the defeat of SOPA, which would have given the government broad powers to block Internet content, in the last Congress.

    The GOP Senate whip took the case straight to Holder today.

    John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he was “saddened” to learn of Swartz’s death.

    “Mr. Swartz was, among other things, a brilliant technologist and a committed activist for the causes in which he believed – including, notably, the freedom of information. His death, at the young age of twenty-six, was tragic,” Cornyn wrote to Holder.

    “As you are doubtless aware, Mr. Swartz was facing an aggressive prosecution by the Department of Justice when he took his own life. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts accused him of breaking into the computer networks of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloading without authorization thousands of academic articles from a subscription service. While the subscription service did not support a prosecution, in July 2011 the U.S. Attorney’s office indicted him on four counts of fraud and computer crimes, charges that reportedly could have resulted in up to 35 years imprisonment and a $1 million dollar fine. This past September, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a superseding indictment charging Mr. Swartz with thirteen felony counts and the prospect of even longer imprisonment and greater fines,” he continued.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Saturday, January 19, 2013 1:39 am @ 1:39 am | Reply

  6. Aaron Swartz Died For Piers Morgan’s Sins

    ” In 2000, Aaron Swartz, aged 14, had just released his astonishing invention, RSS, liberating news and information, replacing the selection of the tiny minds of editors with your own wide judgment.
    Around the same time, one of Piers Morgan’s stringers hacked into the phone of Sir Paul McCartney’s wife and stole some highly personal, and highly valuable, information — the type of gossip used to sell Morgan’s grotty little scandal sheet, The Daily Mirror, the cornerstone of Morgan’s $20 million fortune based on tittle and t*tties.

    Electronic burglary for profit is a crime in the UK and USA both. But Piers is serving time on prime time, on CNN.

    Aaron Swartz did not get a TV show. The Robin Hood of the Information Liberation Front faced 35 years in prison for a selfless act of civil disobedience. Swartz was charged for the crime of attempting to liberate documents from JSTOR computers. JSTOR is the Goldman Sachs and Politburo of university research papers, a giant information sucker squid that hordes research and discoveries crucial to the public – the public which paid for most of the research.

    (If Oxford joined JSTOR when Isaac Newton published, only a well-heeled elite would have the secret of thermodynamics. If Newton worked for Microsoft, we’d be paying a royalty for the use of gravity.)

    Aaron, rather than face a life in Obama’s dungeon, chose suicide. And Piers?

    Piers liberated information as well – but for his own profit. To his loot from hacked gossip, Piers added fraud on the stock market. His scheme: Two of Morgan’s influential financial columnists would make recommendations to the rubes reading The Mirror. Piers bought the stocks just before they were boosted in his paper. and thereby pocketed tens of thousands of dollars when the stocks got tips went public. His co-conspirators, the reporters, got jail time. Not Piers. He admitted to the profiteering and walked away with a fine.

    So how did Piers get through US immigration when surrounded by a cloud of criminality? Easy: Morgan’s a “genius.”
    Piers Morgan (L) and US Ambassador to the Queen Louis Susman (R) at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The guy in the middle is a literary agent cadging free drinks.
    The US embassy gave him a rare O-1 work permit, known as the “Genius Visa” for “the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts””.

    Odd that: Genius or not, US laws, especially the mellifluously titled, “Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” of 1996, bar work visas to those who have admitted to “the essential elements of a crime” including fraud and white collar felonies.

    But the US Embassy can exercise its “discretion” on visas. And no one is more discrete than the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Mr. Louis Susman, whose credentials are listed as former Vice-Chairman of Citibank and “prolific fundraiser for [the] Democratic Party”. Susman’s embassy did a thorough review of Piers’ visa and stamped Piers a genius and innocent as a lamb. (

    What does “genius” Morgan have to do with the horror of the arrest and death of Aaron Swartz?

    It’s the story of How The System Works–and Whom It Works For
    Swartz, after creating RSS, went on to co-found internet phenomenon Reddit, then social activist group Demand Progress and was named Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics. From there, he led the national uprising against SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have criminalized the spread of information and corporatized its control — all by the age of 26. (Makes you question what the hell you’ve been doing all these years.)

    I’ve read the Justice Department’s indictment of Swartz. The charge would have made Pinochet blush–and Torquemada proud. Swartz hoped to make public millions of university research papers, as the Great Liberator had already done for federal court records. Our rulers couldn’t tolerate this any more than Kings and Popes could accept the printing press and translations of the Bible.

    The Internet was supposed to bring us freedom by making the world’s information available to all. No tyrant, no corporation, no commercial or political monopolist could keep vital information from even the remotest village. But electronic democracy, the free flow of information, has always scared the crap out of the political and commercial oligarchs.

    Did Aaron Swartz deny the oligarchs the ability to extract a monopoly rent for information rightly belonging to us? Of that he was guilty. And by stopping the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” he stopped the theft of our online discourse. Our rulers determined Swartz had to be punished.

    But they would never punish Piers–because Piers Morgan is the puppet clown of the information counter-revolution. I joke about Piers and his newspaper’s attack on my penis –but, as I’ve explained last week [See “Piers Morgan and My Pee-Pee’] , Morgan’s un-humorous purpose was to smear this reporter to discredit my investigation of the corporate takeover of the British government, his two masters.

    You might find it ironic that the government gave Morgan, the fraudster, a Genius visa while indicting Swartz, a true genius.
    But that’s the genius of the system. Democrats and Republicans, Microsoft and Citibank, not to mention the Chinese Politburo, need a huckster like Morgan who, for a mere $2 million from Time Warner (CNN’s owner) will present whatever tickles his bosses and betters. Whether the host of Piers Morgan Tonight is fawning on the feckless landlords of the planet (“Romney is one of the least principled politicians I’ve ever met — and [so] Mitt Romney might just save America”), or merely distracting the public with Britney Spears and pretend controversies, America will be defended from real information by his puppet show.

    Should we deport Piers? Yes: certainly America’s Got Talent has got to be a deportable offense. But as long as the puppeteers dangle $2 million strings, they’ll just find another willing Pinocchio with the genius to let their show go on.”

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Sunday, February 3, 2013 1:19 am @ 1:19 am | Reply

  7. Palast’s account is plausible enough, and I have no reason to disbelieve him and no argument with his opinions here. I just find it funny that you’re relying on him when you’ve disparged so much of his other reporting. ;-)

    As it happens, the chief of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit was sentenced a few days ago to 15 months in prison for trying to sell info about the hacking investigation to News of the World, apparently because she was angry about people being diverted from counterterrorism work to the hacking investigation. That’s a legitimate gripe for all I know, but it’s the wrong way to go about it addressing it, of course. Officially, NotW rejected her offer and no money changed hands … but then that’s what they’d WANT us to think, right?

    There are people in my cohort whose assignment for our Digtal Media Economics class this semester is to follow News Corp., and I’m sure they’re all over this. I’m following Google, however, which isn’t nearly as interesting from a gossip-and-corrupt-cops standpoint. (They even appear close to settling their civil dispute with the EU, which news caused their stock to hit an all-time high on Friday.)

    Comment by Lex — Sunday, February 3, 2013 8:36 am @ 8:36 am | Reply

  8. Palast. Yeah I thought that might startle you. There is probably no hope for his conversion but remember David Horowitz and Saul of Tarsus. Shucks Ronald Wilson Reagan was once a Democrat (-:

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Sunday, February 3, 2013 10:59 am @ 10:59 am | Reply


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