Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:30 pm

Odds and ends for June 3

Thirty years ago today, what is still the weirdest true-crime story you’ll ever read concluded horrifically. My friend and former colleague Margaret Moffett checks in with some of the survivors. (EDITED to add: My friend Chris Knight, who grew up near some of the characters in this drama, adds his perspective.)

Perv, meet thief: Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the insufferable pecksniff whose most recent pronouncement was that he wishes he’d “felt like a girl” in high school so that he could have gotten to watch girls shower naked, makes it clear he’ll do anything to get close to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s donors. Scott, of course, led the company that committed history’s largest Medicaid fraud.

No links with this one, just a thought: What if the Obama Justice Department had put as much effort into investigating banksters as it has into investigating FIFA?

Relatedly, no, South Africa, I’m sure your 2008 payment of $10 million had nothing to do with your getting the 2010 World Cup and was in no way a bribe. Perish the thought.

Every so-called “gay-conversion” operation in this country needs to be sued. Saying you can “convert” someone who’s gay is like saying drinking motor oil can cure cancer.

This week’s revamp of U.S. national security laws was a sorely needed first step — and never would have happened without Edward Snowden. So why is Snowden still a wanted criminal?

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that we have a problem with killer cops.

After seeing her in “Easy A,” I would watch Emma Stone in just about anything. But even I thought casting her as part-Asian in “Aloha” was boneheaded. Better late than never, director Cameron Crowe agrees.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory is staking his re-election effort in 2016 on $2.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds. The only reason I’m not saying that the legislature is throwing McCrory under the bus by refusing to put them on the November ballot is that legislative Republicans don’t believe in mass transit.

And our lite gov, Dan Forest, is a moron. (Previously. Also previously.)

Speaking of morons, the legislature has overridden McCrory’s veto of HB 465, the “ag-gag” law. A court will toss it out eventually, but a lot of animals, and quite possibly some people as well, are likely to suffer before that  happens. So much for McCrory’s attempt to position himself politically as a moderate keeping the Visigoth right at bay. I would say that the legislature threw McCrory under the bus on this one, but that would imply that legislative Republicans favor mass transit.

And the Lege has given committee approval to a bill that will gut background checks on private in-state pistol sales by 2021, a bill so bad that many of the state’s sheriffs opposed it.

And lastly, my local paper and former employer, Greensboro’s News & Record, has laid off a bunch more people, including some true stalwarts, one of whom was just months from retiring. At this point, I think it’s fair to conclude that BH Media is no longer even trying to cut its way to profitability. It is now simply milking what it can for as long as it can, at which point it will shut down the papers one by one and sell off the real estate, some of it quite valuable, that those papers sit on. And it’s past time we in Greensboro start thinking about who or what will be able to provide the journalistic firepower to truly hold the powerful accountable in this community.

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014 9:30 pm

Who really won the Pulitzer Prize for public-service journalism?

It’s a more complicated question than it appears, and who better than Jay Rosen to make complicated questions of journalism easier to understand?

Officially, the prize went to The Washington Post and to the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. for reporting on the National Security Agency’s lawbreaking and overreaching, based on documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Officially.

But this case illustrates how the process of news gathering, editing, and publishing/distribution has changed in the Internet age. The bad news, if you want to call it that, is that the Pulitzer committee hasn’t caught up yet. The good news, and we definitely want to call it that, is that those agencies that want to suppress the publication of material whose publication is in the public interest, such as the British agents who smashed the Guardian’s MacBook Pros despite knowing that Snowden’s cache of records was alive and well elsewhere on the planet and in cyberspace, haven’t caught up yet, either.

As Rosen puts it, a writer or a paper/news outlet doesn’t publish a story anymore; a system does. And if the Pulitzer committee has trouble wrapping its head around that, that’s OK. I and many other former and current journalists I know would trade a Pulitzer in a heartbeat for the chance to be able to continue performing public-service journalism at least one step ahead of those entities who would unconstitutionally and illegally suppress it.

UPDATE, 4/16: Who really won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism? It damn sure wasn’t ABC News.

Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:28 pm

Real courage

From author and former war correspondent Chris Hedges:

I have been to war. I have seen physical courage. But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage. For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution.

The American Army pilot Hugh Thompson had moral courage. He landed his helicopter between a platoon of U.S. soldiers and 10 terrified Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre. He ordered his gunner to fire his M60 machine gun on the advancing U.S. soldiers if they began to shoot the villagers. And for this act of moral courage, Thompson, like Snowden, was hounded and reviled. Moral courage always looks like this. It is always defined by the state as treason—the Army attempted to cover up the massacre and court-martial Thompson. It is the courage to act and to speak the truth. Thompson had it. Daniel Ellsberg had it. Martin Luther King had it. What those in authority once said about them they say today about Snowden.

I’ll entertain the argument that if Snowden were truly morally courageous, he would return to the U.S. to stand trial. But I’ll also reject it, because since 9/11 the government has shown itself lacking in judgment and common sense, let alone adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law, on issues of national security. It has no business judging Snowden, and I give Snowden credit for having the smarts to recognize that fact.

That said, for all I know, Snowden is an absolute creep, if not a criminal, in other areas of his life. You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters are the documented facts about our government’s malfeasance, committed in our name and with our tax dollars, that he has brought to light. Bruce Springsteen once said, “Trust the song, not the singer.” And while lots of critics have lambasted Snowden for demonstrably violating the conditions of his security clearance and arguably breaking the law (and have criticized journalist Glenn Greenwald for publishing the information Snowden obtained and also for his sometimes-obnoxious online behavior), no one has proved any of the factual assertions false that Snowden and Greenwald have brought to light.

I’ll say it again: They might be jackasses, but they are jackasses who are right.

Hedges probably also is right about what historians will say about Snowden. Hugh Thompson, his example, was, in his later years, brought to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to instruct future Army officers on ethics. It’s possible, if not likely, that some of the same officers criticizing Snowden today sat in Thompson’s classes. Pity, for them and the nation, that they didn’t listen.

(h/t: Fec)

 

Friday, January 17, 2014 8:45 pm

The rough men who stand ready on our behalf

I understand that a lot of people are angry with Edward Snowden for exposing the National Security Agency’s enormous, and arguably illegal, domestic surveillance program. I get it. He violated an oath and took his nation’s secrets not only to the nation, which definitely needed to hear at least some of them, but also, in some form, to places they shouldn’t have gone, such as China and Russia.

Still, someone needs to explain to me how a nation under the rule of law squares its Constitution with comments from these people who also have taken oaths, in this case to uphold that Constitution:

Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30-year-old whistle-blower.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly. “I do not take pleasure in taking another human beings life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single-handedly the greatest traitor in American history.”

An aside: you can love the idea of killing someone you believe is a traitor, or you can refrain from taking pleasure in the taking of another human being’s life. But you can’t do both. We continue:

That violent hostility lies just beneath the surface of the domestic debate over NSA spying is still ongoing. Some members of Congress have hailed Snowden as a whistle-blower, the New York Times has called for clemency, and pundits regularly defend his actions on Sunday talk shows. In intelligence community circles, Snowden is considered a nothing short of a traitor in wartime.

“His name is cursed every day over here,” a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas intelligence collections base. “Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.”

One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.

“I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” he said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

Yeah, just innocently dying in a scenario conjured up by James Bond’s SMERSH. Nothing to see here.

If you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, which includes among its guarantees protections against punishment with without due process (a formal charge and, unless defendant pleads guilty, a formal trial), then you don’t get to say crap like this. Indeed, saying it is, arguably, the speaker’s own violation of his own oath and as deserving of punishment as is Snowden’s behavior.

Being a nation under the rule of law isn’t always convenient. Having what is supposed to be the world’s greatest criminal-justice system isn’t easy, has never been easy, and was never intended to be easy. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And if you can’t handle that, then don’t take the oath, put on the uniform, and draw the pay.

This won’t end well for Snowden no matter how it ends; I suspect the best he can expect is to live out his life in a hostile nation, a life that is likely to lose its value to that nation sooner rather than later. And if he does return to the U.S., he almost certainly faces most of the rest of his life in prison, if not a (formal) death sentence.

Even so, a nation that is supposed to operate under the Constitution that we say we operate under does not do summary executions, full stop.

(This probably won’t be my last word on Snowden’s case; it certainly is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of that case. One point at a time for now.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 7:58 pm

A scandal? No. But not an unreasonable question, either.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, whom I seldom have much use for, actually makes himself useful here:

Did the Obama Administration ever spy on Mitt Romney during the recent presidential contest? Alex Tabarrok, who raised the question at the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution, acknowledges that it is provocative. Until recently, he would’ve regarded it as a “loony” question, he writes, and he doesn’t think that President Obama ordered the NSA to spy on Romney for political gain.

Let’s be clear: I don’t think so either. In every way, I regard Obama as our legitimate head of state, full stop. But I agree with Tabarrok that today, “the only loonies are those who think the question unreasonable.” * Most Americans have a strong intuition that spying and electoral manipulation of that kind could never happen here. I share that intuition, but I know it’s nonsense: the Nixon Administration did spy on its opponents for political gain. Why do I worry that an unreformed surveillance state could put us in even greater jeopardy of such shenanigans?

Charlie Pierce, even less of a fan of Friedersdorf than I am, also thinks Friedersdorf has a point — not about Obama, but about the larger issue of unchecked national-security power in a constitutional republic:

I don’t think the Obama people bugged the Romney people either, but Barack Obama’s only going to be president until 2016. The NSA is forever. This should concern us all.

True, and, as Friedersdorf points out, it isn’t just the guys at the top, like NSA director Keith Alexander [no relation that I know of], who pose the threat. Sure, Alexander or a successor might be sorely tempted to impede the progress of any political candidate who they knew intended to rein in the NSA. But that’s not the only scenario that leads to trouble:

Forget about Alexander. Let’s think about someone much lower in the surveillance state hierarchy: Edward Snowden. As we know, Snowden broke protocol and violated his promise to keep classified information secret because his conscience demanded it: He believed that he was acting for the greater good; his critics have called him a narcissist for taking it upon himself to violate rules and laws he’d agreed to obey.

It isn’t hard to imagine an alternative world in which the man in Snowden’s position was bent not on reforming the NSA, but on thwarting its reformers—that he was willing to break the law in service of the surveillance state, fully believing that he was acting in the best interests of the American people.

A conscience could lead a man that way too.

This Bizarro Edward Snowden wouldn’t have to abscond to a foreign country with thousands of highly sensitive documents. He wouldn’t have to risk his freedom. Affecting a U.S. presidential election would be as easy as quietly querying Rand Paul, or Ron Wyden, or one of their close associates, finding some piece of damaging information, figuring out how someone outside the surveillance state could plausibly happen upon that information, and then passing it off anonymously or with a pseudonym to Politico, or The New York Times, or Molly Ball. Raise your hand if you think that Snowden could’ve pulled that off.

And if you were running for president, or senator, even today, might you think twice about mentioning even an opinion as establishment friendly as, “Hey, I’m all for NSA surveillance, but I don’t trust a private contractor like Booz Allen Hamilton to do it”? Maybe safeguards put in place since the first Snowden leak would prevent a Bizarro Edward Snowden with strong Booz loyalties from targeting you.

Maybe. Why risk it?

In yet another scenario, the NSA wouldn’t go so far as to use information obtained through surveillance to affect an election. But they’d use it to their advantage to thwart the reform agenda of the candidate they didn’t like if he or she won.

And maybe the NSA would be as horrified by this sort of thing as I am. But maybe one of their contractors is on the payroll of a foreign government, andthat person wants to affect a presidential election by exploiting the unprecedented amounts of data that the surveillance state has collected and stored on almost everyone.

American democracy could be subverted in all sorts of hypothetical ways. Why worry about this one in particular? Here’s the general standard I’d submit as the one that should govern our thinking: If a powerful institutional actor within government has a strong incentive to do something bad, the means to do it, and a high likelihood of being able to do it without getting caught, it will be done eventually.

The NSA has the incentive. At least as recently as the Snowden leaks, an unknown number of its employees or contractors had the means. And many informed observers believe abuse undetected by overseers could be easily accomplished.

We need to pull back hard on the reins of the NSA now, and to the greatest extent possible we need to get private, for-profit corporations out of the national-security business. And we need to start today because it’s only going to get harder the longer we wait.

Monday, August 12, 2013 6:04 pm

Julia Ioffee is my new blogging hero

I’ve not had much use for The New Republic ever since they published that crap that was reputed to have eviscerated Clinton’s health plan (and did nothing of the sort, not that I’m bitter), and to be honest, before today I don’t recall hearing of Julia Ioffee despite subscribing to The New Yorker, for which she spent time in Moscow. But — and speaking of evisceration — her takedown of MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell is one of the most righteously satisfying things I’ve read on a blog — or anywhere else, for that matter — since Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” If they ever find a way to turn this post into a movie, Morgan Freeman’s status as an icon may be in serious danger. Just go read the whole thing.

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