Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, August 28, 2015 11:32 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 28

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may be a kiddy diddler or he may be totally innocent, but one way or the other, it’s long past time we found out which.

Even if this climate change legislation passes in California, I fear the extraction industries have too much sway in Congress to save us from climate-change-based extinction.

Sigh. The government gets another chance to justify its blatantly unconstitutional NSA info-gathering.

So guess what Subway knew years in advance about spokesperv Jared Fogle. Go on. You’ll never guess.

John Oliver now has been cited, approvingly, in a federal court decision. Go, John.

The anti-choice movement doesn’t give a damn about sexism, racism or ableism. They just want you to think they do. For that matter, if they gave a damn about preventing abortions, they’d be supporting cheaper, better birth control and better sex education, but they don’t care about that, either. What they care about is, to borrow a phrase from Charlie Pierce, ladyparts and the ladies who use them without permission.

We’re still holding dozens of people in Guantanamo whom we plan neither to charge nor to release. Sorry, Obama (and whoever succeeds you), but you don’t get to play that game. Charge ’em or let ’em go. Put up or shut up.

Was the “Nazi gold train” in Poland near the end of World War II real? And has it been found? Stay tuned.

Amid the Ashley Madison scandal, right-wing Christianity has been the dog that didn’t bark.

Turns out loser La. Gov. Bobby Jindal asked President Obama not to talk about climate change when he visited New Orleans yesterday for the Katrinaversary (h/t: @adrastosno). And the president reminded us again how empty is the bag of fks he has to give. Also: bonus stuff Jindal either doesn’t understand or is being paid to ignore.

If Peggy Noonan would just stop drinking, she’d sober up and realize that, no, Donald Trump is not going to carry the Hispanic vote. But that’s an “if” too far.

My friend Mark Barrett addresses the Koch Brothers’  move into N.C. health care, which can only be bad.

Finally, just because, my friend Beau Dure on the lyrical mess that is R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

Oh, and wait: A Friday Random 10!

R.E.M. – Driver 8 (You can’t make this up)
Delta Moon – Money Changes Everything
LMNT – Juliet
Velvet Underground – Waiting for the Man
Legendary Pink Dots – Black Highway
Jackson Browne – Pretender
Carbon Leaf – What About Everything
Morissey – Suedehead
Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World
Counting Crows – Rain King

lagniappe: Romeo Void – Never Say Never

 

Monday, June 1, 2015 7:38 pm

Odds and ends for June 1

So the Orange County (CA) DA’s office handled a slam-dunk murder case so corruptly that all 250 prosecutors in the office have been barred by a judge from having any further to do with the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which is a big ol’ ugly ball of law-enforcement and prosecutor malfeasance so big that all sorts of very bad types may be set free before they should’ve been, or may never face trial, because of it. Coda: If you think that’s the only place this kind of cheating is going on, you’re kidding yourself.

Quasi-relatedly, we don’t just have cops killing unarmed African Americans, we now have repeat offenders.

Some of the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight last night and ZOMG SHARIA LAW OH NOES!!11!!1!!ELEVENTY!!1! Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Oh. (pause) OK. But this could.

Presented, without snark, some seriously hopeful news about treating cancer.

Microsoft will release Windows 10 — for free — July 29. But you’ll take away my Windows 7 Pro when you pry my cold dead hands from it stop offering security upgrades for it like you stopped for Windows XP, I guess.

Airlines aren’t just greedy, they’re also stupid. Exhibit A: United Airlines.

Gosh, an elected official in North Carolina can’t even engage in a little public bigotry anymore without people complaining about it.

The mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O’Neal, is walking almost 300 miles to Washington, D.C. — again — to — again — try to draw attention to lack of health care in rural areas.

An American tourist visiting a lion preserve in South Africa rolled down her car window just like she’d been told not to do and got mauled to death. Commenters on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the lion, and I’ve got to say, so am I. Lady, what part of “nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?

The News & Record unveiled its newly redesigned website today. It’s still butt-ugly and it still doesn’t have RSS feeds. Bright side: They resurrected the URL Greensboro.com, which they never should have stopped using in the first place.

92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte finished a marathon Sunday, so I really don’t want to hear about your bad back or your sore feet.

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for May 27

Back from vacation. Let’s get to work, shall we?

The U.S. government is still good for something — in this case, finally taking on the continuing criminal enterprise that is FIFA. (My daughter has been saying for two years that the organization’s leaders were committing fraud and worse. She’s 16.) I suspect the reason we’re doing it instead of, say, Switzerland, is that we can — because soccer’s popularity here is so low that no one will raise much of a defense of the indefensible.

I love this pope. He has been, in the opinion of this outsider, better for the Roman Catholic church than anything since Vatican II. But he still has a couple of enormous moral blind spots.

Paid Microsoft support for the U.K. government’s many computers still running Windows XP ran out in April 2015. The transition to Windows 7 or 8.1 was supposed to be complete by now, but it isn’t for many government agencies, which will have to negotiate their own, much more expensive service deal with Microsoft. Meanwhile, those machines aren’t getting any more security upgrades and thus could become vulnerable to hacking. (I have a perfectly good XP machine that isn’t powerful enough to run Win7, so when Microsoft stopped providing security updates to consumers a year ago, I turned it into a Linux machine. Still works like a charm.)

My heart and some of my money are going out to the victims of Texas tornadoes and flooding. But I’ve got to point out a couple of things. First, the increasing severity of storms such as this is a direct result of increased mean atmospheric temperature. As we learned in school, the warmer air is, the more moisture it can hold, and the more moisture is in the air, the more severe storms are. So global-warming denialists in Texas, particularly in its government, really need to sit down and shut up now. Second, I assume that all the hot air from Texas politicians about the Jade Helm military maneuvers will now cease while those same politicians ask the federal government for millions in disaster relief. Right?

Quasi-relatedly, as H.L. Mencken observed (sort of), it is difficult to make a man understand something when his bonuses depend on his not understanding it. That’s especially true of climate-science deniers and extraction-industry executives. (Note that the market value of remaining extractable carbon fuel runs into the dozens of trillions, and we’d only need to burn another $1 trillion worth to screw ourselves sideways, climate-wise.)

Related to that, crony capitalism continues in Raleigh as extraction interests continue using their bought-and-paid-for legislature to fight solar energy. They have become more vicious because they are more desperate: They know that solar will become economically feasible for replacing more than half of global electricity generation within the next 10 years.

The Supreme Court ruled debtors’ prisons unconstitutional more than 30 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of places from jailing people just because of fines and/or fees they couldn’t pay.

Pretty much everyone who isn’t working in the White House or Congress understands that the NSA’s vast warrantless data-hoovering surveillance program isn’t worth what it is costing us in liberty. So, of course, N.C.’s senior senator, Richard Burr, is arguing for more of it.

At what point is N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory going to realize that the person running the state Department of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wosis incompetent?

And at what point will N.C. voters realize that McCrory himself is incompetent? He has staked his re-election on two proposed bond issues, one for highways and the other for other infrastructure — and hoping that voters won’t realize that if not for his misguided leadership and that of his legislative pals, much of this work could have been done through the ordinary state budgeting process, rather than sinking the state $2.8 billion into debt.

North Carolina doesn’t want to kill messengers. It only wants to sue and/or imprison them.

State officials (which is to say, mainly, state Republicans) are now into their fifth year of arguing that climate change isn’t really a thing, apparently not realizing or caring that “the Atlantic isn’t waiting to see who wins the argument.

Speaking of resisting the inevitable, N.C. lawmakers are still trying to stop gay marriage by unconstitutional means.

The chairman of the UNC System’s Board of Governors, John Fennebresque, says he wants a “change agent” to replace politically fired UNC System president Tom Ross. But he won’t say what he wants changed and says the board doesn’t have a job description even as it runs a nationwide search for Ross’s successor. Let’s be real clear here: Fennesbresque and the board wouldn’t come out and say they fired Tom Ross for political reasons because they knew the public wouldn’t stand for it. And they aren’t saying what they want Ross’s successor to do for the very same reason.

Steven Long, vice chairman of the academic planning committee of the UNC System’s board of governors, says regarding program eliminations, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.” No, schmuck. Education is a public good, and the state university system has a duty to provide benefits to the state as a whole, not just students whose preferred  majors happen to be momentarily popular.

So Charter Communications may buy Time Warner Cable, my personal cable/Internet provider. Is there any reason to think this would mean anything but higher prices and crummier service? Thought not.

Whew. I need another vacation.

 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 7:48 pm

Odds and ends for April 1

I hate April Fool’s Day. Morons spend the day trying to prank news outlets, it’s Amateur Night for everyone you know who has a bad sense of humor, and social media becomes absolutely worthless. That said, all these items either are factually true, untrue only by accident, or my opinion.

Again, this is not an April Fool’s “joke”: The Palestinian Authority is now a member of the International Criminal Court. I think I’ll just hold my breath while Hamas militants are prosecuted for war crimes. Not.

Also not a joke: Generous welfare benefits make people more, not less, likely to want to work, a study finds.

Surprise! N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s privatized lottery plan has failed. And Big Chicken wants to take his “ideas” national.

Some very conservative Roman Catholic priests and lay people are rebelling against Pope Francis’s modest efforts to restore Christianity to the church. The Vatican’s response? “Excommunication is automatic.” Boom!

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has been indicted on public corruption charges in Florida, where he is accused of using his office to promote the business of a big donor.

First, Rep. Tom Cotton and the Gang of 47 tried to take over foreign policy with Israel. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to take over foreign policy as it relates to climate change. Fortunately for the world, McConnell seems to have the reverse Midas touch: Everything he touches turns to shit.

The liberal news/analysis magazine The Nation is suing the federal government over its monitoring of the magazine’s international communications. Seems a good time to remind folks that the Patriot Act sunsets this year unless Congress extends it. Now would be a good time to tell your congresscritter to consign that law to the scrap heap of history and for us all to remember that we’re Americans, not East Germans.

Indiana is discovering that “religious freedom” means different things to different people. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination has decided to move its 2017 convention from Indianapolis to some other, less benighted venue.

Arkansas follows Indiana’s lead with a so-called “religious freedom” bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ folk, despite Walmart’s — Walmart’s! — plea for it not to do so. It’s so bad that pro-Tea Partier Asa Hutchinson, who is the governor and used to be a congresscritter, said he’ll veto the bill unless some of the most extreme parts are deleted. If you’ve gone so far off the deep end that Asa Hutchinson refuses to go with you, you really need to turn around.

North Carolina’s own version of that law has begun to attract opposition not only from Democrats and liberals but also from Republicans and some businesses, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he won’t sign it. (That’s not an outright vow to veto, however.)

Within 30 years — within my kids’ lifetimes, and possibly within mine — North Carolina’s sea level could rise almost 10 1/2 inches, with widespread and expensive ramifications. The legislature has semi-crippled state government’s ability even to talk intelligently about the problem. But, as this blog is fond of saying, you can ignore reality, but reality will not ignore you.

To the extent that North Carolina is growing, it is doing so because of its urban areas, particularly Raleigh and Wake County. So why do state Republicans hate them so?

And although Republicans in the Lege claim their top priorities are jobs, roads, and education, the evidence shows that it’s actually regulating ladyparts and the ladies who use them.

 

 

Friday, February 20, 2015 7:12 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 20

Yeah, we’re in a post-racial society now.

Having decided that hacking cell phones on a case-by-case basis wasn’t efficient enough, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, hacked a sim-card manufacturer, gaining access to billions of cell phones. (We learn of this via a leak from Edward Snowden to The Intercept, but go on, keep telling me how Snowden is nothing but a criminal.)

Some conservative PACs are fleecing their contributors, big-time: to the tune of a combined $50 million or more.

Brian Williams of NBC isn’t the only anchor with a lying-about-being-in-combat problem. Bill O’Reilly at Fox News is another one. David Corn calls him out at Salon. O’Reilly’s response, which was entirely unpredictable, was to call Corn a liar and a “despicable guttersnipe.”

Apparently North Carolina has defeated poverty, because there’s not one other damn reason why the UNC Board of Governors would close the Poverty Center. Except because they’re sociopaths, and thin-skinned ones at that.

Once again, a pesky Constitution gets in the way. This time, it’s the Wisconsin constitution, which,  a state appeals court has ruled, prevents Gov. Scott Walker from overruling administrative orders issued by the state’s elected superintendent of public instruction.

If you like what the Kochs have been trying to do in Wisconsin and here in North Carolina, you’ll love what they’re trying to do in Illinois, where the governor apparently has declared war on everyone who’s not already a millionaire.

Here’s a short, ugly lesson about the ethics of rich people. (Yeah, I know, not all rich people. Still.)

One could be forgiven for thinking that N.C. State Sen. Trudy Wade is just remarkably hard of hearing. In point of fact, the likelier explanation for her behavior is that she’s doing the bidding of a couple of wealthy, silent types who have promised her some sort of recompense even in the unlikely event she loses her Senate seat over her misbegotten, antidemocratic reorganization/redistricting plan for the Greensboro City Council. I find it unlikely to be coincidental that this plan matches up nicely with the Koch playbook for trying to get more Republicans elected even in largely to overwhelmingly Democratic cities. (Yes, the city council is nonpartisan under current law. Like that matters to the Kochs.)

If there ever will be any hope of Tar Heels and Blue Devils getting along, perhaps it will be over beer. We’ll find out early in March.

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 7:41 pm

When we are ruled by barbarians, civility is vastly overrated …

… and that’s why this is a job for the Rude Pundit, who weighs in on both spying and drones:

Are we that crazed about our own precious safety that we simply don’t give a shit anymore about what other nations think when it comes to us “protecting” ourselves from “terrorists”? At this point, the United States views the world as one giant conspiracy out to destroy truth, justice, and high school football. We’re so … insane that Osama bin Laden must be laughing his crab-bitten ass off at the bottom of the ocean. …

The biggest allegation so far is that the NSA monitored the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A question about it to Press Secretary Jay Carney led to one of the all-time great weasel answers: “The President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel.” Now, the Rude Pundit may not be a big city diplomat, but he is a professor, and he knows when the past tense is missing in a sentence. [That’s] so weaselly that actual weasels stood on their hind legs and applauded. …

And before anyone tries to say this is no big deal, much ado about nothing, metadata, or whatever self-deluding nonsense you wanna toss onto the shitpile, what’s more important, huh? Hearing Angela Merkel order take-out bratwurst or whatever … they do in Germany? Or assuring ongoing cooperation from our, you know, allies? ‘Cause those alleged allies are already thinking of telling the United States to [forget about] sharing spy information.

Of course, a little phone and email eavesdropping would be preferable for the people of Pakistan and Yemen, where Obama’s drone war is killing [many] civilians. Like, you know, the “18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, [who] were killed in multiple strikes on an impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work” in July 2012. The U.S. reported that as a successful terrorist murder operation, but Amnesty International discovered that it was, in fact, 18 laborers, including a 14-year old boy, who had [nothing] to do with terrorism. There’s lots more like that in both countries where we rain fiery death on the people.

What’s the game here? Is it that once Obama was shown the real threats to the United States, the [stuff] we’re all too stupid to be allowed to see, he lost his … mind and decided to go survivalist? Or is it that Obama is so concerned, like Democrats before him, to be seen as … tough … at home that he doesn’t really care what people overseas think about the spying and the drones missiles?

The Rude Pundit has a problem with all of this. He can’t just sweep it under the rug, say he trusts Obama, go about his daily life, and be glad that he’s not getting attacked. [Forget] that. He didn’t sign up for this. He’s not gonna pretend it’s okay because it’s not. And if it takes our European allies and the human rights organizations we have trusted for decades to smack us back into reality, then, please, slap away at our contorted faces.

I’m nobody’s idea of a national-security expert, but I would think that when our allies are threatening not to share intelligence with us anymore because of what we do and how we do it, we might want to rethink what we do and how we do it. And these two issues are far from the only problems I have with our president over national security.

Thursday, June 6, 2013 6:07 pm

Oh, now he’s troubled. Jackass.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation.”

Why now, Jim? Didn’t bother you 12 years ago. Didn’t bother you all through the Bush administration. If you had the sense God gave a billy goat and/or were awake in eighth-grade civics, not only wouldn’t you have written the Patriot Act, you’d have opposed it with all your resources and at the top of your lungs, you sorry sack of slime. Lots of very smart people, plus me, told you at the time that this was a wrong call and that it would, inevitably, be misused to justify flat-out crimes. You ignored us. Well, screw you. I hope the government scooped up all your calls and I desperately hope that evidence of a serious crime lies therein. You bent the Bill of Rights over your desk and raped it. The rest of your life in prison is too good for you.

 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8:07 pm

What News Corp. knew, and when it knew it

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:07 pm
Tags: , , ,

I think the legal term for this kind of disclosure is “Oops”:

LONDON (Reuters) – Phone hacking was widely known about at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, according to a reporter blamed as the sole culprit, contradicting repeated denials by senior executives and dragging Britain’s prime minister back into the scandal.

In a letter written four years ago in an appeal against his dismissal from the tabloid, former royal reporter Clive Goodman said the practice of hacking was openly discussed until the then editor Andy Coulson banned any reference to it.

Coulson, who has repeatedly denied all knowledge of the practice, went on to become the official spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, a move which took the affair into the political arena and forced the government to turn on Rupert Murdoch after years of courting his favor.

“This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor,” the Goodman letter said, published as part of a parliamentary investigation into hacking. “Other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.”

Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 along with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, said he had been told he could keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the newspaper — but was fired nonetheless after being sentenced to prison.

The committee investigating the hacking scandal said on Tuesday it would probably recall James Murdoch to give further evidence after receiving the Goodman letter and statements from other parties which contradicted his previous testimony.

Unlike our government, the Brits are perfectly happy to look back rather than (or in addition to) forward. Accordingly, I think Murdoch fils had better have a very good lawyer, because he appears to have lied to Parliament, and right now you couldn’t swing a dead cat in London without hitting an MP who wants the Murdochs gutted like trout.

And again I ask: Is it even barely possible that this kind of practice could have been widespread in Murdoch’s UK properties but nonexistent on this side of the pond? Cuz I don’t think so.

 

 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 7:15 pm

What the magnate overheard

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Although criminal wiretapping issues apparently have been circling around Rupert Murdoch’s News International properties for at least five years, they didn’t really break the edge of my radar until the bit came out last week about News International hacking the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in such a way as to have both given her family false hope that the murder victim (for so she turned out to be) was still alive and bolloxed up the investigation into her slaying.

Right about then, my friend David emailed me about the case. I took a gander and thought to blog about it but also realized that 1) I’d need some time to get up to speed and 2) stuff was starting to happen very, very fast. Just hours after David got in touch, news broke that Murdoch would be shutting down his 168-year-old News of the World Sunday paper, ostensibly the seat of the scandal and unquestionably his most profitable property.

My cynical response to that action is that in all likelihood quite a few people working at News of the World are utterly law-abiding and now find themselves jobless through no fault of their own.  Moreover, I would be hugely surprised if any directly probative evidence surfaces that connects Murdoch himself — or even his son, James — to the commission of any crime, be it hacking voice mail, paying private investigators to do so, bribing cops to do so or even bribing cops to tap the phones of those involved in investigating the very hacking at the root of all this, all crimes that have been at least credibly alleged and in some cases admitted.

If this were America, closing NotW would probably suffice, the possibility that 9/11 victims’ families may have had their phones hacked notwithstanding. Certainly, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell aren’t going to be asking for hearings, let alone holding them, even though Murdoch owns both the New York Post (which, remember, had an interesting connection to the Elliot Spitzer case) and The Wall Street Journal, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., is ever on the lookout for any obstacle to U.S. corporations’ violating the law with impunity. (News International’s parent, News Corp., is a publicly traded company in the U.S.) Unfortunately for Murdoch, however, the Brits are still capable of a right bit of outrage when the high and mighty start cutting corners, particularly in a case with all the ghoulish implications of the Dowler killing. Someone, probably someone close to him and maybe more than one such person, is going to have to take the fall.

But who will that be?

One likely candidate is Andy Coulson, a former NotW editor and also former communications director for British Prime Minister David Cameron. The BBC reports that News has given investigators emails showing that Coulson ordered payment of bribes to police officers when he was editor at NotN.

Another is Les Hinton, another former NotW editor and current publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Seems ol’ Les not only oversaw hacking, he may well have engaged in a cover-up, leading an “investigation” that James Murdoch now acknowledges “wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter.”

If the allegations are correct, both men (and many other people besides) belong in prison, certainly. But there’s yet another actor out there.

That would be Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive. She was NotW editor when Milly Dowler’s voice mail was hacked. Of more interest to those hoping for a bit of schadenfreude vis-a-vis Rupert Murdoch is that she is variously described as Murdoch’s fifth daughter and one of his favorite people on the planet. It is not inconceivable that she is also in this up to her eyeballs.

Since ancient times, bards have noted the intense grief that comes with burying one’s children. If the accounts are correct, Murdoch would sooner throw his blood son to the wolves than his “fifth daughter,” but the wolves may get her despite anything he can do. And if she and Murdoch are as close as everyone says, it is highly improbable that she would roll over on him. More likely she would take her lumps in prison on a bribery or wiretapping charge, knowing that Murdoch’s money and gratitude, if not the aging man himself, would be awaiting her upon her release.

In an imperfect world, the misery he would suffer during her prosecution and confinement might be as close to justice as we get. Of course, it’s still not enough. The fact of the matter, as anyone who has spent a lot of time in the working world knows, is that executives set the tone for their companies. Not a soul above the level of night cops reporter would have hacked voice mail or paid off a cop if News International’s atmosphere hadn’t at least tacitly encouraged that behavior.

UPDATE: DougJ at Balloon Juice proposes a nifty thought experiment:

… imagine that Wikileaks had hacked into an abducted child’s voicemail and deleted some of the messages. Suppose that [Wikileaks founder Julian] Assange claimed that he had no idea this had happened, that he was on vacation that week. What do you think the reaction would be from establishment media?

If Wikileaks somehow became a huge company and Assange a billionaire, this would be all different of course. Murdoch’s techniques are condoned in many quarters simply because when a Galtian overlord does it … that means it is not illegal.

Just ask Jim Sensenbrenner.

Friday, January 14, 2011 8:52 pm

Colombia: Outlaw nation?

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:52 pm
Tags: ,

Colombia — yes, Colombia! Cocaine Heaven! — apparently is more intent on rounding up its outlaws than we are on rounding up ours:

Colombia’s Prosecutor General ordered the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former director of Colombia’s state intelligence agency DAS, for the his alleged involvement in the illegal spying on government opponents.

Noguera, who was director of the DAS between 2002 and 2006, is suspected of having set up the illegal activities of the DAS that included wiretapping supreme court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and opposition politicians.

But Obama says we have to look forward, so Bush, Cheney, Hayden, et al., are walking around free. How’s that workin’ out for ya?

 

 

Sunday, April 11, 2010 11:35 pm

Gasping for breath

The deluge is not over, but the worst of it has passed, and I now have a wee bit of breathing space. So, let’s see, what has happened while I’m gone? Nothing good, it seems:

I have no idea when I’ll be back, so this’ll have to do ya for a while.

Monday, October 12, 2009 8:03 pm

Ceausescu’s ghost; Or, trawling through all the poison for a part that isn’t contaminated, however small.

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:03 pm
Tags: , ,

Moving from the Nobel Peace Prize to the Nobel Prize in Literature, I tip my hat to Digby for steering me to this July interview with newly minted laureate Herta Müller, published in Germany’s Die Zeit. She relates some harrowing incidents from her life as a writer during the reign of the madman Ceausescu. This incident came shortly after she was hounded out of her job as a techbnical translator at a factory (all emphases in the original):

Then came the interrogations. The reproaches: that I wasn’t looking for a job, that I was living from prostitution, black market dealings, as a “parasitic element“. Names were mentioned that I had never heard in my life. And espionage for the BND (West German Intelligence Service) because I was friendly with a librarian at the Goethe Institute and an interpreter at the German Embassy. Hours and hours of fictitious reproaches. But not only that. They needed no summons, they simply plucked me off the street.

I was on my way to the hairdresser’s when a policeman escorted me through a narrow metal door into the basement of a hall of residence. Three men in plain clothes were sitting at a table. A small bony one was the boss. He demanded to see my identity card and said: “Well, you whore, here we meet again.” I had never seen him before. He said I was having sex with eight Arab students in exchange for tights and cosmetics. I didn’t know a single Arab student. When I told him this, he replied: “If we want to, we’ll find 20 Arabs as witnesses. You’ll see, it’ll make for a splendid trial.” Time and again he would throw my identity card on the floor, and I had to bend down and pick it up. Thirty or forty times maybe; when I got slower, he kicked me in the small of my back. And from behind the door at the end of the table I heard a woman’s voice screaming. Torture or rape, just a tape recording, I hoped. Then I was forced to eat eight hard boiled eggs and green onions with salt. I forced the stuff down. Then the bony man opened the metal door, threw my identity card outside and kicked me in the rear. I fell with my face in the grass beside some bushes. I vomited without raising my head. Without hurrying I picked up my identity card and headed home. Being pulled in from the street was more terrifying than a summons. No one would have known where you were. You could have disappeared, and never shown up again or, as they had threatened earlier, you could be pulled out of the river, a drowned corpse. The verdict would have been suicide.

A security apparatus like this degrades the very culture and social fabric of a country, because a security apparatus like this involves not only wiretapping but also informants. Müller tells this story, from when she and her husband, Richard Wagner, had left Romania for Germany:

My file at least answered one painful question. A year after my departure from Romania, Jenny came to visit in Berlin. Since the time of the harassment in the factory she had been my closest friend. Even after I was sacked we saw each other almost daily. But when I saw her passport in our Berlin kitchen, and the additional visas for France and Greece, I confronted her directly: “You don’t get a passport like that for nothing, what did you do to get it?” Her answer: “The secret service has sent me, and I was desperate to see you again.” Jenny had cancer – she is long dead now. She told me that her task was to investigate our flat and our daily habits. When we get up and go to bed, where we do our shopping and what we buy. On her return, she promised, she would only pass on what had been agreed between us. She lived with us, wanted to stay for a month. With each day my distrust grew. After just a couple of days I rummaged through her suitcase and found the telephone number of the Romanian consulate and a copy of our door key. After that I lived with the suspicion that in all probability she had been spying on me from the outset, her friendship just part of the job. After her return, I see from the file, she delivered a detailed description of the flat and of our habits, as “SURSA (source) SANDA”.

But in a bugging protocol from 21 December, 1984, a note in the margin, next to Jenny’s name, reads: “We must identify JENI, apparently there is great trust between them.” This friendship, which meant so much to me, was ruined by her visit to Berlin, a terminally ill cancer patient lured into betrayal after chemotherapy. The copied key made it clear that Jenny had fulfilled her task behind our backs. I had to ask her to leave our Berlin flat at once. I had to chase my closest friend out in order to protect myself and Richard Wagner from her assignment. This tangle of love and betrayal was unavoidable. A thousand times I have turned her visit over in my mind, mourned our friendship, discovering to my disbelief that after my emigration, Jenny had a relationship with a Securitate officer. Today I am glad, for the file shows that our intimacy had grown naturally and had not been arranged by the secret service, and that Jenny didn’t spy on me until after my emigration. You become grateful for small mercies. That my file proves that the feelings between us were real, almost makes me happy now.

There’s just one problem. Twenty years after the madman was put up against a wall, Müller says, huge chunks of his security state still remain, intruding on and intimidating the populace and leeching off the country:

For me each journey to Romania is also a journey into another time, in which I never knew which events in my life were coincidence and which were staged. This is why I have, in each and every public statement I have made, demanded access to the secret files kept on me which, under various pretexts, has invariably been denied me. Instead, each time there was signs that I was once again, that is to say, still under observation.

In spring earlier this year I visited Bucharest, on the invitation of the NEC (New European College). On the first day I was sitting in the hotel lobby with a journalist and a photographer when a muscular security guard inquired about a permit and tried to tear the camera from the photographer’s hands. “No photos allowed on the premises, nor of any people on the premises,” he bellowed. On the evening of the second day I had arranged to have dinner with a friend who, as we had agreed on the phone, came to pick me up from the hotel at six o’clock. As he turned into the street in which the hotel was situated, he noticed a man following him. When he asked to call me at the reception, the receptionist said he would have to fill in a visitors form first. This frightened him because such a thing was unheard of, even under Ceausescu.

My friend and I walked to the restaurant. Again and again he suggested that we cross to the other side of the street. I thought nothing of it. Not until the following day did he tell Andrei Plesu, the Director of the NEC, about the visitor’s form and that a man had followed him on his way to the hotel, and later the two of us to the restaurant. Andrei Plesu was infuriated and sent his secretary to cancel all bookings at the hotel. The hotel manager lied that it was the receptionist’s first day at work and that she had made a mistake. But the secretary knew the lady, she had worked in the reception for years and years. The manager replied that the “patron”, the owner of the hotel, was a former Securitate man who, unfortunately, would not change his ways. Then he smiled and said that by all means the NEC could cancel its bookings with him, but that it would be the same in other hotels of the same standard. The only difference being that you wouldn’t know.

I checked out. After that I didn’t notice anyone else following me. Either the secret service had backed off, or they worked professionally, i.e. unnoticed.

In order to know that a shadow was needed at six o’clock, my phone must have been tapped. Ceausescu’s secret police, the Securitate, has not disbanded, just given another name, the SRI (Romanian Information Service). And according to their own figures, 40% of the staff was taken on from the Securitate. The real percentage is probably much higher. And the remaining 60% are retired and living on pensions that are three times higher than those of everybody else, or they are the new architects of the market economy. Apart from jobs in the diplomatic corps, a former spy in today’s Romania can attain any post.

Life in a surveillance state is degrading, which is only one of many good reasons why the Constitution requires warrants for it. But even without your best friend informing on you, the wiretapping is bad enough — which, unfortunately, is a concept our newly minted Nobel Peace laureate seems to have trouble grasping.

Friday, July 10, 2009 8:22 pm

Report on the illegal warrantless-wiretapping program

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:22 pm
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The Inspector General’s report on the illegal warrantless-wiretapping program begun under President Bush has been released. Here it is.

Blogger Marcy Wheeler has been following this issue in detail for quite a while. Her still-ongoing analysis begins here. Some of her findings:

I imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more about this.

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