Sunday, June 30, 2013

Photo of the Day: 92 Years Young


Rosanell Eaton is participating in the Moral Mondays Movement. Think Progress caught up with her to find out why. 
(Relayed by her daughter Armenta while Rosanell rested her voice) “What brought her out was the possibility of requiring voter ID. She was required when she was 21 years old to repeat the preamble to the Constitution in order to register. She did it! She didn’t even know she had to do it, she was just smart. They would yank you around back in those days. She was valedictorian of her class, she knew all that stuff. It’s what she had to go through. She thought things were smooth sailing. She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again. ”
You looking for heroes? I think we found one!

On heroes and power

We've been talking a lot about heroes lately. The conversation actually started when, the day after he published the first leak by Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald instructed us about who fits in that category (namely: Snowden and other whistleblowers leakers).
The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism. 
But a lot of that talk went silent after Snowden's stint in Hong Kong followed by his suggestion that he was prepared to leak more documents to foreign journalists and then a trip to Russia.

All of this calls into question the whole idea of how we go about anointing heroes. That's why I found this statement by Greenwald to be fascinating.
“My grandfather...taught me that whatever skills you have should be devoted toward undermining the people who are the strongest and most powerful,” Greenwald said.
Based on what I've seen from Greenwald over the years, that statement is a pretty clear reflection of his approach. But I think it also reflects a key problem for too many on the left...an aversion to power. Anyone with power is automatically suspect (ie, for Greenwald they are always liars). And anyone who attacks them is a hero.

That - in a nutshell - is what sparked the battle that became known in some quarters as the Obamasux vs the Obamarocks groups following the 2008 election. The latter saw Barack Obama's election as an opportunity for progressive change now that an imperfect but dedicated champion had gained power via a broad coalition of the electorate. To the former - he immediately became suspect as the wielder of that power.

The truth is that until the Obamasux crowd can reconcile themselves to the reality that power is needed to actually make the changes they seek, they will be confined to the privilege of cynicism. No matter who has gained political power (or how they got it), their heroes will be those who challenge that power. In doing so, they relegate themselves to perpetual victim status - always the underdogs in a battle against those who have the means to change things.

I've written before about how this reaction to power by many on the left is - at heart - rooted in the notion that power is always about dominance (power over) and a blindness to the power of partnership (power with). As liberals we have no need to fear the power of partnership. As a matter of fact, it is the fuel that has ignited every accomplishment the left has made in this country.  My heroes tend to be those who recognize that kind of power and find ways to use it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Change is a motherf*cker when you run from it"

As the backlash develops to what Dr. William Barber II calls the "third reconstruction," I am reminded of how perceptively Derrick Jensen described what we're seeing these days in his book The Culture of Make Believe.
From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement...

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.
In other words, this is not some new sexism, racism, homophobia that is showing its face. Its been there all along - disguised as tradition (Paula Deen) or religion (Mike Huckabee). What has changed is that women, people of color and LGBT are developing the "power and wherewithal to not go along with the perceived entitlement." Fear and hatred can no longer be normalized and are thus being exposed.

I think its important that we recognize this so that we see what is happening as the result of progress rather than feed our own fears about going backward. The beast is in its death throes and everyone - I mean EVERYONE - knows how this story is going to end eventually. That's what they're so afraid of.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance...

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable...

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense... And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year. 

A theme emerges when you take it all in

Perhaps you've noticed that I haven't been writing as much lately as I normally do. There's a reason for that. I've always said that my tendency is to pay attention to the big picture (if you're looking for a site to keep you up-to-the-minute on the latest news, this is definitely the wrong one to watch). This week big stories have been coming at us so fast that its impossible to have the time to digest them - much less reflect. Frankly, I'm exhausted just trying to keep up.

I think it would be helpful to list the big things that happened in the last few days:
  1. The SCOTUS decision to basically gut the Voting Rights Act.
  2. DOMA is unconstitutional and equal marriage returns to California.
  3. The awakening of Texas Democrats with the Wendy Davis filibuster.
  4. The Senate passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform 68-32 to shouts of "Yes We Can" from Dreamers in the gallery. Please proceed Speaker Boehner.
  5. President Obama's trip to Africa and images like this.
  6. Minority Leader Pelosi wants to craft the "John Lewis Voting Rights Act."
  7. George Zimmerman's murder trial and the trashing of Rachel Jeantel.
  8. The passive/aggressive embrace of victimhood by Southern white women as demonstrated by Paula Deen's racism and apology tour.
Does anyone else notice a theme? Yep. "There's something happening here" and its really important that we get the big picture right

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"There's something happening here..."

As regular readers here know, I've been talking for awhile now about how what we're witnessing is the white male patriarchy in its death throes. Yesterday 5 Justices on the Supreme Court were the latest to lash out when they basically issued a ruling that guts the Voting Rights Act.

What I've also been suggesting is that we are in the midst of a third wave of a movement to remedy this country's original sin of slavery and racism. Of course the first was the Civil War that ended slavery and the second was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 60's that ended Jim Crow. In both of those movements white people gave African Americans legal standing. Over the course of the last 50 years, they've used those legal rights to raise themselves up. The challenge white people are facing today is that it is finally time to look African Americans (and other people of color) in the eye - face to face as equals. And even occasionally see them as our leaders. That's not going down real well. And so the dying beast is lashing out.

All of that came together in this fascinating video by Dr. William Barber II, President of the NC NAACP. I know most people won't take the time to listen to a 7 1/2 minute video. But you need to watch this and learn how what is happening RIGHT NOW is informed by our history.



In Rev. Dr. Barber's view, we are currently going through the third reconstruction. The first Reconstruction took place after the Civil War. Fusion politics — a governing coalition including Lincoln Republicans, freedmen and former slaves, and populists — made it possible for former slaves to become business, community, and political leaders. But fusion politics was snuffed out by a violent backlash, and replaced by Jim Crow laws that blocked African Americans from voting through poll taxes, impossible "tests," and terrorism.

In the 1960s, there was another attempt at reconstruction, better known as the Civil Rights Movement. The progress we made was met with another violent backlash, culminating in the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

Rev. Dr. Barber identifies the possibility of a third reconstruction, one that could actually succeed, with the launch of Barack Obama's campaign for president in 2008. Once again, this attempt at fusion politics has been met with a hateful backlash. The backlash against integration, equality, and trans-racial governing coalitions has, in all three instances, included attacks on voting rights of African Americans and other minorities. Rev. Barber believes that change is inevitable because of demographic shifts in America and the effectiveness of fusion politics.
Last night we saw a wonderful example of what fusion politics looks like in - of all places - the Texas legislature. Senator Wendy Davis - who owes her seat to a VRA Section 5 challenge - launched a real filibuster to stop a bill that would have stripped most women in Texas of their constitutional right to have an abortion. After standing in the senate well for hours without being able to sit or eat or drink, buoyed only by the crowds that had gathered to cheer her on, she put on a back brace - with an assist from a friend...Senator Rodney Ellis. Here's fusion politics in picture form folks.


That "assist" was against the rules of the filibuster - according to the Republicans in charge. It was one of "three strikes" against Davis that finally ended the filibuster. But in the remaining minutes of the session, the gallery crowd had a little fusion politics to play as well. They shouted until the clock ran out and defeated the bill. 

For quite a while now President Obama has been trying to light a fire under us - telling us that we need to engage as citizens in this democracy. I'd say its time we started watching the good people of Texas and the folks participating in North Carolina's Moral Monday movement. As the song says..."There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear."

Somebody noticed.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Keeping our eyes on the ball

Heading into his second term, President Obama laid out his agenda: a balanced approach to deficit reduction, gun violence reform, immigration reform and dealing with climate change.

So lets take a quick look at where that all stands. In January a deal to raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans was reached. And then the sequester kicked in. We'll be dealing with all of that further this fall. But the table has been set with massive deficit reduction underway - taking away a key Republican talking point.

Yes, when it comes to gun violence reform, the bill to require background checks on all sales failed in the Senate. But just the other day, VP Biden said that there are 5 Senators who voted "no" who are now prepared to vote "yes."

Last night immigration reform passed a crucial hurdle in the Senate. Its now clear that it will pass that body and all eyes are on Speaker Boehner to see what he'll do in the House.

And today, President Obama will give a major speech outlining his approach to dealing with climate change.



Those are the facts about where we stand 6 months into President Obama's second term.

And yet, according to some in the media, you'd think his agenda was unraveling before our very eyes. Why is that? I'd suggest its because - regardless of facts - they are totally consumed with the chatter of scandal-mania and have taken their eyes off the ball when it comes to the real work of governing.

Those of us who have been watching this President closely know that he hasn't taken his eye off that ball. We've seen this movie before and know how it ends. Its time we called out the media to do their job as well.
Authority must be questioned. Those in power must be held accountable to the people they represent, and a free, aggressive press has an indispensable role to play in that mission.

But it does not serve the public good when elected and government officials, be they Democrat or Republican, are constantly presumed guilty until proven innocent. When the American people are told that every action or decision is motivated by politics or power; when every mistake or misstatement is exaggerated into an instance of Nixonian malfeasance; when the line between impassioned advocacy and objective reporting ceases to exist, it does nothing but erode an already-fragile faith in our democratic institutions.

Many in the press have called for a national debate on privacy and security. And in the coming weeks, issues like climate change, immigration, and any number of controversial Supreme Court decisions will be added to the list. But national debates don’t just require a willing public, President, and Congress—they require a willing press that is able to report with a sense of nuance, patience, and perspective.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why did Snowden take the job at Booz Allen? (important update)

For a while now some of us have noticed that Edward Snowden took his job at Booz Allen after he contacted Glenn Greenwald to discuss leaking information about the NSA. Greenwald has always dismissed questions about this because he says Snowden worked on contract with the NSA in previous positions. That was never the point. The question has always been, why would he decide to leak and THEN take the job at Booz Allen?

Today, the South China Morning Post (the Hong Kong paper Snowden has been talking to for awhile now) answered that question. If true (and we have no reason to doubt these folks based on their previous reporting), this is HUGE!
Edward Snowden secured a job with a US government contractor for one reason alone – to obtain evidence on Washington’s cyberspying networks, the South China Morning Post can reveal.

For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
First of all, this not only cooks Snowden's goose pretty completely. But we now have every reason to question Glenn Greenwald's role in all this. Did he know about or in any way influence Snowden's decision to take the job specifically for the purpose of leaking? If so, he's implicated in a criminal conspiracy. I'm not one that thinks these kinds of questions should necessarily require a court of law to be answered. Greenwald wants to claim the mantle of "journalist." Its time he came clean.

UPDATE: Apparently Glenn Greenwald spoke to Greg Sargent to address these questions today. I'll let you read it for yourself and will stipulate that his explanation matches up with timelines he has written about in the past.

But I still have a few questions. First and foremost is that he is never quoted as making a categorical denial of knowing about Snowden's decision to take a job specifically for the purpose of gaining access to the documents they leaked. I've been watching Greenwald for too long not to be aware of how he twists words to avoid unpleasant facts.

Secondly, I'm curious why Greenwald went to Sargent instead of either writing this himself or being interviewed by someone at the Guardian - where he works. Don't get me wrong - I'm a fan of Sargent's work. But this is a big story. You have to wonder why Greenwald would give it away.

Finally, I can't help but wonder how Greenwald would approach this if the shoe were on the other foot.
“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”
And yet questioning him is reckless innuendo.
“Anybody who wants to accuse me or anyone at the Guardian of aiding and abetting Snowden has the obligation to point to any specific evidence to support that accusation,” Greenwald told me. “Otherwise they’re just spouting reckless innuendo.”
Why not just demonstrate some transparency and publish the communication he had with Snowden? You KNOW that's what he would be demanding if the roles were reversed.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is Snowden committing an act of civil disobedience?

There are those who are trying to cast Edward Snowden's actions as civil disobedience. I suspect that this argument will be intensified now that he has been charged under the Espionage Act by the DOJ. There is some acceptance among his supporters that he has broken the law. But they want to claim the mantle of it being an "unjust law" that requires civil disobedience.

I'm sure there are legal cases to be made on both sides of this claim. But the fact that Snowden fled to Hong Kong to avoid the consequences of his law breaking - more than anything else - disqualifies him from claiming that mantle.

Take a look at how the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. described his understanding of civil disobedience after careful study in his Letter from Birmingham Jail (the title of which should be a give-away).
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
There are many things that can be said about Snowden's actions. But its clear that they cannot be put in the company of those who actually practiced civil disobedience.

Emo cognitive dissonance

Perhaps the emos can clear up this bit of cognitive dissonance in their arguments about NSA surveillance.

On the one hand, they tell us that the REAL danger lies in its potential for abuse by an administration.

On the other hand, they tell us that it is hypocritical to have opposed it during a Bush administration (when it was abused) and not oppose it under President Obama (when there is no evidence of abuse).

All I've got to say about it is this: ELECTIONS MATTER!!!

Greenwald is headed down the wormhole

Here's Glenn Greenwald's description of his approach to journalism.
“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”
And here's how he described where he's headed with the NSA story the other day on twitter.
The more they lie, the more documents will be released showing they're lying.
That, my friends, is what you call a negative feedback loop (accompanied - of course - by an ill-conceived threat).
Negative feedback occurs when the result of a process influences the operation of the process itself in such a way as to reduce changes.
There's nowhere for Greenwald to go with these kinds of assumptions but down the wormhole. He'll keep assuming that everything anyone in government says is a lie that validates his assumption that they are lying.

In other words, it is the classic case of what Chris Mooney described as motivated reasoning.
...when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases.
This is clearly not going to end well for Mr. Greenwald. Perhaps he should have stuck to lawyering.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wishes come true












Going Bulworth

I missed a story last week. Sure, I heard that sometimes President Obama fantasizes about "going Bulworth." But it had been so long since I saw the movie, I totally missed why he chose that one instead of - as Michael Tomasky suggested - something like Rambo. My guess is that a lot of other white people missed it too.

Bulworth is currently running on HBO. So a few days later I watched it again. Low and behold I finally understood that what President Obama fantasizes about is going all "angry black man" on the country.

The best example of that is at about 1:17:00 in the movie. Bulworth shows up at a TV studio for an interview in the midst of the 1996 election. He's dressed all "ghetto" and - pay attention to this one - walks in to the back drop of the song "The Wrong Nigga To Fuck With" by Ice Cube. When the reporter asks him why he's changed his campaign approach and specifically mentions using obscenities, he goes off on a really bad - but telling - attempt at white boy rap.
I'm a Senator. I've gotta raise $10,000 a day every day I'm in Washington
I ain't gettin it in South Central. I'm gettin it in Beverly Hills
And so I'm voting in the Senate the way they want me to. And I'm sending them my bills
But we got babies dyin in South Central as young as they do in Peru
We got schools that are nightmares. We got a Congress that ain't got a clue
We got sub-machine guns. We got milita's throwin bombs
We got Bill just goin all weepy. We got Newt blamin teenage moms
We got factories closin down. Where the hell did all the good jobs go?
Well I'll tell ya where they went, my contributors make more profits hiring kids in Mexico
Oh, a fella can work in fast food if he can't make computer games
But what we used to call America...that's goin down the drains
How's a young man gonna meet his financial responsibilities working at mother-fuckin Burger King?
He ain't
Please, don't start with that school shit
There ain't no education goin on up in that mother fucker
Obscenity?
We got a million brothers in prison - the walls are really rockin
But you can bet your ass they'd all be out if they could pay for Johnny Cochran
Yes, the movie was about economic inequality and the way big money buys off politicians, the media, and the entertainment industry. But it was mostly about how all that affects the African American community in this country.

So Bulworth was a fascinating choice and says a lot about the President's frustrations. Some people  wonder why he doesn't occasionally let loose with that fantasy. The answer is - of course - that he's an incredibly disciplined guy. And, as Michelle once said about him:
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.
He knows what happens to people like Bulworth in politics. They may say things people think they want to hear. But the reigns of power to actually change things are stripped from them pretty quickly...and that's just the white guys.

In the end we're simply left with making note of this one: if President Obama could let loose with how he really feels sometimes - he'd go all Bulworth on their ass ;-)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Avoiding the poutrage

Chris Mooney explains:
...when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.
Liberals like to illustrate this by pointing to conservatives who are climate change deniers in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. But this particular quote from Mooney's description can't help but remind us of certain lawyers-turned-ideologues on the left who demonstrate their capacity for what he calls motivated reasoning. If those ideologues close themselves off from challenges (ie, block people who disagree with them or attack them personally rather than engage their arguments), that kind of "reasoning" leads to what Julian Sanchez calls epistemic closure.

But before we get up on our high horse about this, its important to remember that this isn't something that only affects "those people." We all do it to some extent...it is the human condition.
The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.
The truth is, the only way we can ensure that we're fighting off motivated reasoning is to recognize that its our natural instinct and work against it by choosing to expose ourselves to "threatening information" and allowing the questions to surface.

One of the sure "tells" that someone is trying to engage you in motivated reasoning is if they are always attempting to gin up your emotional response - its why the term "poutrage"was invented. And its exactly why so many people on the left react negatively to "no drama Obama." Unfortunately, that seems to be what a lot of our new media excels at doing.

Don't get me wrong, anger and passion are essential tools in motivating people to change...they help us identify the problems. But they are not much use when it comes to reasoning out solutions. As a matter of fact, they often disguise themselves as reasoning and lead us to what Stephen Colbert so prophetically called truthiness.

Whenever I think about this I go back to something Nezua wrote a few years ago about the dangers of being sure.
...life is not like a series of books in a course on anything. It fluctuates. We fluctuate. We are not a being, but a becoming, as Friedrich once said. And sometimes ideas are hammered out and we draw lines and walls and are told we fall on one side or the other and so do our thoughts and so does all that follows from them...and so it goes. We buy into these illusory borders, too...

I am far more comfortable navigating the in-between than I am in any Place. I like no thing as much as the coming and going from one to another. It is on the purpling beaches of dusk and the roseing gauze of dawn that my true eye shines lidless and I see so much more than in broad daylight. In the falling away of my tired husk I remember my shape can only be held temporarily. And to cling too tightly to it is to rot.

Being sure is but the borderwall we place around a heart to ward off the skinstripping wind of the next living moment.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hillary Clinton has some work to do

President Obama won re-election by mobilizing the coalition of the ascendant...people of color and young voters. Everyone knows that the Republicans are toast unless/until they find a way to connect with the changing face of America.

I don't know yet if Hillary Clinton plans to run in 2016 - at this point I'd give it slightly better than even odds. But if she does, the one thing I'll be watching is whether or not she is able to match President Obama's appeal to that winning coalition.

The truth is that due to some of the tension that arose during the 2008 primary, the Clintons have some bridges to rebuild with the rank and file in the African American community (a major player in that coalition). My word of advice to her right now would be that this is a good time to start doing that.

I know that many in the black intelligentsia (ie, the Wests and Smiley's of the world) feel perfectly comfortable in criticizing the President. But based on what I'm hearing, the folks on the ground are having none of that. And so when Bill Clinton suggests that President Obama is a "wuss" if he doesn't intervene in Syria - he might be speaking his mind but he's doing his wife's potential political aspirations no favors. Running against Obama and the coalition he built is definitely not going to work - for the Clintons or anyone else.

Hillary Clinton already has the white baby boomer women's vote all locked up. If she wants to go for it, she needs to get out beyond that demographic NOW - before the spotlight of a campaign begins to shine - and start mending some fences. And she probably needs her husband to STFU when it comes to critiquing President Obama's policies.

Clinton isn't going to win with a majority of white votes any more than the Republicans are. So far I haven't seen that she or her political supporters have recognized that. If she wants to run - she's got some work to do.

Spotty internet access

My internet access was almost non-existant last night and is terribly spotty this morning so far. If you don't hear from me for awhile - that's why. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

President Obama responds to the "Bush light" crowd

One of the things I've been doing for over 5 years is watching President Obama closely - trying to get a feel for who he is and how he approaches his job. In other words, I listen carefully to what he says and does.

I'd suggest that a lot of people on both the left and right don't do that and - as I said the other day - simply project onto him their own expectation of politicians. Doing so means that many on the left would have missed what he said when Charlie Rose asked him how he responds to those who say he is simply "Bush light" on national security issues.
I think its fair to say that there are going to be folks on the left - and now what amuses me is folks on the right who were fine when it was a republican president but now Obama's coming in with the black helicopters - who are not yet going to be satisfied. I've got to tell you though Charlie, I think this is a healthy thing because its a sign of maturity that this debate would not have been taking place 5 years ago. And I welcome it. I really do because - contrary to what some people think - the longer I'm in this job the more I believe on the one hand, that most folks in government are trying to do the right thing. They work really hard, they're really dedicated...On the other hand, what I also believe is its useful to have a bunch of critics out there who are checking government power and who are making sure we are doing things right so that if we've triple-checked how we're operating any one of these programs, lets go quadruple-check it. I'm comfortable with that and I'm glad to see that we are starting to do that.
Frankly, given how hard many of us have worked to challenge those critics (albeit mostly for their distortions), this response came as a bit of a surprise to me. But it shouldn't have.

What he's doing here is offering the very same outstretched hand to his critics on the left that they have so vilified him for offering to the right. The question is whether or not they are any more prepared to take it. Is their aim simply to find the proof that he is a liar? Or do they want to have a discussion about these issues? If its the latter, President Obama is saying he welcomes that conversation.

He can do that because he is not being driven by his ego or his own personal agenda - he's not an ideologue. He is a pragmatist looking for solutions. In addition, he knows that when it comes to bad actors in a discussion like this, conciliatory rhetoric can be a ruthless strategy.
One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
Its fascinating to watch him take this approach - not just with the right - but now with his critics on the left. It makes one wonder whether or not the latter will respond with any more maturity than the former.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Snowden-chat

After all the accusations and hysteria, most of what Edward Snowden leaked turns out to be one big nothingburger. Over a week ago, I quoted the analogy used by Mark Ambinder to demonstrate what's actually going on.
One official likened the NSA's collection authority to a van full of sealed boxes that are delivered to the agency. A court order, similar to the one revealed by the Guardian, permits the transfer of custody of the "boxes." But the NSA needs something else, a specific purpose or investigation, in order to open a particular box...

In the government's eyes, the data is simply moving from one place to another. It does not become, in the government's eyes, relevant or protected in any way unless and until it is subject to analysis. Analysis requires that second order.

And the government insists that the rules allowing the NSA or the FBI to analyze anything relating to U.S. persons or corporations are strict, bright-line, and are regularly scrutinized to ensure that innocents don't get caught up in the mix.
Today in his on-line chat, Snowden basically said the same thing.
More detail on how direct NSA's accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on - it's all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time.
So the restrictions that keep the government from listening to your private communication are policy based rather than technically based - DUH. I'm sure there are lots of things the government could "technically" do - but they are prohibited by policy.

If you want to freak out about what the government MIGHT do if the policies changed, you can go join Snowden in the crazy corner. Otherwise, lets call in the fat lady to sing...this one is OVER by Snowden's own admission.

Busy day today...late night

I'm going to be busy with other things today so I don't have time to write much. I'll just say that it was interesting being on Twitter the last couple of days and watching the firestorm that erupted over a CNET article claiming that the NSA could listen to American's telephone calls without a warrant. Like so much of what's been written/talked about in the press on this story...turns out it was false. If you're interested in the details, Bob Cesca (once again) has it all. As is my usual wont, I'm especially interested in the big picture conclusions - and I totally agree with Cesca.
Instead of focusing on how we can cut away any government abuses of power, the real story...has become the collapse of journalism. In addition to the sad state of digital journalism, the truly harrowing impact of this trend is the rapid unraveling of activist credibility when, in fact, it’s critical for any effort against government overreach to stand above reproach...That’s why articles like the ones published by Greenwald and McCullagh infuriate me so much. It’s counterproductive and embarrassing to the broader effort. There’s enough fuel without all of the hyperbole to achieve the necessary checks. But when the Cause becomes tainted with so many glaring falsehoods, it becomes too easy to cast the effort as being orchestrated by alarmist crackpots and bug-eyed conspiracy theorists who deal in misinformation to get what they want.
Hmmm...sounds like what I just said a few days ago is still happening. On something as important as this story, its sad to see the sensationalists mining it for clicks and hyping it for their own agenda rather than providing accurate information. I have a hunch that before this is over, some journalistic careers are going to tank spectacularly.

The really big news on all this is that I'm going to have a late night tonight.
It has been confirmed that the discussion was about NSA, etc. I'm glad to see that the President chose a journalist like Rose with such an impeccable reputation. So the big story will be the interpretation of this interview tomorrow...stay tuned.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Wire: Colvin and Wee-Bay on fatherhood

When it comes to fatherhood, it sometimes comes down to very difficult choices. In this clip from The Wire, Colvin steps up on Namond's (Nay's) behalf. That's pretty righteous. And yet I can't help but think that the real test of fatherhood here is the one faced by Wee-Bay. Powerful stuff!!!

"The character called Barack Obama"

There are a lot of people who are trying to get in President Obama's head these days to interpret his motivation for deciding to supply the Syrian rebels with small arms and ammunitions. As is often the case, Maureen Dowd demonstrates the most noxious element of that genre. Of course she, like some others, thinks the "boy" Barry needed to be "schooled" by the man Clinton (yes, its just that obnoxious).

Folks who aren't into assuming these kinds of decisions resemble a sixth grade playground altercation know that when it comes to Syria - there are no good options. And so I began to think about what I knew about how the President tends to handle those kinds of decisions.

I immediately thought of the article by Michael Lewis published in Vanity Fair back in October 2012 titled Obama's Way. At one point in the article, President Obama comments on the kind of analysis people like Dowd are engaged in.
One of the things you realize fairly quickly in this job is that there is a character people see out there called Barack Obama. That’s not you. Whether it is good or bad, it is not you.
Lewis' article is also helpful in describing the President's decision-making process in a similar situation - whether or not to intervene in Libya. If you're interested in that, I'd suggest you go read page 6 of this rather lengthy article. To summarize, President Obama had a meeting with all "the principals" on his national security team. They presented him with a binary option of either a no-fly zone (which obviously wouldn't work) or doing nothing.
The idea was that the people in the meeting would debate the merits of each, but Obama surprised the room by rejecting the premise of the meeting. “He instantly went off the road map,” recalls one eyewitness. “He asked, ‘Would a no-fly zone do anything to stop the scenario we just heard?’” After it became clear that it would not, Obama said, “I want to hear from some of the other folks in the room.”

Obama then proceeded to call on every single person for his views, including the most junior people.
And then Lewis makes this fascinating observation:
His desire to hear out junior people is a warm personality trait as much as a cool tactic, of a piece with his desire to play golf with White House cooks rather than with C.E.O.’s and basketball with people who treat him as just another player on the court; to stay home and read a book rather than go to a Washington cocktail party; and to seek out, in any crowd, not the beautiful people but the old people. The man has his stat­us needs, but they are unusual. And he has a tendency, an unthinking first step, to subvert established stat­us structures. After all, he became president.
So if Dowd and others think that President Obama bent to the desires of his "daddy" Clinton on the issue of Syria, I'd suggest they're reacting out of their own projection onto a "character called Barack Obama." Reading Lewis will give you a small window into how the man actually operates.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Is it possible to talk about the inequities in our justice system without mentioning race?

I guess it is if you're two white guys.



I post this for two reasons. The first is that it is one of the most blatant examples of white privilege I've ever seen. Even a blue dog like former Senator Jim Webb made the racial inequities of our current criminal justice system the center piece of his attempts at reform. And if you're going to talk about our history, how about discussing the decades when - for all practical purposes - there actually was no justice system for African American...lynching via mob violence was adequate.

My second reason is that this is the backdrop from which many of us are viewing Glenn Greenwald's reporting these days. Its not just that he's blind to his own white privilege, he regularly ignores whole parts of a story in order to bend it to the agenda he wants to promote. Some of us have been watching him do that for years now. Little by little others are beginning to catch on.

My personal thoughts on privacy

All this hysteria about the NSA spying made me ponder my own personal thoughts about privacy. For me, the most annoying part of this technological era is the spam emails and phone calls I get due to the fact that my private contact information is so widely shared. I'm pretty vigilant about not giving that information out (yes, even if it means losing out on a discount at Target) and I unsubscribe regularly. But overall its an annoyance more than any real threat.

I'm pretty addicted to online shopping - mostly because I HATE the alternative of shopping by foot. So I can live with the fact that sites I've visited generate ads on blogs I read. I figure this kind of information has to be paid for somehow, doesn't it?

And like many of you, I live a supremely boring life. I can't even imagine anyone wanting information about that. And if they get it - they better have stocked up on coffee to keep them awake.

But there are two issues that remain for me in all this. We know that government (state and local even more than national) has a real penchant for profiling when they're looking for the "bad guys." When that gets attached to things like race or religion, I'll get missed. But a lot of innocent people won't. So the place it seems to me that we need to be vigilant is on the issue of what criteria law enforcement is using to profile.

The other issue - not directly related to privacy - is the one that could really scare me. Interestingly enough, its about the one Greenwald "scoop" that has gotten zero attention...cyber-attacks. The reason no one paid attention to it is that there was one giant "Duh" that reverberated around the world when he documented what the Obama administration is doing. As almost every part of our daily lives has become dependent on functioning computer internet activity, its clear that the civilized world would come to a halt if that was disrupted for a significant period of time. YIKES!

But the backdrop to all of this is really more about a HUGE cultural change on the issue of privacy. As we all know, the WWII folks are sometimes called the "silent generation." That's because there was an overall belief that you kept things to yourself and went about your own business. That is clearly no longer the norm. As I've posted before, Al Giordano nailed this one over 3 years ago. He called it the New Exhibitionism.
The democratization of public or semi-public exhibitionism has thrown traditional concerns about “personal privacy” out the window. Who needs the CIA anymore when everybody is out there blurting the kinds of secrets it used to take surveillance to discover? Privacy didn’t disappear because Big Brother took it away. We gave it away! Freely! It fell aside to a greater impulse: the need to expose ourselves in public, to have an audience, and to keep it...

The rest of us might yearn for days gone by when privacy existed, but the impulse to expose ourselves has simply proved a stronger human instinct. To every man and woman, a stage, and an audience: Welcome to the New Exhibitionism!
As someone who has claimed a tiny piece of that stage on the assumption that a couple of people might be interested in my political musings, I have to embrace the label of exhibitionist. There's no immunity for me on that one.

In the span of about 50 years, we've gone from a cultural expectation of silence to one of exhibitionism. Any discussion of privacy needs to take that huge shift into account.

Facebook news (updated)

Just to let you know, I finally bit the bullet and started a Smartypants Facebook page. Come visit ;)

While doing that I noticed something interesting. Check out the cover photo on the OFA Facebook page.


It makes me wonder how many of the people who are screaming about government surveillance are actually busy organizing people to try to do something about it. I constantly hear people saying that President Obama quoted that line from FDR about "make me do it." Its interesting that he has also given us a tool to do just that. So if you don't like what the Patriot Act has authorized the government to do - join OFA and start organizing to get it repealed.

Finally Facebook published some interesting information about their involvement in surveillance.
For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.

With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of one percent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months. We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive.
First of all, they've made clear that its not just the NSA getting access to Facebook accounts. This also seems to be pretty common practice among state and local law enforcement. But even with all that, it involves "a tiny fraction of one percent" of the user accounts. Whether or not we want that to happen is the question on the table right now. But I agree with them...lets get over these hyperbolic false assertions.

UPDATE: It appears that is not the official OFA site I linked to above. Sorry.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The United States of America



In case you missed the story behind this, you can read it here.

Have you ever wondered what life is like for a child whose parent is in jail?

If not, don't worry - you're not alone.

Because of the work I do in a nonprofit whose mission is "to redirect youth who are starting to get in trouble at home, at school or with the law," I think about it a lot since that is the experience of many of them. It's no surprise that children tend to follow in the footsteps of their parents. And our criminal justice system is filled with inequities that ensure that - as much as possible - the experience is one that affects "those" children rather than "ours."
  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population 
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites 
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
  • According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime 
  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison 
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).
If considering the impact of those inequities on children is something you're interested in learning about, please take a couple of minutes to watch this powerful performance by Daniel Beaty.

One thing we have to do to change all this is to fight the inequities that lead to this kind of experience for the little Daniel's of the world.

But for too many black and brown children, that change isn't coming fast enough. We also need to reach out to them to ensure that we hear their pain and are there to support them in making their own choices.
 
That's why its a BFD that Sesame Street is weighing in on something that so deeply affects "those" children. They have developed a tool kit called Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration. I must admit that I teared up a good bit as I looked around that web page and watched some of the videos. On behalf of lots of little ones who don't have much of a voice in our system, I want to say a gigantic THANK YOU to Sesame Street for this one.

How ideologues sabotage their own cause

Today's must-reads on the NSA story come to us from Extreme Liberal and (once again) Bob Cesca.

Extreme Liberal does a great job of breaking down The Top 5 Exaggerations by Glenn Greenwald on NSA. In order to get the level of hyperbole we're dealing with here, you need to read all 5 points, so its impossible to summarize. Just go read the whole thing.

Bob Cesca points out that - due to all this hyperbole - even The Nation and Mother Jones writers have recognized that what Greenwald reported is full of holes. But then Cesca gets to the heart of what is going on here.
Greenwald’s stubbornness and Snowden’s foolishness are actually self-destructive to what they’re attempting to achieve. As I’ve written from day one, credibility will make or break not only this story, but anyone who chooses to blindly latch their own credibility to it. If Greenwald was truly interested in the endurance of this story, he would’ve stowed his ego and done whatever was necessary to preserve its integrity as well as his own reputation...Instead, the widening holes in this story could indicate Peak Greenwald.
Those of us who have followed Greenwald in the past knew immediately when he "broke" this story to be wary and ask a lot of questions. And now slowly but surely, others in the media are catching on (with some fan boys/girls still not willing to question).

The pattern many of us have seen is that ideologues tend to lead with their agenda (ie, "people in power always lie") and then go looking for anything that supports that agenda.  This is what might be called an anti-scientific method. We've come to accept it as the approach of the lunatic right. But many are finding themselves a bit surprised that its alive and well on the other side of the continuum. Having questioned my way out of a right wing mindset only to find similar ideologues on the left means that I totally sympathized with this tweet from Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs.
This is what makes me feel comfortable and secure as a pragmatist when the storms of hysteria rage. As long as there are people who are willing to ask questions and go where the facts lead them (rather than the opposite), the ideologues on both sides of the political continuum will ultimately burn out and fail.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Guardian poll reporter: Its working!

Harry Enten reports on polling for the US edition of the Guardian. Here's his headline today: Polls show Obama's real worry: NSA leaks erode trust in government. After summarizing some polling numbers, he says this:
When the IRS and Associated Press scandals first broke, I pointed out that the one factor that predicts election results better than consumer sentiment is trust in government.
I'm going to stop right there for a moment because Enten left out an important point. Of course we all know that "trust in government" predicts election results...in favor of Republicans! And so, he goes on to point out how these faux scandals are affecting that.
Trust in government after these scandals has been falling. In the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 55% of Americans said the IRS targeting made them doubt the "overall honesty and integrity" of the Obama administration. Only 48% of voters in Fox News poll taken after the release of the NSA information said Obama was "honest and trustworthy" – the lowest level the poll ever recorded. More than a third (35%) of voters believe the administration has been less open than previous administrations – a record high.

In light of the public's negative reaction to the NSA leaks, trust in government could fall further.
So low information voters hear screaming headlines about the IRS targeting you and NSA spying on you. But as the details roll out to either discredit these headlines or suggest that things are more complex than that, major media gets bored and cable news spins. That's the reality into which Snowden dropped his leaks - complete with all the hysteria and obfuscation Greenwald could muster. Enten is suggesting that the outcome is a Libertarian/Republican dream come true.

Are we gonna sit back and let that happen?

NSA story demonstrates why the media is in trouble

Like many of you political junkies out there, I watched Chris Hayes interview Glenn Greenwald on his MSNBC show last night. I heard Greenwald continue to talk about a discrepancy between the government and the tech companies on how the PRISM program works.
Greenwald: Our story is that there is a discrepancy between the relationship that these, that the private sector and the government has, in terms of what the NSA claims and what the technology companies claim.
Greenwald says the slides he published demonstrate that the NSA has direct access to Facebook, Google, etc. company's servers and just goes in and grabs private data at will. The tech companies deny that happens. So we need to get to the bottom of who is lying.

Chris Hayes not only didn't challenge him, he ran with that characterization in other stories later in the show.

Trouble is - prior to that interview I had also been reading folks like Bob Cesca and Little Green Footballs. So not only did I know that the New York Times had debunked the whole idea that the NSA had "direct" or "backdoor" access to the servers of the tech companies, they:
...described a process whereby the various tech companies, after receiving a FISA court approved request from the NSA and vetting it through their legal departments, gather the information and post it in a virtual “mailbox” for the NSA to retrieve: “It is not sent automatically or in bulk, and the government does not have full access to company servers. Instead, they said, it is a more secure and efficient way to hand over the data.”
I also knew that even the Guardian - where Greenwald works - had walked back his claims about the NSA having direct access.

This is a great example of how the internet - despite all its issues with privacy - has broken down the hold commercial media has on what we know. As I watched Chris Hayes last night, I recognized that I knew more about this part of the story than he did. And that means his credibility is damaged.

The major networks have moved on from this story. They all had Greenwald on to make his outrageous claims and then got bored with the whole thing. Cable networks like Fox News and MSNBC are running with their spin on the story. But if you really want to inform yourself beyond the sensational headlines - the information is out there. And the more you get it - the less you trust what they're selling. That's one of the big reasons why they're in trouble.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Photo of the Day: Immigration is about families


In a protest, Renata Teodoro, right, and her mother, Gorete Borges Teodoro, who was deported in 2007, met at a Mexican border fence.

"Trading credibility for the advancement of an agenda"

Today I ran across two articles that are must-reads on the NSA surveillance leak story.

The first is from Bob Cesca. He does a great job of summarizing the questions that remain to be answered on this story (please go read the whole article - these are critical questions). He makes an important point about how Greenwald says that his goal was to spur a public debate about surveillance, but then he refuses to answer the questions and blocks people like Cesca on Twitter. In the post, Cesca theorizes that its because Greenwald has an agenda and is approaching this as an activist instead of a journalist. For a guy who talks constantly about "transparency," Greenwald isn't handling his moment in the sun very well.
As Chez Pazienza so brilliantly wrote on Monday, “Being a good journalist is a little like being a scientist: You should constantly be testing your theory and findings for signs of confirmation bias or an agenda that’s getting the better of your commitment to the truth.” In the absence of this kind of professional integrity — integrity, by the way, which led the Washington Post to revise its initial story — the only conclusion to draw here is that Greenwald doesn’t want anyone to see the agenda behind the curtain. In that regard, he’s no better than Fox News Channel, passing off cleverly hand-picked stories and coded words...as hard news. Consequently, he’s drawing other activists and voices on the left into a story that’s full of potential traps. If Snowden turns out to be a hacker nihilist who’s feeding Greenwald bad information, or if Greenwald’s reporting continues to be strewn with holes, it could seriously damage not only the effort to roll back post-9/11 overreach and opacity, but also the broader liberal movement — not to mention the credibility of future whistleblowers/leakers. You deserve to know whether your outrage is founded upon the full knowledge of the facts or if it’s been deliberately manipulated by Greenwald’s personal whimsy and cleverness.

To repeat: I’m interested in ending the war on terrorism and all of the awfulness that’s accompanied it. But I’m not interested in a counterproductive slash-and-burn approach, and I’m not interested in trading credibility for the advancement of an agenda. So I’m trying to get to the bottom of some of these rather shaky gaps in the story.
The second is an important post by Josh Marshall that focuses on his reaction to Edward Snowden. Like Cesca, he talks about the importance of understanding Snowden's agenda.
If you see the state as essentially malevolent or a bad actor then really anything you can do to put a stick in its spokes is a good thing...

From that perspective, there’s no really no balancing to be done. All disclosure is good. Either from the perspective of transparency in principle or upending something you believe must be radically changed.

On the other hand, if you basically identify with the country and the state, then indiscriminate leaks like this [he's referring to Bradley Manning here] are purely destructive. They’re attacks on something you fundamentally believe in, identify with, think is working on your behalf.

Now, in practice, there are a million shades of grey. You can support your government but see its various shortcomings and even evil things it does. And as I said at the outset, this is where leaks play a critical, though ambiguous role, as a safety valve. But it comes down to this essential thing: is the aim and/or effect of the leak to correct an abuse or simply to blow the whole thing up?...

The Snowden case is less clear to me. At least to date, the revelations seem more surgical. And the public definitely has an interest in knowing just how we’re using surveillance technology and how we’re balancing risks versus privacy...

But it’s more than that. Snowden is doing more than triggering a debate. I think it’s clear he’s trying to upend, damage - choose your verb - the US intelligence apparatus and policieis he opposes...He’s taking it upon himself to make certain things no longer possible, or much harder to do. To me that’s a betrayal. I think it’s easy to exaggerate how much damage these disclosures cause. But I don’t buy that there are no consequences. And it goes to the point I was making in an earlier post. Who gets to decide? The totality of the officeholders who’ve been elected democratically - for better or worse - to make these decisions? Or Edward Snowden, some young guy I’ve never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I don’t agree with and is now seeking refuge abroad for breaking the law?

I don’t have a lot of problem answering that question.
Marshall's point about the agenda being one that sees the state as essentially malevolent is the important distinction here. Its why many of us are concerned about this libertarian philosophy creeping in to the thinking of too many liberals. Grover Norquist's goal of shrinking government down to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub gets a boost from those who want to simply blow the whole thing up.

I know there are a lot of people who just want to have a discussion about the proper role of government in these areas and - as President Obama said - that is a conversation we should be having. But it has to be based on facts. And I have no desire to join a movement that wants to sensationalize and obscure in order to upend or destroy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

All the True Vows

Given the topic of conversation here the last few days, this one seemed pertinent. There really is one person in your life that it is critically important for you to trust.
All the True Vows
are secret vows,
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to the truth
at the center of the image
you were born with,
don’t turn your face away.

…Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a new promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you’ll find out
what it is real and what is not.

- David Whyte

The latest libertarian craze and the death of normal

I wrote the other day about how all of the recent so-called "scandals" are providing a platform for people who used to call themselves liberals to join up with right wing libertarians. It comes as no surprise that Edward Snowden supported Ron Paul's presidential campaign and Glenn Greenwald was a major force in the #StandWithRand movement recently. They are surely kindred spirits.

But take a look at similar statements made recently by rightwing radio talk-jock Rush Limbaugh and one of Daily Kos' favorite diarists One Pissed Off Liberal.

First, here's Rush:
This government’s already too big, it’s too damn powerful, and it’s too unforgiving — and this doesn’t have anything to do with competent intelligence gathering.
And now OPOL:
I'm saying our particular government, dominated and owned as it is by the 1%, is bad to the bone, lies through its teeth and supports all the wrong people doing all the wrong things.
OPOL then goes on to sound positively Glenn Beckian:
Dissent, which has been called the highest form of patriotism, may well be on its last legs in this country. It is now impossible to organize any kind of opposition, no matter how innocent or righteous, without government spooks breathing down your neck. Surveillance quashes dissent...all dissent. Just remember who the government thinks is a threat: peace activists, dissidents, kids who dare object to the raw deal being crammed down their throats.
In talking like that OPOL demonstrates his white-priviliged thinking. He is - of course - mostly referring to the white-dominated OWS efforts. There are reasons why that movement failed that have nothing to do with surveillance. We know that because a much more organized group of young people - the Dreamers - have faced even bigger obstacles and yet have been amazingly successful while they fight on. Here's what Tom Hayden - someone who knows a thing or two about protests and movements - said about them recently:
The Dreamers remind me of the Freedom Riders fifty years ago who, deciding they wouldn’t settle for life under Jim Crow, risked jail and racist violence until the Kennedy administration was won to their side, and a political party realignment began. The Dreamers have petitioned, engaged in civil disobedience, lobbied for legislation at state and federal levels, and refused to accept defeats along the way.
I don't know where all this is going. But I'm beginning to sense a potential realignment in our political culture. I've been talking for a while now about the beast in its death throes. Mostly I've seen that related to the white male dominance in the Republican Party. But perhaps some of the screaming we're hearing from the left these days indicates that there is a dying beast in our ranks as well.

We are living in a time of massive underground change in this country. Just after the 2012 election, David Simon called it the death of normal.
...the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals...

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it...A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem...

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.
It would be naive to deny that we're ALL struggling with this kind of momentous change on some level. That a rear guard action showing up as "libertarian" has emerged should come as no surprise. And no, I'm not saying all this is directed at President Obama simply because he's black (although its hard to deny that's part of it). This is about the bigger picture of the general changing face of America - and white people struggling with what that means to their sense of entitlement.

What us white people need to do is get over our pity parties and do what Simon suggests...learn what it means to "accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Before we anoint him "hero" status, there are a few questions I have about Edward Snowden (updated)

Now that we know that the guy who leaked the information about NSA is 29 year-old Edward Snowden and we've heard what Glenn Greenwald wants us to know about him, there are a few questions that real journalists should pursue about this story. On twitter I ran across a potential candidate: Jan Crawford with CBS News.





I would add to that things like wondering if it is a coincidence that this information was leaked just prior to President Obama's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the leaker chose Hong Kong as his hiding place.

We also know that Snowden made some outlandish claims - like the idea that he personally could wiretap the president and that he chose Hong Kong because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent."

And we know that he supported Ron Paul's presidential candidacy but enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2003 because, as he said, "I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression."

So there's a lot to this story that doesn't add up. Most of that is related to the fact that Snowden chose Glenn Greenwald as the person to tell it. Bob Cesca explains:
In the context of this story, Greenwald ought to be serving in the capacity of a hard news reporter. But what sets off a red flag in my head is how his reporting and his tweets totally blur the line between an agenda-driven opinion blogger and reporter. I know this isn’t exclusive to Greenwald, but it’s a problem that’s getting worse. If you’re going to be an opinion/agenda journalist, be that, and be clear about it. If you’re going to be a hard news reporter, be that, and be clear about.
In other words, Glenn is approaching this as a litigator rather than a reporter. He's got a position and he's presenting evidence to prove it. To be fair - that's how a lot of journalism is done these days and its why we have a Crossfire-like atmosphere amongst most news outlets.

But in a story this important - we need better than that. I'm hoping that a few more like Jan Crawford emerge to help us get some answers.

UPDATE: We also know that Glenn Greenwald lies exaggerates. From the transcript of his appearance on ABC:
[T]hat is for the American people, at least to learn about what this massive spying apparatus is, and what the capabilities are, so that we can have an open, honest debate about whether that's the kind of country that we want to live in. And if the people decide that they--yes, they do want the government knowing everything about them, intervening in all of their communications, monitoring them, keeping dossiers on them, then so be it. But at least we should have that debate openly and democratically.
FFS - the government doesn't know everything about us and isn't intervening in all of our communication. People have legitimate concerns about the privacy issues involved in this NSA story - but Greenwald regularly takes it to Glenn Beck fear mongering tin foil hat territory. Shame on him!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The NSA story and the role of government

For my own benefit as much as anyone else's, I'd like to recap where we are right now on this whole story about what the NSA is doing. I feel overwhelmed with noise these days and would like to think that its possible to deal with the facts we have now in order to have a rational discussion about the issues at hand - silly me ;-)

First of all, we know that NSA is collecting metadata on phone calls. It seems to me that what David Simon said about that rings true - its analogous to what law enforcement has always done, but bigger in scope due to advances in technology.

I found this description by Mark Ambinder about what's happening to be really helpful for us non-techies.
One official likened the NSA's collection authority to a van full of sealed boxes that are delivered to the agency. A court order, similar to the one revealed by the Guardian, permits the transfer of custody of the "boxes." But the NSA needs something else, a specific purpose or investigation, in order to open a particular box. The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the standard was "a reasonable, articulatable" suspicion, but did not go into details.

Legally, the government can ask companies for some of these records under a provision of the PATRIOT Act called the "business records provision." Initially, it did so without court cognizance. Now, the FISC signs off on every request.

Armed with what amounts to a rubber stamp court order, however, the NSA can collect and store trillions of bytes of electromagnetic detritus shaken off by American citizens. In the government's eyes, the data is simply moving from one place to another. It does not become, in the government's eyes, relevant or protected in any way unless and until it is subject to analysis. Analysis requires that second order.

And the government insists that the rules allowing the NSA or the FBI to analyze anything relating to U.S. persons or corporations are strict, bright-line, and are regularly scrutinized to ensure that innocents don't get caught up in the mix. The specifics, however, remain classified, as do the oversight mechanisms in place.
So the first question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we're comfortable with that van full of sealed boxes being delivered to the government. Beyond how commonplace this kind of thing is with law enforcement, what Simon was pointing out in his article is that the real issue is the rules/oversight that govern whether or not they can open up one of those boxes.  Basically the FBI has to present the FISA court with a justification for that and the Intelligence Committee in the Senate is briefed on when/why they do so. This is one of the main ways that President Obama's implementation of all this differs from what Bush wanted to do.

The question here is whether or not that is enough oversight; does the public at large need to be involved? Answering that question means knowing whether or not providing the public with more information about it would neutralize the effectiveness of the program by broadcasting its workings to the people its targeted to catch.

I'll admit that I don't know the answer to that question. If there is more we can learn without jeopardizing the effort - then we should demand that information. But if opening it up to public scrutiny would pose a problem, then we have to grapple with the question the President posed about the balance between transparency and security.

As you know, I've been writing a lot here about trust. Beyond these questions I'm posing, I think this issue of transparency vs security raises a critical question about the very structure of our government. The other day I put that question in a tweet:
(Of course that should be "than NSA surveillance," but there's no editing on twitter)

I'm not suggesting that we should trust congress or the courts. I'm merely saying that if we don't - we have MUCH bigger problems. As I've pointed out recently, our government was designed to be a "representative democracy," - not a majority rule. By setting things up that way, our founders entrusted certain decisions to those we elected to represent us. That needs to be balanced with an informed public that doesn't simply depend on blind trust.

I believe that a lot of the questions being raised these days are pushing at that balance. Overall the tone of many of the recent so-called "scandals" boils down to an attempt to suggest that the government is over-reaching. While the Republicans have joined on the bandwagon in order to discredit President Obama, it is the libertarian wing of our political spectrum that is gaining a foothold here. In a venomous screed today about President Obama, Maureen Dowd (who used to be counted among those who call themselves liberals) demonstrates how she's joining that bandwagon.
The president insists that his trellis of surveillance programs is “under very strict supervision by all three branches of government.” That is not particularly comforting given that the federal government so rarely does anything properly.
As I've said before, I understand the mindset that recognizes that there are those who have abused their power as representatives of the people. We need to be vigilant in carrying out our duties as citizens. But one of the main tenants of liberalism is a belief in the idea that robust government is necessary to reign in the overreach of capitalism. At least that's one of the main reasons I'm a liberal in the first place. The last thing I want to do is join in with Republican-based libertarianism in trashing the role of government. As a matter of fact, I'd say that advancing the role of good government is the most potent way liberals have of making progress on our goals.