Friday, June 14, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) It seems that the whole PRISM “scandal” rests on more than a few lies and misunderstandings. By the way, if Greenwald was accurate last night on MSNBC, and if the Booz Allen Hamilton claim that Snowden worked for them only a few months, where did he find the time to get “outraged” over the not-secret program and then download the documents? Could it be he walked into the job specifically to steal secrets?

2) Pretty big SCOTUS decision yesterday means that your body is yours, and cannot be trademarked by anyone else.

3) I guess they’re desperate for money. Maybe if, you know, you don’t go around shooting innocent kids…

4) I disagree with E. J. Dionne here: I don’t think the conversation we need to have now is “liberty v. security,” at least not at the level he suggests. No, the conversation we have to have now is what is an acceptable risk? How likely is it that even September 11 could be recreated by a terror network—much less a more deadly and brutal terror attack -- given the tightening the nation has done legally and publicly? Once that conversation is had, then we’ll know if we need to edit the Constitution.

5) Not content with the Panama Canal, China has a man, a plan, a canal: Nicaragua?

6) The solar powered plane flying across the country is about half-way, leaving St. Louis today for Cincinnati. So far, it’s taken about five weeks.

7) The new Superman movie opens today, and people who know me well will know that I’m going to see it this weekend, for reasons that should be obvious to those cognoscenti, but is it time for him to retire? Side note to any producers who would be intrigued by this idea: I’m available.

8) Technology and labor mix about as well as capitalism and democracy: that is, not at all.

9) And so it begins…

10) Finally, if you’re upset about the looks of the hooker you hired, take a page from the Secret Service: pay your money, and shut your mouth.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Big Whoop

OK, I mean, it’s nice that this highly intrusive program has paid dividends. That’s great that we can get some bang for our bucks.

No pun intended.

There is a point where we have to wonder if there wouldn’t have been any other way of getting around to stopping terror attacks that this program netted. Couple that with the fact that it also failed to net the Boston Marathon bombers, as well as any number of terror-like attacks (the recent Ricin mailings come to mind, as well as the assault on the Sikh temple massacre last year) puts a bit of a damper on General Alexander’s boasts:

In a robust defense of the phone program, General Alexander said that it had been critical in helping to prevent “dozens of terrorist attacks” both in the United States and abroad and that the intelligence community was considering declassifying examples to better explain the program. He did not clarify whether the records used in such investigations would have been available through individual subpoenas without the database. He also later walked back the assertion slightly, saying the phone log database was used in conjunction with other programs.

In his testimony, General Alexander said he had “grave concerns” about how Mr. Snowden had access to such a wide range of top-secret information, from the details of a secret program called Prism to speed the government’s search of Internet materials to a presidential document on cyberstrategy. He said the entire intelligence community was looking at the security of its networks — something other government officials vowed to do after the WikiLeaks disclosures three years ago.

Under the Prism program, the N.S.A. collects information from American Internet companies like Google without individual court orders if the request is targeted at noncitizens abroad. That program derives from a 2008 surveillance law that was openly debated in Congress.

Oh. Well. I see now. The program doesn’t track terrorists per se. Only brown-skinned ones. Well, that’s much better. We white people are free to bomb marathons,  abortion clinics, and murder Arabic and Arabic-looking folks to our hearts content.

Terrorism is terrorism, whether it’s 19 Saudis flying planes into buildings, a couple of lunatics with rifles picking off passersby, or the NRA threatening your daughter with rape if you don’t buy her a gun. Period. It’s only security theater to think that only Muslims mean us harm.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

World Leaders Should Probably Tape This To Their Walls

A Haaretz Op-Ed opines that Israel should follow Nelson Mandela’s lead in trying to come to grips with the Palestinian question:

The first and clearest lesson one can learn from Mandela is that peace is only achievable if the putative peacemakers believe in it. “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen,” Mandela once said. Does Israel’s current leadership truly believe in peace? Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett are on record as saying that they don’t. Netanyahu maintains that he does, though I can’t help looking for the fingers crossed behind his back whenever he says it.

Peace is both an abstract concept – “a winner is a dreamer who never gives up,” according to Mandela – and a very finite calculation of profit and loss. Peace means making compromises – and Mandela came perilously close to losing his base of support among South Africa’s blacks in compromising to the extent that he did. He was prepared to take significant risks in the interest of peace. Are Israel’s leaders prepared to do likewise?

Mandela was able to take risks and make compromises because he believed in what he was doing and he had a clear vision of the South Africa that could emerge. Addressing the court at the conclusion of his trial for treason in 1964, he said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

And there it is: one has to wonder what the Israeli leadership really wants. Hegemony? Over a billion Muslims, most of whom could care less whether Israel lives or dies, and a minority of whom want to destroy that nation?

Mandela did take risks, but then he was willing to lose it all, even after his release from prison, even after his ascendancy to president. He had courage, which Mandela defines as not the absence of fear but the strength to overcome it. It seems odd to me that a nation whose people have courage in boatloads can’t bring themselves to use that courage to create a niche for themselves that doesn’t involve the constant vigilance of armed forces.

It is a courage that I wish America would show, too, in its own struggle against many of the same adversaries that Israel faces (possibly because we support Israel so strongly.) We lost three thousand citizens in one day from an Islamist terror attack and we’ve lost a few dozen since in this country, most notably the Boston Marathon bombing.

Yet, this year more toddlers have killed using guns than were killed by a couple of backpack bombs. More Americans died “taking the fight to the terrorists” – as if Iraq had anything to do with 9-11 – than died on September 11, even if you include the first responders and residents who subsequently got sick and died. And never mind the 500,000 Iraqis who died at our hands.

That’s not courage. Courage is the ability to take a punch and still stand. Courage is saying “You bloodied me, and while I will not forget, my get-even will be to become even stronger, even better, and a brighter beacon to the world of what freedom really means.”

I mean, if the terrorists hated us for our freedom, we must be on pretty friendly terms now, with all the recent revelations. We gave away our precious Bill of Rights in exchange for…nothing.

Courage seems to be in short supply in the world: from the NSA scandal here to Israel’s fear of a black burqa, to Turkey’s Prime Minister warring with his own people over a public park, echoing our own response to Occupy Wall Street, but much much bloodier.

And I’m not even counting Syria or Egypt or Iraq or Afghanistan. We are sitting on a powder keg and all this grandstanding is merely inciting someone to light a match. Someone needs to defuse at least their corner of the world.

Take the message of Mandela, leaders. We can’t stop being afraid until you are.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013


A Few Thoughts on Freedom

The non-scandal scandal – OMG! You mean the government is doing what it’s been doing for the last decade since we as a people told it that it could do it? – has raised some interesting dynamics in American society and culture.

For instance, for all the foofaraw you hear in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kanagaroo) and the rightwing blogosphere, the American people seem reasonably OK with the revelations that the government can pretty much know who we’re talking to at any time.
We don’t just get the government we deserve. We seem to get the freedom we deserve. Here, I have to give the bloodthirsty monotonous savages at the NRA and the Gun Owners of America some credit: they’re putting up a real fight for a freedom, even if it’s an antiquated and misguided freedom at best in a modern society.

For another thing, it’s been interesting to see some of the same folks come out now, arguing against the NSA program as well as the government intrusion into the Associated Press phone records and giving full throated support to Edward Snowden, who also stood behind the Bush administration when Valarie Plame was being skewered and castigated for being involved in essentially the same whistleblower activity (via her husband, no less).

I’m of two minds about this: as someone who was vocal in his opposition to the war in Iraq, I suspect my name came up in at least one database under the Bush administration and while I was probably given a surveillance miss – altho for reasons unrelated to my politics, I know I was vetted at least once last decade – that part of me is tempted to say “Welcome to the party, pal!”

On the flip side, the Libertarian in me – the kind that actually cares about the rights of everyone and not the greedy selfish pigdog kind like Rand and Ron Paul – believes this is an incredibly dangerous program and I was against it before I was even more against it.

The sad thing about rights is, we don’t get to pick and choose from a menu: if you abandon a right, and she abandons her right, and he abandons his right, I don’t get a choice to keep mine in a democratic society. I’m under the same dictatorial knife edge that you are. I don’t get a card that gives me a privilege.

It’s not even like we received a benefit in return. Security? We have had one major terrorist attack in the past century that killed thousands, and one that we could have easily prevented at the time (President Clinton did it for eight years). In essence, we abandoned a whole slew of rights in exchange for a retroactive promise to never let what shouldn’t have happened in the first place happen again.

It’s as if your son or daughter break curfew and your response is, “Well, what time would you like to come home next time? Here, take my car keys!” (pace Jon Stewart)

I think it’s too late now for any recovery of these rights, barring a major uprising in a country of people easily distracted by the next sports championship or The Voice or Kim Kardashian’s breasts. Or even distracted by the petty bickering of partisans over a very narrow range of opinions.

Noam Chomsky says it best: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Sound familiar?

Monday, June 10, 2013

I Don't Buy It

Today, published reports reveal the identity of the purported whistleblower, Edward Snowden:

An ex-CIA employee has said he acted to "protect basic liberties for people around the world" in leaking details of US phone and internet surveillance.

Edward Snowden, 29, was revealed as the source of the leaks at his own request by the UK's Guardian newspaper.

Mr Snowden, now believed to be in Hong Kong, said he had an "obligation to help free people from oppression".

The recent revelations are that US agencies gathered millions of phone records and monitored internet data.

Admittedly, this story is unfolding and all the details have not been revealed about Snowden or his responsibilities, but here’s what he’ll admit to:

He told The Guardian he never received a high school diploma and didn't complete his computer studies at a community college. Instead, he joined the Army in 2003 but was discharged after breaking both legs in an accident.

Snowden said he later worked as a security guard for the NSA and then took a computer security job with the CIA. He left that job in 2009 and moved on to Booz Allen Hamilton, where he worked as a contractor for the government in Hawaii.

He told The Guardian that he left for Hong Kong on May 20 without telling his family or his girlfriend what he planned.

So he’s a high school drop out (CNN’s wording), never got even an associate’s degree in computer science, was discharged from the Army at age 20, and was hired by the CIA to do computer security work...after spending most of his adult life shouldering a gun only.

Does any of that even begin to make any sense to anyone? The CIA requires experts in their field, either from experience or from education, neither of which appears to be the case for Snowden, unless he did some bang-up job for the Army fresh out of high school.

And somehow, we’re also expected to buy his story that he had pangs of conscience over the “oppression” of American citizens, after years of data mining, even after he left the CIA and went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton (which is going to suffer an awful lot of consequences over this, I should add.)

A less cynical man than me would think that Glenn Greenwald has been set up.