Thursday, July 25, 2013



Halliburton, the oil industry giant, which Dick Cheney turned into a military logistics goldmine, before selling off its subsidiaries who were being revealed to be up to their necks in overcharges to the Federal government and off the books bribes from selected (frequently inept) sub-contractors for services in the Cheney-driven wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has admitted destroying evidence of its culpability in the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  11 oil workers were killed in an explosion, caused, at least in part by Halliburton-supplied cement.


In the immediate aftermath, Halliburton tried to deflect blame onto the oil rig’s owner BP, by saying that the cement was not the problem, rather; it was an insufficiency of “constrictors” to stabilize the concrete that caused the disaster.  There were only 6 constrictors, Halliburton said, when there should have been 21.  Then, Halliburton executives commissioned studies to prove their point.


Well, guess what, Halliburton’s tests showed the opposite.  That the number of constrictors was irrelevant, the problem was the cement.  Then Halliburton deep-sixed the studies, instructed the people who had done the study to destroy their notes, and tip-toed away, hopefully leaving BP on the hook.


Now, they’ve been found out, and have settled with the Federal government for the maximum fine of $200,000 and a $55 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the promise of no further Federal prosecution for their Deepwater Horizon-related crimes.


This leaves me with just one question: who the hell is Halliburton?

Answer: it is nobody.  Oh yeah, I remember Mitt Romney saying that corporations were people, but I guess in this case, the Halliburton people who ordered the study, and who ordered its destruction and who lied in depositions about who should pay what for the incredible losses of lives and livelihoods and environment caused by their malfeasance, “self-deported.”


If the Feds know their names, they’re not saying.  And if the NY Times and Washington Post, who have written about these crimes know, they are also keeping it from us their readers, Uncle Sam’s taxpayers.


Once again, the Obama Administration provides impunity for the rich and powerful.  But all the 1% are not alike.  Halliburton’s mystery men and women may not go to jail, but they’re not getting and Federal handouts to help them cover the costs of their crimes.  That kind of impunity is apparently reserved for Tim Geithner’s friends (and Barack Obama’s financial supporters) at the banks and investment houses.


And jail, it is apparently reserved for lesser or less-connected crooks and thieves. 


May I suggest a new patriotic holiday Jailliburton.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


If hypocrisy were oil, Washington would be Saudi Arabia.  But even by the standards of a town where disingenuousness and moral falsity frame also every public discussion, President Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney yesterday blew smoke fouler than the air in a Chinese coal mine.

“We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools,” said Carney, specifically ignoring the zeal in the Democrat’s house, the Senate, to demand changes, limits, and procedures that would certainly re-mantle the Federal Government’s universal surveillance system.

But here’s the Big Hoot:  “This blunt approach,” Carney went on, “is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.”

So true!  But whose fault is that?  Why, I believe it is no one other than the Press Secretary’s boss, President Barack Obama.

Until Edward Snowden spilled to Glen Greenwald in The Guardian, and later, the Washington Post, the extent of telephone, snail and email, cellphone, GPS record-keeping underway at the National Security Agency, President Obama was zealously protecting keeping all the secrets of that cuddly “Intelligence Community.”  (Anybody ever hear references to a Health and Welfare Community?  Even though they deal, literally, with community concerns.  Education community? Housing community?  Yes, it is common to invoke the Defense Community, because, it, too, like Intelligence, benefits from painted on warm and fuzzies.)

Before Snowden, all the American people were allowed to know came from some, dare I call them “cryptic” hints from a couple of well-briefed Senators, and important whistleblower coverage of phone-record-napping in the NY Times and elsewhere.  That should have alerted the public that traceable digital systems, not just phones, but computers, and GPS connectors could, and therefore were likely to be scanned for Big Data.

That the snoops are also clocking postal communications seems so “last century,” that it caught me by surprise. It shouldn’t have.  Surveillance covers all, or it’s almost nothing at all.    

That’s why turning off parts of the surveillance machine won’t work.

What will work is rule of law, covering the whole damn surveillance system, what the people’s representatives will legislate as limits, not on data collection – a blind eye sees no dangers, but on data selection: what triggers actually examining a person’s collected data, and who gets to do the examining? Is some form of warrant needed before selection can begin, and what level of cause will be required to obtain one?  Will anyone argue on behalf of privacy? What parts of a person’s data can be examined?  Who monitors the process to see that set limits are respected, that every search doesn’t simply strip-mine personal data? And who has oversight over the monitors, and how much are they allowed to share with the public?

These are all difficult, subtle, and vitally important questions.  A Congress which having taken its feet from their normal resting spot in their mouths, should not now use them to out-run their brains.  Carney and his boss are right about that. 

Information, deliberation and openness will all be required if Americans are to exercise any influence on perhaps the most important legal and political decisions of our time. But it ill behooves the man who has smothered all of them, either because he uncritically trusts the men and systems whose secrets he’s been hiding from voters, or because he mistrusts the wisdom of those citizens and finds it safer compulsively to cover his ass, to say so.

Let’s not forget that the most flagrant known examples of abuse of surveillance data come from the Obama Justice Department’s pursuit of phone records of journalists at Fox News, CBS News and the Associated Press who were working on revelations, not of strategic secrets, but of undisclosed CIA and State Department ineptitude and dishonesty.

You know the kind of thing, like that Attorney General Eric Holder was Bill Clinton’s end-of-term-pardon go-between (and might one guess, in the usually politically correct, indirect way, bagman?) with the convicted fugitive billionaire Marc Rich.  That was supposed to be a secret, too.

This of the embarrassment President Clinton and then Deputy AG Holder might have saved themselves with a little information, deliberation and openness, even at the cost of a crook’s Get Out of Jail Free card, and whatever it might have produced.



Monday, July 22, 2013


Here’s the important thing we know for sure about the breaking news in Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug scandal: suspended star Ryan Braun is afraid of Anthony Bosch.  Put into a position where he would have to go mano a mano  with the man behind the closed South Florida Biogenesis “anti-aging” clinic, now alleged to have sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of PED’s to ballplayers, Braun folded his.

Alex Rodriguez, also prominently featured as about to be suspended in widespread leaks I decried in an earlier blog,, had his own leaks spread around which indicated that he was prepared to face down his latest accuser.  Someone close to A-Rod alleged to the NY Daily News that Bosch had begged to be bought off, before he agreed to take money and legal protections to testify for MLB.

My guess is, Rodriguez and his advisors are considering their options.  He had been saying he would be back on the field for the Yankees by August 22.  Now, he has halted his rehabilitation from surgery, because, he says, he has injured a quad muscle.

Helping A-Rod assess his situation, finding a least-damaging-to-all-concerned outcome, are among the smallest reasons why Braun and Major League Baseball need to put some facts on the table.  The inarticulate mumbling going on now actually hurts all concerned.

Here is what Braun has said so far about being banished for the rest of this season (66 games) and deprived of about $3 million in salary: “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”

For this, and all the quotes in this piece I am indebted to the blog of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Thomas Haudricourt.

Braun has issued a printed statement.  He is as afraid to face the media as he is to face Anthony Bosch.  And with good reason: his record of lying about his case.

From the Haudricourt collection:

Immediately after arbitrator Shyam Das has cleared him, because the allegedly dirty samples had been mishandled, Braun said:  “I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”

The next day, at a local Milwaukee sandlot field: "If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I'd be the first one to step up and say, 'I did it. By no means am I perfect, but if I've ever made any mistakes in my life I've taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point.”

After it was revealed his name was on a Biogenesis list of those who owed Bosch a lot of money: “During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant.  There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under ‘money’s owed’ and not on any other list. I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch.”

That was enough to fool me: consistent, logical statements from a player who had heretofore had a good reputation, lacked any of the physical characteristics of a “juicer,” and had an established record of all-star quality play long before and the year after he allegedly “flunked” a drug test for the first time.

And now, like a lot of fans, I want to know everything.  And, for a variety of reasons, all parties should be hurrying to fully inform.

Why did Ryan Braun “confess?”  I have to put confess in quotes, because, “I have made some mistakes,” confesses to nothing. 

Ryan, did you dose yourself with testosterone before the National League Playoffs in 2011 just give yourself an edge?  Was it your first use?  Your only use?

Why do you fear Anthony Bosch?  Would it be just your word against his, that he sold you drugs, that he was more than “a consultant?”  Or would it be his word and documentation of your debt and what it was for?

Or was your choice to give up a remnant of an already lost season for the Brewers and a remnant for a huge salary, with a multiply-huger contract extension already signed, because your blank-paged plea saved you from much harsher penalties and an endless campaign against you by MLB, featuring accusations placed in every form of media from the leaders of the game, Bosch and the press room’s amen corner?

Ryan, until you spell it out, everyone will assume the worst, that you juiced and lied and lied and lied.  And no one will believe you have really taken ownership of your crimes until you enumerate them, and denounce them, specifically and in detail.  Anything less will be taken, rightly, as sniveling.

And MLB, if you hold to your present course of obfuscation, “We commend Ryan Braun for taking responsibility for his past actions,” said Rob Manfred, Executive Vice President, Economics & League Affairs for Major League Baseball, people will wonder what kind of a case against Braun you really had.

Manfred, a former Deputy NYC Mayor under Rudy Giuliani, is certainly offering no prosecutor's statement of facts to prove that the player’s deal was not just a calculation to call off a threatened war of unflattering leaks and pettifoggery forever.
Worse, Manfred is acting like we should believe this was no big deal, nothing to see, and that we should all move along.  “We all agree that it is in the best interests of the game to resolve this matter.”

Just buy your tickets for 2014, MLB is saying to Brewer fans, Braun has done nothing we’re not willing to forgive and forget. “When Ryan returns,” Manfred said, already looking forward, or is it, looking away from what's real, “we look forward to him making positive contributions to Major League Baseball, both on and off the field.”

Hate the player; love his home runs.

Somehow, I think most baseball fans, most disinterested observers, will want more than that.  Ryan Braun and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig (not his surrogate) should tell the truth.










War is all about one thing: force.  Whoever applies force most successfully rules.  Period.  End of story.
Peace is the perfect opposite of war in this: it, too, depends on one thing, the subjugation of force to governance, and, hopefully, rule of law.  Unless and until all of the use of force within a country is brought under the command and control of government, there is no peace.
When, after defeating the government and army of Saddam Houssein, American peacemakers declined to force the Kurdish pesh merga militias to subordinate themselves to the government in Baghdad, they guaranteed and legitimized the resistance of Sunni and Shi’ite Arab militias to state control, not to mention smaller mosque or mafia-based paramilitary units.  What the international forces (i.e. the US) wouldn’t do, the al-Maliki government in Baghdad couldn’t do, and this failure to subdue the many centrifugal armed groups in Iraq is what has turned that once rich and functional country into a ruin.
In Libya, the triumph of a congeries of international and local forces over the government and army of Muammar al-Qaddafi was also followed by no effective regulation of those various heavily-armed local fighting groups by a legitimate central government.  Instead, Tripoli is the isolated capitol of a dysfunctional pseudo-country overwhelmed by internecine blood-letting.
Back in the day, when armed force was a prerogative of the state, peace was relatively easy to obtain.  One side just had to defeat the other and install its own or puppet governance.
Today, defeated governments rarely control all the armed forces within their borders.  In fact, as a government nears defeat, it usually disintegrates into a chaos of superseding loyalties to sectarian or ethnic concepts or to local tribes, clans, imams or mob bosses, each with its own paramilitary force. Under these conditions, the law of war: force wins, rules, and governments obey the gunmen. 
Another good example of what happens when American and international forces declare peace and go home is Bosnia, whose wretched state was well described recently by NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen. 
Oddly, Cohen leaves undescribed the American decisions, enacted through the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, which helped make Bosnia the mess it is today.
Peace a la Dayton was declared but not enforced, and so power in Bosnia was allowed to revert to the self-same warrior bands that had plunged the place into mutual murder in the first place. The UN “Peacekeepers” had neither the mandate, the will, nor the resources to subdue, much less disarm the Bosnian Serb, Croat or Bosniak (Muslim) Nationalist militias, many of them made up of underworld strong-arm squads.  Across Bosnia, they retained their wartime control of most of the “entity’s” constituent areas.  All the UN administration achieved was the creation of militia/mafia-controlled nationalist political parties to give the warriors’ absolute power a civil mask.
Mafia control of politics meant corruption-dominated governance, steeped in hyper-nationalism, insuring a fractured, multiply mutually antagonistic citizenry and a duplication, or in Bosnia’s sad case, a triplication of thieving, conniving government jobs.  Bosnian citizens were cowed but not fooled.  They knew what the international peace had brought them, and so did foreign investors, who declined to pay for the inefficiencies and extra costs of Bosnia’s criminarchy, and stayed away.  Today, Bosnia is not so much a failed as a faux-state  Still split into ethnic parts, Bosnia exemplifies the pathologies of its people, mutual hatred and self-loathing.
Peace in name, but with outlaw forces still in considerable control of government, also disfigures Bosnia’s original attackers, the governments of Serbia and Croatia, whose reputations with their own peoples and potential investors are stained by well-documented criminal impunity and administrative corruption.   
The real impetus of Dayton, never admitted and rarely suggested by critics, was the preservation, not of peace, but of the status quo.  The genealogy of American Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s Dayton deal was out of Metternich by Kissinger, an anachronistic, academic exercise in “balance of power” self-delusion, in which Slobodan Milosevic was to be America’s regent of regional stability.
The rush to conclude a treaty was to head off a humiliating military defeat of Serbian forces by a joint Bosnian-Croatian army, trained and armed with the help of the United States.  As the delegates convened in Ohio, this force was rolling up the Serbs across all of northern Bosnia.  Within weeks, it seemed likely, Milosevic’s military and their Bosnian Serb surrogates would have their backs to the Sava and Drina Rivers, without nothing less than a full withdrawal from Bosnian territory in store.
Holbrooke knew enough about Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian President Alija Itzetbegovic to doubt the results of endowing them with a post-war victor’s independent powers.  Better, he thought, to cede regional place to a Milosevic in debt to the US for his political survival.  So Holbrooke bought Milosevic, not as a failed politico turned war criminal, but as a respectable former client of Kissinger Inc. --when he ran Tito's National Bank his personal Kissinger adviser was Laurence Eagleburger -- and as America's "regent" in the Balkan region. He proved exactly as successful as the Shah of Iran had been as our -- actually Kissinger's and his pathetic smudged copy, Brzezinski’s -- regent in the Gulf region.
Somehow, Holbrooke ignored Slobo’s much greater debts to the Serb nationalists and organized crime leaders who had done his bidding in Bosnia.  Once he made “peace” in Dayton, his killers transferred their lusts for blood, plunder and ethnic triumph to Kosovo, and reining them in, just because his partners from Washington were asking him to, just wasn’t in the cards. 
After 10,000 Kosovars had been killed and 800,000 displaced by Milosevic’s security forces and associated “irregulars,” it took almost a year of US and NATO bombing (sometimes of civilian and diplomatic targets) to conclude yet another uneasy “peace” and a brace of new corrupt and mob-compromised oligarchies to the Balkans.
Yes, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo all have regular elections and civilian governments now, and the beginnings of normal regional relations.  But behind this mask, people who actually live there will tell you, are governments dominated by a few billionaires and a few organized crime gang leaders.
In Afghanistan, our real allies, the people who have staked their families and their futures on the dream of a modern, democratic state shudder as a justifiably impatient Obama rails at an unjustifiably corrupt and inept Karzai and heads for the exit, beyond which lies a false and murderous peace that an international consensus seems to think is “good enough for them.”


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Remember how the Obama White House re-defined “imminent,” as in an imminent threat of terrorism, to “not necessarily anytime soon”?
Major League Baseball (MLB) seems to feel the same way about the word “impending,” as in impending punishments for players who broke the rules on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) through association with the now-closed Biogenesis Clinic in South Florida, and so do the pet journalists who uncritically swallow and pass on these vague threats. 

Since the first Biogenesis document dump to the Miami New Times this winter, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has been promising action, and on a weekly (daily during All Star Game Week) basis, sources “close to” MLB have been saying Judgment Day would be coming soon to a TV screen, website or newspaper near you. 

This week Selig mounted the soapbox at The David Letterman Show to reiterate that his “tough”, “thorough” investigation was nearing a climax, promising with classic Seligian anti-climax that judgments and punishments would occur “sometime in the future.”  Sort of like that “imminent” terrorist attack” that makes it legal for the US Government to kill or arrest you.
Since its contract with Major League Baseball guarantees the Players Union the right to challenge any charges, and the union will challenge each and every one of them, Union leader Michael Weiner added 3 words to baseball's re-definition of “impending”: “not this season.”
Weiner also estimated that the number of suspensions of his player-clients could number be “5 to 500”.  The 2 most frequently mentioned names are the widely-loathed Alex Rodriguez and the MLB-despised Ryan Braun.
A lot of people, reportedly including a lot of his past and present teammates, don’t like Rodriguez because, in addition to being an insufferably vain braggart, he is an admitted liar and PED-abuser, who, in fact, lied for years about past PED use.
MLB hates Ryan Braun because he “beat” them in a PED case brought against him because his lawyers were able to convince an impartial arbitrator that well-documented errors in the handling of his suspect specimen made it inadmissible as well as doubtful as evidence against him. 

MLB responded to the decision by swiftly and pointedly (and point-headedly) firing the arbitrator.  This was, of course, a message to all future arbitrators and drug testers that MLB would accept only the results it wants.  As if any court would accept “evidence” whose protocols had been so violated.  As if the record for errors in forensic and clinical labs weren’t perfectly clear: they all make errors.
Exactly how many and how frequently is hard to say, but the standard guesstimate is that clinical labs make errors in as few as 4 cases in 1000 or as many as 3 in every 100.  Other studies set the laboratory error rate much higher.  And don’t believe the bullshit that the athletic drug labs are any better.  WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency has fired deficient labs and reinstated falsely-accused athletes with some recent frequency. 

WADA long resisted admitting the possibility of error, even after 4 respected Norwegian scientists blasted them for the 2006 banning of race walker Erik Tysse.
Here’s what the 4 critics wrote:  “The primary data presented by WADA are of poor quality and have been treated and interpreted in a deviant and superficial manner.
“It is pretty clear that the evidence presented is far from proving any guilt.  

"The present case is an example of misuse of scientific methods.
“WADA’s behavior in this case jeopardizes their credibility.  They must adhere to good scientific practice, as this is crucial for their efforts to prevent the misuse of PEDs and for gaining the respect and trust of athletes and the general public.”
Of course, in the case of MLB’s vendetta against “5 to 500” players, “scientific practice” practice will not be involved.  There are no "pending" flunked drug tests on record against any of the dozen or more players whose names have been leaked to news media.  A few of the named have flunked and been punished for using PEDs in the past, but no new tests will be cited against them.

So, forget science, but what about “legal practice?” Will the players get a day in court or before any kind of panel of their “peers”, baseball peers or citizen peers?  Nope.  Commissioner Selig does fine, says Commissioner Selig, playing investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.  But in the case of A-Rod, what might a court make of the fact that Anthony Bosch the disgraced former head of the Biogenesis Clinic reportedly (on A-Rod’s thinly supported say so, we must add in Bosch’s defense) went to Rodriguez asking for hush money, and being turned down, before selling his testimony to MLB. And like a jailhouse snitch, Bosch is getting not just money, but a Get Out of Civil Court Free card, from MLB.
Braun, of the mishandled specimen samples, says his contacts with Bosch were not about buying PEDs, but about Bosch's being a consultant in Braun's maddeningly successful case against “impending” MLB suspension.  While encouraging reporters to put Braun’s name near the top of the list of “suspects,” no sources at MLB have offered any refutation of this, other than to impute guilt from Braun’s refusal to cooperate with the “investigation.”  Darn that Fifth Amendment!
It is easy and correct to be against the use of PEDs, even though many of them do not so much enhance “artificially” higher performance levels by athletes, as they quicken recovery from injuries or wear and tear which may be inhibiting an athlete from reaching his or her “real” performance levels.
It is easy, and too often inccrect to spew and repeat undefined "charges, and just as several Constitutional principles protect people accused of crimes from wrongful prosecution or conviction, so too, athletic institutional discipline must follow rule of law, especially where wrongful charges can permanently damage careers, incomes, and personal reputations.
A new case to watch involves the recently-accused Jamaican track stars Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, both Olympic medalists with long, clean careers behind them.  They got a new trainer, and after their first races with him, tested “dirty.”  They say they suspect the trainer, Chris Xuereb, tried to put something over on them and WADA without their knowledge or participation. 

This is not the first time such a plea for exoneration has been made, and not always falsely.
Let’s hope imminence does not preclude justice in the Powell and Simpson cases, and that the proof for Bud Selig’s “impending” punishments will be scientific and irrefutable.
In the meanwhile, MLB’s sources and the media recipients of their leakage should just shut up.  
As should the incessant marketers of "imminent" terrorism. 


They know a lot about us, but we know more about the world they live in. And we can make the people trust us more.

Monday, July 15, 2013


My good friend and fellow worshipper of the horsehide spheroid, Doug Hellinger, raised a serious challenge to my first blog on privacy and secrecy.  I quote from his email:

I would have a very hard time giving in to what you seem to be considering the inevitability of a loss of privacy that greatly increases the vulnerability of movements of resistance (to a corrupt, criminal, repressive or unjust state, or to corporate dominance) to being undermined or of individuals to persecution for, say, their lifestyle choices. To quote a wise man who understands the need for social inclusion, what are we going to say to African Americans and women who are being spied on (as in the good-old Hoover days) as they resist the loss of their economic, social and legal rights? Fuck ‘em?

To which I replied…


Yes, we must accept that today's technologies which intercept and record virtually everything we do exist and that maximizing their use to defend the security of the nation is a foregone conclusion.

What we cannot accept is deferring to government all the decisions about what "maximum use" means. Whose recorded data is selected for analysis, by whose authority, to what end?

What triggers data selection beyond collection? What limits it?

When is a data selection operation ended? What happens to the selected materials and the judgments made of them?

Who gets to ask these questions? What are their powers to restrain abuse of the data collection system? How much of the process described above is made available to the public? And what options does the public have to impose modifications on surveillance theory and practice?

Not to mention, what are the threats to national security and how appropriate and how productive are the policies and actions taken to defend it?

Good answers to these questions are what we should be fighting for.

Fortunately, even as governments accrue more and better machinery to log all our communications, and through drone-supported cameras, our every movement, people are gaining new powers of their own.

Even as the Internet is targeted by a frighteningly narrow and self-interested oligarchy of brand name product manufacturers and global media producers, most bent on "winning" by killing off their competitors, it is itself producing a generation of independent recorders of events, and providers of interpretations and opinions.

This now multibillion computer, tablet, cellphone camera-carrying populace cannot only, like the government, record almost everything; it can communicate it instantly and globally. More people understood Edward Snowden in seconds than understood Daniel Ellsberg in decades.

The question, of course, is credibility, whose recordings will most people accept as true? The government's, the mainstream media's or "amateur video?"

With so many video recording devices in so many hands, the products of multiple "amateur" sources should allow the best mainstream media to deduce a best, most comprehensive approximation of reality ever available, simply by wisely selecting from them. Many of them are better and more believable than the best manipulations of propagandists for commercial as well as government interests. Some of them are fakes, cruel manipulations, which is why journalism -- more than ever -- must provide independent, professional witnesses on the ground as well as informed editors and commentators at the home office. If the institutional "mainstream" media continue to fail to do so, if they continue to save money on reporting and continue to scant facts, context and serious analysis, if they continue to simply pass on what government and conventional thinking call reality, the amateurs on YouTube will eat their lunch, and win credit and credibility from the people and force change and restraint on them and government as the price of giving to either of them even a small share of admiration and belief.

Communication, like almost everything else these days, has become battleground for the respective, all too often opposed, interests of the 1% and the 99%.

But to return to the word, yes, accept technology, but learn how to limit it, use it, control it, in support of rule of law, freedom, and lives of decency, dignity and opportunity for all.

I thank “the Duke” for accepting my appropriation of his private communication for my, and hopefully the reader’s benefit.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

You undoubtedly recognize the text of the 2d Amendment to the US Constitution.

Note how the meticulous authors started their sentence.  With a conditional clause, which literally sets the conditions that define the rest of the sentence, that the "right" enumerated thereafter is in the context of "A well regulated Militia."

Wanna know why the "Founding Fathers" were so meticulous on this point?  Ask yourself this question, would anyone define a "neighborhood watch committee" as "A well regulated Militia?"

No. "Watch committees" are to keep watch; militias are paramilitary forces.  The latter need "to keep and bear arms", to protect their assigned areas and country in an effective and  "regulated" manner.  Watch committees and the members who serve on them do not.

Had George Zimmerman not had a gun, had he only used his eyes to report a suspected intruder, had he only ignored the advice from up his chain of command to back off, and continued to surveil his "suspect," the worst thing that could have happened would have been that, in trying to make an unauthorized and probably illegal "citizen's arrest," Zimmerman might have come to blows with the innocent Trayvon Martin who was simply walking to his parent's home.  The most serious consequences: cuts and bruises and, probably, Zimmerman's forced retirement as a "neighborhood watcher."

Given Florida law, especially the repulsive "Stand Your Ground" statute which says, "If I say you scared me, I can kill you with impunity," a conviction in this case was never likely.  Whatever went down in Sanford, Florida, will never been known "beyond a reasonable doubt."

What can be judged from "the preponderance of the evidence" we will undoubtedly learn in a civil trial.  Chances are that the civil jury will decide that George Zimmerman used bad judgment in stalking a fellow citizen based on a resentment that "they've been getting away with" whatever it was he suspected Trayvon Martin wanted to do beyond return to his Dad's domicile, and worse judgment in ignoring the real police officer's advice to back off.  His worst misjudgment, the one that produced the wholly unneccessary, wholly avoidable tragedy, was pulling a gun and using it.

In that last act, he had criminal accessories before the fact, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, a quintet also guilty of willful abuse of the US Constitution they were sworn to defend and intepret.

They blew off close to 200 years of judicial precedent to create the worst "entitlement" in America's history, the "right" of any asshole to possess deadly force.

As much as anyone, even poor George Zimmerman, their hands are soaked in Trayvon Martin's innocent blood.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


"E Pluribus Unum." "Out of many, one,"--  "Out of many peoples, we are one America," that's the way our national motto was translated to me in grade school.  And it made perfect sense.  Out of my Russian-Polish-Jewish grandparents came I, out of Africa, slavery, and, despite at the time when I was a kid in Richmond, Virginia, enforced separation and inequality, came my back-fence contemporaries and closest friends,  Elizabeth, Benjamin, Leonard, Albert, Johnny and barely-born Richard Lambert, all of us every bit as American as my playmates Aldie Dudley, David and Billy Haslett, and Freddie Ciucci, the first three descended from Virginia's majority White, post-colonial English Protestant families, the latter an Italian-American Catholic.

We were all proud of our plural backgrounds, and all emphatically considered ourselves part of a whole -- the "one."  This is an ideology we absorbed at home and in public school.  American unity was a hallmark concept of every Memorial or Independence Day speech or celebration.  Even the down-to-the-wire segregationist Richmond Times-Dispatch counted and mourned all the casualties of the ongoing Korean War.  You'd have to read the obituaries to tell Black from White.

The lessons of the Civil Rights Revolution to come started with "separation is inherently unequal, " then progressed slowly towards benchmarks of legal, social and opportunity equality.  The first, legal equality, adjusting for the imperfections apparently ineradicable from human experience, has been achieved, and the second and third equalities seemed within reach.  Just 5 years ago, Black home ownership was rising sharply, in cities, but even more so, in America's suburbs.  Both neighborhood acceptance and African-American wealth (for most of the American us, wealth accrues primarily through home equity) were on growing fast, against weakening resistance.

Then came The Great Recession of 2008, and the thing most Americans shared most intensely was fear.  And why not, with virtually all the world's media amplifying the self-interested cant of the very criminals responsible for the economic collapse: that the whole global economy was on the brink, that the collapse of today's market-makers would mean the end of the market itself.

Even worse, the media passively accepted the even more self-interested bankers' solution to the problem created by their own dishonesty and greed: swiftly liquidating old debt by rapidly foreclosing people's hard-won properties, letting "the market" reduce the value of a property, but not the value of the unpaid mortgage on it, while continuing to pay themselves unbelievably excessive salaries and even more ridiculous bonuses, apparently immunized against performance.

There was also little media recognition, much less analysis or dissent about the fact that this whole rotten system was being kept afloat by publicly subsidized credit. 

Thus did fear roll downhill, infecting those being forced out of their homes, and those who feared foreclosure, and those whose fear was that the wipeout of their equity would impoverish their retirement years, and those whose paychecks were threatened by the reduced amount of spending frightened people could permit themselves. Still, today, after a feeble and unsteady recovery almost universally tarted up by unquestioning coverage by the news media, a majority of Americans is legitimately afraid.

With the first flush of fear came desperation and the Darwinian imperative: save what you can, yourself, your family, the people you care about.

As for the Others?  Darwinism says "Fuck 'em."

Look at the popular politics of the years since 2008, they've become all about selective otherization, finding new categories of people to cut off from public benefits, from national embrace, to tell off -- "Fuck 'em."
The media call this "extreme partisanship," but the fact is, neither political party has escaped intellectual and moral, much less policy paralysis, most of it driven by by self-defined purists bent on punishing a growing list of other people, at the expense of any concept of national interest, much less the old idea of "E Pluribus Unum," by which all of us were invested in the lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness of all Americans.

Because they know the policies they promote are morally wrong, the excision of various people from the national fabric is almost always posed as fiscally necessary. But every time someone says, we're cutting some government service or program because "we can't afford it," what they're really saying is "Fuck 'em."

The "fringe benefits" for which workers, public and private, often gave up direct salary payment to achieve, only became unaffordable when municipalities, states, and employers failed to underwrite them.  When they did this, these public officials and corporate bosses silently, but effectively said of their employees, "Fuck 'em."

When their dishonest profligacy was publicly revealed, they said it again, "Fuck 'em," out loud, adding equally dishonestly, "We can't afford to do better."

Of course, not all government programs are well-conceived or well-executed, but real painstaking reform on that level is not what is being proposed or debated.  Few legislators, even fewer voters know any of the crucial details.  In both the Republican-driven, "bi-partisan" concept of "the sequester," not to mention its shallowly political instrumentation by the Democratic Obama administration, the message is clear: we don't care about the details of the cuts or the people affected by them, except as we can exploit them for political advantage. "Fuck 'em."

On reducing, in a time of widespread economic pain and instability, the food stamp program that contributes to (of course, it should insure) the nutrition and health of millions of American families, as well as broadening the market for American farmers and food processors, the debate between the parties, and the 2 Houses of Congress is about "how much?"  How much should we fuck 'em?

On denying to Native Americans even the bare protections from the broadscale "sequester" budget cuts afforded to virtually all other poor or marginalized Americans, there was neither significant division nor debate.  We "can't afford" to provide native Americans livable homes, or basic health or social services, so.... "Fuck 'em."

On restoring America's infrastructure to a level competitive with the airports, rail systems, road systems with those of Western Europe, the Persian Gulf, China or Japan, a project that would create jobs, improve public services and attract more tourists -- Congress says "can't afford it," and to the people who might do those jobs, and enjoy those services, profit from those foreign visitors, "Fuck 'em."

And speaking of staying globally competitive by making our health care and education services as good as those found in rest of the world's top-tier countries, we're more worried that someone might get more medical care than he can pay for than that he or she might die, more careful about squeezing the last dollar of loan principal or interest out of a college student than caring about the value educated people add to the national treasury and culture. 

Every day or week, month after month, year after year, our so-called "political leadership," whatever else they may disagree on, say in a single voice loud and clear, to everyone who needs any kind of help or accommodation or even encouragement from our once-collective American nation: Fuck 'em.

It does have a catchy, chesty sound to it, but somehow, I like E Pluribus Unum better as a motto for our nation to live by.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The “debate” over PRISM and other American and international snooping programs grows more pathetic by the day, still dominated by laments over these “evil” new technologies of data gathering and collation.

The latest “highlight” was conservative columnist Robert Samuelson’s regretting the invention of the Internet.  This is the return of the mad Irish King Cuchulainn cursing the ocean’s waves.

The Internet, with all its dangers and opportunities is here, Bob; get over it.  Or better, learn to manage it.

The same must be said for today’s new surveillance technology: it exists, and any national security agency that fails to use it should be disbanded.  The question is how are these new opportunities to monitor people and their communications used by the NSA, its colleagues and competitors.  It is a given that they can and do register and file just about every form and piece of human communication.  But, what triggers more particular and invasive attention to people or institutions?  And once closer looks are begun, who gets access to selected materials?  Who monitors the snoopers from both inside and outside the system, and what powers do they have to rein in irresponsible or unnecessary prying?  And who tells what about all of this to the people who, in a democracy, should have the ultimate power and responsibility?

These are hard questions, but familiar ones, since they recur often, whenever the balance of power between citizens and their states is transformed by technological or cultural change.

In this case, the ongoing development of surveillance technology and data gathering and mining, like the ongoing development of global use of the Internet creates both dangers and opportunities for both sides of the citizen/state balance of power.

On the one hand, for the 21st Century and beyond, the uncomfortable fact is that personal privacy is dead, and not just because of government supercomputers. The global distribution of mobile phones with audio or video recording capabilities has created an environment in which anything that happens “in public” is almost as likely to be recorded as your “private” phone calls, texts messages, snail- and e-mails, and probably more likely to be distributed with or without your permission.

But, there is a countervailing truth here: government secrecy is as almost as dead as privacy; people have never-before-equaled powers to rip the government’s blindfolds off their eyes.  The fatal flaw of secret systems, that they require human participation, and inevitably, every secret decision can produce active dissent, is nothing new.  But what is new and growing is the ability of whistleblowers to record events, and to distribute the recordings and their dissident criticisms to the world at large. Thus, what really be created is a new and different balance of powers between citizens and states, uneasy, instable, but still a balance of powers.

And the evidence suggests, people have already begun adapting to this new balance.  Even old folks like me have noticed that younger people have different attitudes toward and expectations for privacy.  They are prone to exhibit more of and about themselves than their parents did. Largely this is because they can; but it also because others can create these displays, with little to stop them, and that such exposures create far less embarrassment or social cost.  Note the political returns of Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford, just to name 3.  Every college newspaper, it seems, has either a sex or a porn column, which trade in what even fairly recent graduates might consider TMI, too much information.

This is not to say, there are no norms, but just to note that, for most people under 30 the limits on personal disclosure are looser than for older people.  When it comes to the NSA snoopers, the key task will be to determine the norms, not on what you can do, but on what you can do without inviting real surveillance.  If you can fly beneath that radar, and would-be terrorists have long known this and did not need Edward Snowden to tell them to be careful, you can do almost anything you want, until it is too late for even the most aware parents, potential employers or professional counter-terrorists to prevent it.

So, Norms for Our Time:  when you are on the phone or the Internet, assume your every move is being turned into government data, and when you are on the street or anywhere “in public,” assume there is a good possibility everything you say or do is being recorded. 
That’s relatively easy.  Personal and cultural change is constant and people are used to dealing with it.  Much harder is to define and apply rules and limits to powerful institutions like governments and their often-loosely- supervised security agencies.  They are much slower to understand, and much, much slower to adapt to new conditions than people.

After all, it has been 50 years since the US sent troops into Vietnam, and still there has been little recognition of how changes in communications and weapon technologies have made military invasion an exercise in futility.  The universality of digital communication is one key reason why old war-fighting tactics no longer work, and why local organizations cohere so successfully and durably.  The rapid escalation in portable or “improvised” (i.e. locally sourced) firepower is another.  Taken together, these changes explain why, as I like to put it, “In today’s warfare, the visiting team never wins.” 

Gone are the days of “secret wars.”  If a sparrow, much less a bomb falls, the destruction it causes will be publicly known via Twitter, Facebook and supremely, YouTube, not just by the home folks suffering the damage, who will inevitably be alienated from the outside forces responsible for it, but by the “visitors’ own citizens, who will know what death and destruction are being committed in their names. 

Increasingly, Americans are coming to understand that for every terrorist (in, or without quotation marks) killed by American drones in northwest Pakistan, hundreds of friends, relatives and neighbors, and hundreds of thousands of Pakistani fellow-citizens are turned into irrevocable enemies.  They can see the damage on their TV screens, computers and mobile phones. 

Similar secret US attacks inside Somalia, may have eliminated a few terrorists, but they have also strengthened the Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabaab’s legitimacy as an anti-imperialist force there.  Somalis, like Pakistanis, count the collaterally dead as their friends, those who killed them as enemies, and today’s communications technologies assure they, and anyone they can communicate with, can count corpses as easily or efficiently as domestic spooks can track your correspondence.  American diplomats on the ground recognize this blowback, but in Washington, other imperatives still rule.

Between whistleblowers and video cameras, government secrecy is dead as a doornail, or the concept of personal privacy.  The Video Era, like those of such earlier modes of communication as the human voice, the printing press, radio and TV, has created great opportunities for the consolidation of power in those who can control or best utilize those media.  But, equally, for ordinary people the new media, each time they change the world, also greatly empower individual communications to spread farther faster to an ever-growing audience. 

There is a new balance of power in communication and, as Darwin noted, adaptation is the only answer. 

David Marash