Thursday, August 29, 2013


The world sent two messages to President Barack Obama, but it remains to be seen if he got them.

The two messages were: (1) The world is weary of America using its standoff weapons to vaporize its enemies, and (2)  What the world thinks, as in what the world’s people think, as opposed to what “world leaders” (or even local leaders) think, matters.

In my last blast  I accused the Obama White House of “old world thinking.”  What I was talking about was President Obama’s apparent conception of “sending a message,” in this case to the Syrian serial mass murderer President Bashar al-Assad.

The incremental escalation of the American government’s response to President Assad’s continuing crimes against his citizens, from (1) scowling at him, to (2) threatening to give some number of small arms (but not actually giving them) to -- which fraction of? -- the Syrian rebels, to (3) raining rockets or missiles or bombs on “military targets” is thought of as “sending messages,” to convince Assad to give up his war in favor of the civility of a “peace negotiation.”   Each nudge up the scale is a further “statement,” leader to leader.

It is significant that so far, the White House whispers of disapproval, and the brandished threat now on the table have not moved Assad to reform. 

So, the conventional political logic, accepted by “leaders” of the Democratic and Republican parties and the country’s media, asserts, Obama’s personal and national  credibility demand that he deliver on his threat, his metaphoric hard punch to Assad’s leadership biceps, enough to hurt, but not cripple or even short-term disable him.  

A manly sort of diplomatic communication: the kind that once could be done discreetly, a “message that was “private,” or “secret,” depending on whether or not you were “in the loop.”

Well, as I said in my very first post it is the defining quality of our new age of digital communication that your expectation of privacy and government’s expectation of secrecy are obsolete fantasies.  Because of the global network of mobile phone, tablet, computer and television screens it is literally true that almost everybody can know almost anything – personal or political  -- and know it instantly, from cell phone snappies of physical and political boobs or from video “live shots” from the Supreme Court steps or Tahrir Square.

One of the great things about human beings is, if you let them do something, most of them will want to do more; if you let people know something, most of them will want to know more.  Now that people know what their digital screens can show them, they feel entitled to unfettered use of them to see more, in as close to real time as possible.

This certainly has its downsides, as screens are extremely susceptible to manipulation, both through what they show and don’t show, and the “real time” obsession crowds out time to think.  But, too bad, screens rule, like it or not, which means these swift judgments of screen-watchers are both more widespread and deeply-held than any in history, including the comparatively parochial affirmations of faith in Christianity or Islam. 

People today, all over the world, see for themselves, and judge for themselves and then back their judgments with all the conviction their egos can give them. 

In today’s media age, governments, democratic or not, have to sell their ideas to their people, and so, doing nothing but denouncing the use of chemical weapons is sold as “caution,” or “patience,” or “prudence,” while threats of arms supplies or armed attacks or sold as “justified,” or “measured,” or “necessary.”  This is called “spinning” the American people.  When Assad spins his own people he claims Israel is behind any American aggression; when he adds that it will fail like previous American aggressions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, he is trying to spin the American people and the world. 

So far, probably for the better, the noise of the multi-party attempts to spin the Syria crisis is drowning out, maybe flat sweeping downstream, the drums and guns of war.  Today, everybody in the world gets to listen in on the leaders’ conversations, gets to hear the messages, back and forth.  And draw their own conclusions.

That’s why the Arab League, the group of regional states which first tossed Assad’s government out, then gave status to self-declared representatives of the rebels, which has no love nor loyalty for the Syrian tyrant, has opted out of any military assault, no matter how “limited.”  Their people are telling them, loudly, on Facebook and Twitter, in the barber shops and beauty parlors, the Parliaments and on the streets, "Do not sign off on this American message of force."

So, it seems obvious, are the people of Great Britain and of Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern Europe telling their governments, “Hold on! Not so fast, and maybe not at all.”

From every corner of the world there is a call for evidence that the Assad government (and not a “rogue faction” of it, or not a faction of rebels) was responsible for the use of poison gas on civilians, women and children, and that any military response will be both careful of human life and effective in improving Syrian lives.

What is new here, and historically definitive, is that so many people have opinions they consider informed, and are so willing to share and embrace their judgments.  What is new here and defining of our age is that people can see what is happening “on the ground,” see how it is affecting the people who live on the ground, and tell their families, friends, neighbors, governments all about it.

For the past several years, people have seen global coverage of the results of American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.  Even sincere and professed enemies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula take little pleasure in them.  They know the warheads sometimes go astray and when they do, innocent civilians die, and, far too frequently, the American government and military minimize their culpability.

The net result in Pakistan and Yemen, polls show, is diminished affection and respect for the United States, and military intelligence suggests, continued growth in recruits to the terrorist cause.

And global polling shows, disaffection and disrespect for Uncle Sam also seem to be growing.  Our propensity for warfare, and interference in affairs and nations beyond our borders are usually seen as leading reasons why.

Everybody loves a winner, but not a bully, especially when the “loser’s” wounds are on display.

So “secret wars,” even “secret” attacks are no secret anymore.  No drone rocket falls without the eye of some sparrow-sized camera recording it, and sending the picture around the world. 

And as long as “secret policies” are executed by human beings, no policy-planner should feel his or her secrets are immune to the sting of an Ellsberg, a Manning or a Snowden, or the coverage of the Post or the Times or CNN, CCTV, Al Jazeera, RTV or YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

This is called “living in the real world.”

Hey, White House! Get the message?         





Tuesday, August 27, 2013


“Well, this time we’re really mad.” That seems to be gist of the message President Obama has charged Secretary of State John Kerry with giving to the world.

After a widely suspected chemical attack on Syrian civilians earlier this summer, almost certainly on orders from their murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad, reportedly killed between 100 and 150 people, The Obama White House said we were pretty steamed, and told Assad we were finally going to start arming his enemies in response. But we did not do so.

Just as we did not do anything to Assad after 2 years of his desperate attempts to hold onto power had produced an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths and more than a million refugees.

But now, Kerry says, things are different: now we know Assad ordered what we know was a chemical weapons attack that we know has killed upwards of 1000 civilians, who like the 100,000 dead who have preceded them are disproportionately women and children.

The proof, journalists have been told, will be found in “sigint,”digital messages with traceable sources and signatures that will establish, it was Bashar and his henchmen who put the poison gas into play.

Could this be the opportunity the Securicrats have been waiting for?  Is this when the surveillance capability which I accept cannot be undone can be used to benefit American security (if it is really being threatened)?  Could just the kind of message mining the NSA says it occasionally, accidentally uses to tap the communications of Americans be used righteously, to protect the innocent (even if they are not Americans) against their oppressors (even if they have never proposed oppressing America)?

If the NSA et al can really produce evidence that will convince reasonable people that the Syrian regime has indeed broken one of the world’s most serious laws and taboos, against using chemical weapons for mass attacks against civilians, that would be an important accomplishment.  And it might even provide a proper predicate for a serious response against those responsible.

But the US Government’s “proof” had better be good. As my brilliant friend George Kenney points out today in Huffington Post:

"From the reporting it seems ineluctably clear that chemical weapons were used. That's a tragedy. But it remains far from clear who did it. None of the many insurgent groups are saints; to be honest, with the fighting going against the insurgency in recent months there would be far greater incentives on their side to use chemical weapons, in the hope of triggering western intervention, than there would be on the part of Syrian government forces."

But assuming, the charges against the Assad regime stand up, some hard questions still remain, like why would we respond?  To defend international law? To defend Syrian lives? Or would we be acting to defend our “credibility, “ to make good on President Obama's "red line" warnings?  As today's NY Times editorial puts it:

"Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through. Many countries (including Iran, which Mr. Obama has often said won’t be permitted to have a nuclear weapon) will be watching."

This sounds a little like Dr. Seuss' Horton Hatches the Egg raised to geo-strategic levels: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, and an elephant's faithful 100%."

Yes, it is a good thing for our allies and our enemies to know we are steadfast. But it is a better thing, if what we propose to do makes sense.

So what is that President Obama is considering?

Here is what the NY Times says we can expect:

“a limited military operation — cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea at military targets in Syria.”

The Washington Post has a bit more detail,

adding that “long-range bombers” may also be used for “no more than two days “ to hit “military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.”

Like what? Well, Army Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey told Congress in June, “Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes.”

But the Post says the attack under contemplation would be something, “far smaller and designed more to send a message than to cripple Assad’s military and change the balance of forces on the ground.”

Clearly the Times heard the same ideas with slightly different words: “not a sustained air campaign intended to topple Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, or to fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict on the ground.”

So, the American government wants the world to know that making good on the President’s word means sending a message and a punishment to President Assad, but nothing more. Take that! Take your un-toppled self and un-crippled military and carry on. Carry on with an unchanged balance of forces in an unaltered conflict and just restrict yourself to killing without chemicals, the old-fashioned ways.


If, as Secretary Kerry said, Assad’s gassing his own people to keep power is a “moral obscenity,” then what is our killing a few of Assad’s soldiers (and almost inevitably, his people,) while keeping the arch-murderer in power and still dominating a majority of Syria’s citizens and territory?

It sounds like that’s America’s objective: to keep things as they are. Show a little might. Kill some Syrian Muslims. Intimidate some Iranian Muslims. But do not change the unrelieved awfulness of Syrian reality today.


Is this because we think, facing reality in a world and particular case of nothing but bad options, that this is all we really can accomplish?  If so, keeping that a “secret,” is another example of “old world thinking.”  Better to explain what we can and cannot do, and why, than simply to leave the globally visible results (the explosions will be seen on all-the-world’s TV, computer and tablet screens) to be interpreted unaided.


Our plan of action seems to be all about limiting risk, not in itself a bad thing. But if the limits, using only “stand-off” weapons, whether they be missiles, or drones, of bombers flying high (as in Kosovo and Serbia to keep pilots safe,) exacts a cost in targeting accuracy (as it did in Kosovo and Serbia,) it may not be so well received among the people on the ground or the people watching it all at home. 

The Kosovo precedent was, in a way, great for us – a war with no casualties:  none; no  American lives were lost in the campaign to free Kosovo.  But the idea of risk-free military action is a dangerous one, and to outsiders may seem both brutal and cowardly.  This is already how much of the world already perceives our military strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, America killing “because it can.”

We limit our targeting in both those places, too, and claim “good intelligence,” implied allied consent, and legal justification for everything we do, but much of the world hates us for it.

And wouldn’t you, if some foreign force meted out its brand of justice in our backyards, or even our boondocks? And wouldn’t you hate it even more if what the outsiders called justice were just geo-political posturing to protect its “word,” while changed nothing, while practically guaranteeing, of not enabling future crimes by the oppressor, and future repetitions of violent correction, further wastes of our blood and treasure?

If we choose force, death and destruction, shouldn’t it be to change something, to end, not prolong violent conflict.

Unless we cannot realistically expect to do better. 

So, tell us, if we can use our spy tech to track Assad’s messages, can we also use it to track the man himself?  If we can trace the communications of the Syrian chain of command to prove that carries out war crimes, can we not to target enough significant links in that chain to disassemble it?

Or are we just sticking to the pre-precision warfare rule of law, that killing “leaders” is unacceptable, while killing their forces and their victims is not?

Decapitation and not punishment is what needs to be done to the Assad machine if we mean to effect change.

Playing pattycake for 2 years while Syria has imploded in government-dominated violence has not worked. Quite the contrary, it has ceded the battlefield to forces that see themselves as either enemies of or betrayed by us.  Making our slaps slightly harder will not change the hearts and minds of those now fighting in Syria, nor will it save Syrian lives or stabilize Syria’s neighborhood.

But can America do that?  And if we can’t what can we do and how? If we decimate and thereby bring under control the Syrian government’s war machine (military and internal security), can we then quiet and reorganize a chaotic battleground state overrun by several different fighting forces, some of them unalterably opposed to any peace on American terms.

As Syria’s neighbor Iraq (and Libya and Yemen) eloquently demonstrate, it is much easier to create a state of war than it is to end one. And, make no mistake, after, and in part because of, our own 2 years of passive acceptance, Syria is in an advanced state of war, where every inch of ground is controlled or contested by force.

The disasters in those 3 states (and the continuing troubles in Egypt and Tunisia) show the rule of force must be ended before rule of law can start, and that almost always demands the application of greater force. We say peace, freedom and stability for Syria is our ultimate goal, but what risks will be run for that goal? Stand-off force cannot hold ground.

Almost unheard of these days in Washington, there seems to be a solid consensus, from the White House to the Congress, to the American people, that we want to keep our “commitment” completely risk-free. We do not want to get involved in Syria’s Civil War. Me neither. But, face it; nothing far short of that is likely to work.  And, even one American cruise missile means we are involved.

We may deny it, call it an isolated “punishment,” “surgical” and clean, but that’s not what the world watching the explosions is going to think. They’re going to say, the US is involved in murder, in destruction. And they are going to ask, for what? “Sending a message,” delivering a punishment, sounds a lot like, what were John Kerry’s words? Oh yes, “a moral obscenity.”

No, if we’re going to use the bullet, we’re going to have to bite the bullet. If we’re going to shoot at the beast, we have to kill the beast. If the only way to end war is to use war, we should, and then, with help from allies, with support from local participation, against some very determined foes, we must also be prepared to win the peace. Which, we should acknowledge in front,  is likely to involve a lot of time, a lot of costs, and some serious risks, including if we are honest, (even if for a limited mission over a limited period of time,) somebody’s boots on the ground.

If domestic politics, or the limits of our military strength, forbid that, the White House should say so.  Honesty about the relationship between policy and reality is something every government owes its people.   Bluster or weasel words or half-measures are not likely to work, as domestic politics, much less as foreign relations.


Friday, August 23, 2013


According to the latest posting by Congress,

The 535 men and women who comprise the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been a busy and productive bunch.  In the first 7 months of 2013, they have passed, and gotten the President to sign, 22 bills. Why that’s more than 3 a week!

These accomplishments include the "Freedom to Fish Act", which stops the Corps of Engineers from restricting public access to waters downstream of a dam, and decisions to name the bridge across the Mississippi River on I-70 east of St Louis, the "Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge," and name the provisions of the IRS Code relating to individual retirement accounts of married individuals the Kay Bailey Hutchison Spousal IRAs.

Congress has also authorized a display to acknowledge donor contributions to the visitor center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, empowered the Treasurer of the DC Government to fill vacancies in his office, and despite the high-minded enmity of Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee to almost all proposals to spend Federal money, Congress passed 2 bills (9% of its total output) to let Uncle Sam’s sawbucks behind a couple of electric power systems in the Beehive State. No grid lock in Utah.

Congress did pass a couple of significant bills, preventing the FAA from reducing operations and staff (can you say, “flying home to my district?)” and funding Federal Flood Insurance.

But, by far the most “impactful” (a true Washington word) bills to meet the Presidential pen were the ones that allowed the U.S. Government to continue appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, and ensure the complete and timely payment of the debt obligations of the United States Government until May 19, 2013.  Since May 19, the Treasury has been juggling accounts against the promise or prayer that Congress would raise the ceiling on the National Debt before this session ends sometime this Fall.

Until Congress acts, the government is once again facing a possible end-of- September shutdown, and financial default.  Today’s NY Times says right now things look bad.

So, while we all wait for that decision, it might be worth considering the costs to us, the taxpayers, of these exercises in Congressional brinksman(and woman)ship.

When Congress threatens to shut government down, take it from one who has seen this from the inside, government stops almost everything else it is supposed to be doing to prepare.  Every day that is devoted to these necessary preparations is time stolen from the ordinary important functions of government.  And they are necessary.  Federal workers can’t simply close their computers and turn off the lights, certain truly vital services have to be sustained, and that takes a lot of planning. And, lots of stuff has be more than put away, but secured, and that takes both planning and time) Based on a 365 day year, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) figured the daily cost of running the Federal Government for FY 2011 was about $11 Billion. After the sequester, it’s likely less than that right now, but, say $10 billion bucks a day, round numbers.  For nothing.    

These are your tax dollars at work. Or diverted from work.

Then there’s the cost of the made-in-Congress “panic” that accompanies loud talk on Capitol Hill about defaulting on our government’s debt obligations.  According to a backgrounder done at the Council for Foreign Relations (

A 2012 [GAO] study estimated that delays in raising the debt ceiling in 2011 cost taxpayers approximately $1.3 billion for FY 2011, [with] the ten-year costs of the prolonged [Congressional] fight at roughly $19 billion.

These tax dollars aren’t going to just disappear, they are going to migrate from your pockets to those of the 1%, the people and Wall Street institutions which cash in the government’s increased borrowing costs which result from the higher interest rates charged “risky” borrowers.

And it’s not just the government which gets fleeced on account of this gratuitous throwdown, over something that had never been anything but a routine vote to approve before the Tea Party crazed, or at least intoxicated the Republican Party. editor Jonathan Masters also noted, “Rate increases would also raise capital costs for struggling U.S. businesses and cash-strapped homebuyers.”  More money from you, to them.

So the next time you hear your Senator or Congressperson suggest he’s gonna shut down the government and stop the rise in the national debt, picture loose lips sucking cash out of your wallet and puking it into the accounts of Wall Street bankers or country club plutocrats.  Picture many of those WSBs and CCPs “contributing” or better yet “bundling” cash for your S or C’s latest election campaign.

Not a pretty picture, but probably the heart of the Congressional report card for their work from January through July.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


For virtually as long as it has been in business, the NSA's super-surveillance program has abused the US Constitution, and defied the instructions of the FISA Court which is supposed to supervise it, and lied about it, -- to the court, the Congress and the American people.

The revelation, just this week, of the NSA's persistent and dangerous misbehavior, found in the text of official rulings by FISA Court Judge John Bates in 2009 and 2011, does, in the words of the Director of National Intelligence, Gen. James Clapper, "harm to national security."

No, Director Clapper, making your lies and abuses public knowledge harms only you, and those within your organization who served you and neither the nation nor the Constitution.  Your attempt to frighten your critics by claiming your personal humilation is a national security disaster only confirms your unfitness to serve.  Resign.

The application of the "national security" label to the disclosure of Cabinet-level failure, like the gratuitous use of the Espionage Act to condemn leaker Bradley Manning, and the foolish misuse of the Terrorism Act in the UK, to trigger the detention and interrogation of David Miranda and the meaningless destruction of computers and hard drives at the office of The Guardian newspaper all illustrate a corrupt use of language by the leading American and British War-on-Terror-ists, which slimes them like an exploding bag of funny money colors more common criminals like bank robbers.

But perhaps the most meaningful revelation on the counter-the-counter-terrorists front was the one made to the Washington Post by the latest Chief Judge of the FISA Court, the widely respected Reggie Walton: (as reported by Spencer Ackerman in The Guardian) "that the Fisa court remains reliant on government assurances, rather than its own independent oversight capabilities, to determine that the NSA and the government is in compliance with surveillance law and agreed-upon procedures."

That is to say, the FISA court is dependent on a band of unrestrained, unashamed liars, and has no weapons beyond its own wits to counter them.

Every day, it seems, we learn how much must be done to bring the National Security sub-state under control and to assure that national security and the public interest are truly synonymous, and not as DNI Clapper seems to think, concepts in conflict.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


My dear friends in the United Kingdom,

I'm sure there is nothing more annoying than political meddling from an outsider from one of "the colonies," but ...can you say snap election?

The Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorism unit's raid on the editorial offices of The Guardian, a pre-cursor to the Securi-Bobbies' Heathrow detention of Guardian investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda just revealed today, shows the Miranda detention was not just a stupid mistake, but part of a concerted, and very stupid policy: to try to crush press freedom and hide from citizens facts about what their elected leaders are up to.

To put it mildly, such actions are anti-democratic, and show the British Government's fear of and contempt for ordinary citizens.

In short, the happy chumps who Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger says forced Guardian personnel to destroy computers and hard drives before his astonished eyes were also putting David Cameron's feet deep into the shite, because I have a hunch, this nano-Krystallnacht for journalists, will not go down well with the British public.

So, if I may suggest...

Step #1)  Put it to Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes -- is this the policy of a government you can still support, still accept co-responsibility for?  Suggested answer: No.

2)  After the Lib-Dems withdraw from Cameron's Government, they should immediately join Labor in asking for a special session of Parliament for a vote of No Confidence.

3)  After that vote passes, and with the support of leaders of both parties it can hardly fail, call for snap elections.

4)  Polls suggest that the popular romance with the public school boys is already over; that their version of Thatcher II has been publicly judged to be not just mean-spirited, but incompetent.  If George Osborne's profits and impunity for the lending class, and higher unemployment, lower wage scales and crimped benefits and services for the struggling class weren't electoral burden enough, let David Cameron explain this week's security police crackdown.  It reeks of Mrs. T's bloody mix of simple-minded bossy-pants and single-minded intolerance.

5)  Even in our narrow little world of journalism, there is a fine distinction to be made.  On the one hand there are Cameron's relations with Rupert Murdoch, coddling his attempts to mislead Parliament, dominate news coverage, corrupt the cops and invade a dead girl's privacy, while professionally and personally cuddling with Murdoch's minion and mignonette, the indicted former chief editors of the late News of the World Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks.  On the other, there would be campaign promises by all anti-Tories to protect the freedoms of papers like The Guardian, while vigorously prosecuting the crimes of the right-wing Aussie-American publishing tycoon.

6)  I would also humbly suggest the anti-Tories demand a public airing and political reconsideration of Government's domestic spying and (shades of President George W. Bush's "lapdog" Tony Blair) enabling of America's attempts to spook everyone in the world.  Cameron has acted out the role of the "old school" elitist,  ignorant about and dangerous for the most widely-used freedom in the world, communication through digital devices.  Almost everyone, certainly almost every voter, has a computer, mobile phone or tablet and uses them to gather information and express ideas.  Therefore almost everyone can instantly recognize the futility as well as the ugliness behind trying to eradicate a message by chilling a messenger and and killing a few copies. This Government is too dumb to live.

7)  With speed and daring, its opponents can get voters to prove that.

8)  Here in the States, we don't have snap elections, but we do already have a fiery reaction, from the Tea Party Right to the Progressive Left to the unrestrained  and dishonest NSA surveillance machine.  Barack Obama will have to do much more than pay attention; he'll have to pay respect to that reaction, its logic and its values, or he will face political paralysis even worse than he experienced in his first term, and disgrace like he's never seen before.  Many have already noted Obama's kinship with the much-regretted President Richard Nixon, their paranoia about dissent, their hypocritical abuse of words like "transparency" and "reform."  But now they are revealed alike in their devotion to "imperial" Presidencies.  But where Nixon was infamous for his love for imperial fripperies like uniforms for White House servants and guards, Obama is intent on the essence of imperialism, absolute control of information and communication.  How fortunate for us, and for the world, that imperialism as as dead as secrecy and, alas, privacy.

Again, I apologise for being a buttinsky, but, unless I'm dead wrong, these are themes you'll be hearing plenty of from your own folks.

Hoping for the best,

Monday, August 19, 2013


The deer on the Scottish island of Jura got some good news.  British Prime Minister David Cameron had to call off his plans to “stalk” them because of severe pain from a “phenomenally bad back.”

Hopefully, PM Cameron is hurting even worse a bit lower down because of the grotesque bit of stalking the counter-terrorism specialists of his Metropolitan Police pulled off at Heathrow Airport.  The deer in the terror cops’ headlights was David Miranda, a transiting passenger from Berlin on his way home to Rio de Janeiro with more future headline news from the files of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden he was delivering to his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Some secret warriors have certainly called Greenwald and his reporting partner award-winning documentary film-maker Laura Poitras a lot of nasty names.  But no one in their right mind could think of these non-violent practitioners of open-to-the-public investigative journalism as terrorists.  And when it comes to the man held and cross-examined for 9 hours, terrorist is a laughable label.  Even Snowden defies the terrorist tag.  His non-violent and public revelations have injured no one, except those whose lies and disinformation are meant to hide their own questionable use of official government power.

If breaking secrecy is a crime, and I think a case can be made that it is, Snowden’s was a misdemeanor compared to the crimes and abuses he has exposed. 

If an informed public is the absolute bedrock of democracy, then Snowden’s whistleblowing, mediated by the excellent journalism, focused interviews, and contextual background, provided by Greenwald and Poitras is among the biggest contributions of the last 50 years.

That's one reason why, for today’s London  newspapers, the Times, The Mail, The Telegraph, even The Mirror, not to mention The Guardian, this detention of an innocent traveler, suspected of no crime, threatening no persons save those frightened out of their wits by what might be in his bit of the Snowden files, is front page news. 

And the story is already showing what the news business calls, “legs.”  It will be with us for months.  Not only are opposition Labor Party leaders, Shadow Cabinet members and back-benchers demanding explanations from the police and PM Cameron’s government, but David Anderson QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that Cameron and Co. have at least 3 non-partisan things to worry about.  'The police, I'm sure, do their best,' The Guardian reported him as saying.

'But at the end of the day, there is the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which can look into the exercise of this power, there is the courts, and there is my function.'

And it seems, the terrorism law monitor is functioning his ass off, already calling, The Mirror reported, for "'further 'safeguards' to be introduced to prevent the powers being abused in the wake of the case.
"He said Mr. Miranda’s treatment was 'unusual'.

"Mr. Anderson said: 'It seems to me there is a question to be answered about whether it should possible to detain somebody, to keep them for six hours, to download their mobile phone, without the need for any suspicion at all.
"'I hope at least it is something that parliament will look at.'"
Meanwhile, the editors at The Guardian are readying more headlines based on Greenwald’s reporting of Snowden’s revelations.  And an angry Greenwald says, now he will have a new target:  the UK.

“I’m going to publish many more things about England as well,” he is quoted in the NY Times. “I have many documents about the system of espionage of England, and now my focus will be there, too. I think they’ll regret what they’ve done.”
For 2 good reasons, (1) the Snowden information is likely to be good and valuable to anyone who cares about civilian control of national security politics, and (2) the escalation in this war to hide the truth was forced upon him, I say to Greenwald, “Go get ‘em, Tiger!”

By the way, if Cameron thinks the meaning of his police forces big mistake has gone unrecognized in the UK, let me quote a member of his home team, whose essay has gone global through the auspices of the NY Times: "Nick Cohen, a columnist for the conservative weekly The Spectator, wrote on Monday that the detention of Mr. Miranda was 'a clarifying moment that reveals how far Britain has changed for the worse.'

"Adding, 'The next time they try to tell you that the secrecy and attempts to silence legitimate debate are ‘in the public interest,’ do not forget what they did to David Miranda, because they can do it to you, too.'”

A final thought:  All of this could have been avoided, easily and completely, if anyone in the administration of American President Barack Obama had said, when given an official “heads up” by the Brits on what they intended to do to Miranda: “Gee, that’s a stupid idea.  Don’t do it.”

Instead, White House spokesman Josh Earley unashamedly told reporters, the whole thing was not America’s fault.  

“This is the British government making a decision based on British law on British soil about a British law enforcement action,” he said. “They gave us the heads-up, and this is something that they did not do at our direction, is not something that we were involved with. This is a decision that they made on their own.”

Josh, let me offer you an analogy.  Your puppy comes running happily up to you, wagging his tail, and proudly shows you your best friend’s best neck-tie half-chewed in his mouth.

The proper response is not, “Nice doggy.”  Any responsible pet owner would remove the tie, show it to the dog and in a memorable but not menacing tone, say, “No!  Bad dog!”

To do anything less makes you an accomplice, a willing accomplice. to your young pet’s foolishness.

In this case, of course, the terrorism-counterers of our oldest ally are not cute pups, but even old dogs must be prevented from new Stupid Pet Tricks.


Sunday, August 18, 2013



Some smart American general, I can't recall if it was Stanley McChrystal or David Petraeus said, every drone that kills 10 "militants" creates 100 replacements.

I think that's accurate, as far as it goes, but it is basically "old world" thinking. In the new world of instant and global digital communication, the world in which secrecy and assumptions of secrecy are both equally anachronistic, each attack creates not just 10 new fighters for every one killed or injured, it creates thousands, maybe millions of new enemies.

Perhaps this obvious lesson will now be drawn by the foolish security officials who detained David Miranda because he was Guardian columnist, and Edward Snowden revelation reporter, Glenn Greenwald's partner, and gave him 9 hours of "rubber room" treatment.

These apparatchiks of the formerly secret services, the ones who identify themselves to their victims, or in this case, their victim's partner, with numbers rather than names, and their very nonymous enablers like Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, and DNI James Clapper should note, what you do is no longer secret. You can and will be held responsible by a global jury.  Think about, please.  It is well past time.

So, you may have given Miranda a hard time, and sent chills down the spine of Greenwald and his reporting partner Laura Poitras, but you have also enraged millions of once-undecideds in the ongoing war in which privacy as well as secrecy are casualties.

For Obama, the President of Faux-Transparency, this Battle of Bull Run in his war against journalism and freedom of speech further shrinks public tolerance for his performance and persona, and geometrically grows both sympathy and the audience for Greenwald and Poitras' print and video reporting.

As for OBama's crusade for East German STASI-style snitching inside America's security state, he should remember another truism of counter-terrorism: the counter-terrorists are never allowed to lose, while the terrorists need only to win once, or once in a while. Ordering everyone who works at the DOD or CIA or NSA to rat out "suspicious characters," only squeezes more secrets loose from an angry and demoralized workforce.

Few journalists will be deterred by what the Brit securi-thugs did to David Miranda, but thousands of potential visitors may divert to other places to visit and spend their money rather than support a British government which behaves so atrociously. And dozens of people who know, or investigate what Obama and Clapper call secrets will now be more motivated to make them public knowledge.



Did Charles and David Koch, the bully mastiffs of the overdog class war, actually come this week all the way to New Mexico for an intended-to-be-secret meeting at a block-booked, roadblocked luxury resort north of Albuquerque?  Probably not, but their money and their minions did. 

The secret was busted when a Koch company plane was spotted by a local KOB-TV news crew tucked away at a private Albuquerque airfield.

When The Albuquerque Journal asked the New Mexico director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity political group, Joe Montes what was going on, he said Tuesday, nothing. He was, he said, “unaware of any such meeting in New Mexico sponsored by the group”.

But the next day, the Journal reported that the Koch Industries website had confirmed the conference at theTamaya Resort and its purpose:  to gather ‘some of America’s greatest philanthropists and most successful business leaders’ to ‘discuss solutions to our most pressing issues, and strategies to promote policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs.’”

Among the business leaders and philanthropists who came creeping in on their little feline feet were 2 of the Koch brothers' favorite political cats’ paws: GOP Congressmen Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, as well as New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez.

One wonders, did Rep. Ryan discuss government contracts, the kind he’s always saying he wants to eliminate, the kind that fostered his uncle’s free enterprise and job creation, and made him wealthy enough to underwrite young Ryan’s education? 

I’d guess that would be about as likely as Rep. Cantor proposing philanthropic funding to feed the families of 4 million unemployed Americans he has proposed to deny food stamps.

More likely were discussions about a little philanthropic giving to Gov. Martinez’ 2014 re-election campaign.  The Journal has estimated the Koch boys tossed millions into NM’s 2012 GOP political campaigns, funds that failed to stop President Obama from winning the dust-poor state’s 4 electoral votes, or Democrat Martin Heinrich from beating former Congresswoman Heather Wilson for a seat in the US Senate.

That’s just guesswork on my part, because, Martinez’ spokesman told the Journal only that that the Governor “gave brief remarks and had casual meetings with several national political leaders.”

Which is more than the mouthpieces for Ryan or Cantor would divulge, which was precisely nothing.  These 2 “leaders” were happy to hide behind the security checkpoint that walled uninvited guests away from their undercover conclave.

The Governor herself, and her spokesman himself continue to stonewall questions about her recent creation of jobs for what the journalistic website New Mexico In Depth revealed was an Arizona social services company with ties to one of her biggest campaign funders.  The jobs, at substantially higher levels of pay, (for the executives, of course, not necessarily the service provision workers) supplanted those of 15 New Mexico social service suppliers ordered closed and called “under investigation” for Medicaid fraud.

The Governor also refuses, NMID has reported, to answer reporters’ questions about the fact that the Massachusetts firm she hired to audit those 15 NM companies, did not report finding any evidence of “fraud,” and did not recommend closing down any of the NM companies.

In fact, after weeks of disruption, at least 2 of the 15 companies are reported to be reinstated, albeit with what the auditors did recommend, some additional oversight from the NM Department of Human Services.

I guess this exemplifies another topic of those closed-door discussions, “solutions to our most pressing issues.”

No wonder so much of politics in New Mexico has to be kept secret.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Does anyone deny that the inherent vulnerability of all forms of digital communication to archiving and data mining is of significant value to governments seeking to secure themselves against their enemies?

Given that, why shouldn’t governments exploit this vulnerability to identify, track down and defeat those enemies?

Of course, in a democracy, “those enemies” should never include the people.

To the contrary, in American democracy government is meant always to be, as President Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address:  of the people, by the people, for the people.

The horror of the Obama Administration’ communications penetrations is that everything about them, how they are used, against whom, upon what predicates, under whose authority, under whose supervision, even -- but for Edward Snowden’s leaks to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, -- their very existence, has been hidden from the American people.

Snowden’s whistle-blowing (any anyone who disputes that label should ask himself, “Why did he tell The Guardian and not the Russians or the Chinese?”) has ignited a great political war, the most important of our generation.  It is a war about power, power which, under strict rule of law, should reside, not in the White House or the Congress, but with the people.

As usual, the essence of power is knowledge, in democratic terms, the knowledge the people need to grant informed consent to their representatives in the legislature and their administrators in the executive branch.

The Obama Administration is just the latest, although perhaps the greatest White House offender against our Constitutional concept of democratic governance.  It has lied by omission and commission.  It has consistently denied the American people knowledge of the realities of government surveillance.  It has thus pre-empted the consent of the governed, the thing which gives them legal and moral legitimacy.  It has abused the people directly and individually, and it has abused their elected representatives.

In the name of national security, the Obama Administration has treated the American people as its enemy.

It certainly treated the documentary-making journalist Laura Poitras like an enemy, assaulting her with not just digital technology, but in-her-face gumshoe intimidation.  And this went on for months, long before Snowden reached out to her with his explosive information about “our KGB.”

The details of the security apparat’s harassment of Poitras are spelled out in Peter Maass’ terrific NY Times story of the Snowden to Poitras to Greenwald to us revelations of snoops gone wild.

It’s not just the White House that hides the facts, and not just ordinary people who are misled.

As The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman pointed out:

The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, with the acquiescence of its members, hid from all the other members of the House, the facts of the NSA’s phone data collection in the days before the crucial 2011 vote to approve radically expanded domestic as well as international spying under the so-called Patriot Act.

This is how establishment Democrats and Republicans worked together specifically to disenfranchise the millions of voters who installed the Tea Party caucus in the House.  As Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) told Ackerman, ‘We're trying to get information so we can do our jobs as congressmen. If we're not able to get that information, it's inappropriate."  

Or worse than inappropriate, “this is tantamount to subversion of the democratic process," Bea Edwards, the executive director of the Government Accountability Project told Ackerman.

Now, thanks to Ackerman and Maass, Poitras and Greenwald, and of course thanks to Edward Snowden, the American people know better, and are now knowledge-armed to fight this vital war against anti-democratic abuse of governmental power.

It’s going to be a long war, and hard for the people to win.  For every story in the Guardian or the Times, there are the sorry performances at President Obama’s last news conference, at which he revealed his “trust me, even if I can’t trust the facts to you” formula for surveillance “reform.”  Gregory Ferenstein of TechCrunch told the story of how the White House press corps whiffed almost entirely, and theirby left their customers in the dark.

Thanks to Tom Murphy for pointing out Ferenstein’s piece to me.

The spying continues, as it partly should, but so does the journalistic process of revealing lies and discovering secrets, of passing along information, of refining info into knowledge, and hopefully, at some point, knowledge into effective power.  People power, what democracy is supposed to be all about.

As I said at the top, spying is not the problem, it’s the lack of control over the spying, the lack of honesty with the people so they might exercise, or democratically delegate control over the ever-more-effective, ever-more-intrusive revolution in digital surveillance.

It’s the lying, stupid.  

Friday, August 9, 2013


I am indebted to Ed Rabel, that fine NBC News television journalist of yore, for pointing out this entry in the NY Times Taking Note blog by David Firestone, about the latest proposal to save taxpayers money by taking crucial services away from the most needy and vulnerable people in America: the unemployed.

Since the first requests for federal money to stimulate a faltering economy were put before Congress in late 2008, Eric Cantor has cast vote after vote that eliminated jobs and aborted attempts to create new ones.

Now he wants to take food off the family tables of the very people whose jobs he helped to kill. Anyone who knows anyone who is unemployed, or who knows any member of their families, should find Cantor's sneering cruelty hard to forgive.

Here is what has happened to employment in the United States since Cantor began his war of rigid resistance to every attempt to stimulate job growth in the private sector, even while applying the same robotic mindlessness to forcing the government to eliminate public sector jobs and services.

In January 2009, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says, 133,631,000 Americans were employed.  For July 2013, the BLS’ preliminary figure is 136,038,000.  In other numbers, the US has added 2.55 million jobs.  Good, you say.

But, America is always growing, and the common guesstimate, probably a bit on the low side, is that the country needs to add 150,000 new jobs every month just to keep pace with the population.  So, for the 55 months since Barack Obama became President, American needed to create 8.25 million jobs.  So, over the last 4 ½ years, the job creation deficit, much of it directly traceable to the votes of Eric Cantor and his Republican colleagues in the House, is 5.7 million.  That’s 5.7 million people.
But the real figure is probably higher.  The BLS estimated in January 2009, that the potential workforce was 220.5 million Americans.  Now, it says, that number for July 2013 had grown to 232.7 million, which would suggest that the real job creation deficit is 9.6 million, since Cantor and Co. started saying nothing but "No!" to President Obama .
It is the very people caught up in these statistics, the people Eruic Cantor has personally voted to exclude from the workforce, the people who most need a break feeding their families, that he wants to make sure are excluded from the Food Stamp program.

VULGARITY WARNING:  For every one of those 4.2 million unemployed recipients of Food Stamps that Eric Cantor wants forced from the rolls, I wish to invoke a piece of NYC street eloquence I overheard years ago at a City Hall news conference, from an anonymous sound technician who was accidentally kicked and asked for an apology and got verbal abuse instead: “Fuck me?" he said, his voice rising, "Fuck me? Fuck YOU, fuck me.”

Sometimes, you just gotta say it.  Rep. Cantor, I hope you hear it.



I’ve always been queasy about fictionalizations of history, especially fictionalizations of biography.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with using history as background, and even, although now we’re getting to trickier territory, using “real” characters to interact with the major players in historical fiction.  Serious writers from Tolstoy to Doctorow have made that work to everyone’s advantage.

But where the writer simply appropriates a real person and characterizes him or her as he or she chooses, the chance for abuse – of history, of the named people, or the careless reader or viewer – is dangerously high.  Think of Oliver Stone’s JFK, in which real names are simply hooks from which the writer-director dangles is own, usually shallow and melodramatic ideas.

All of which is to say, NBC’s not-quite-a-plan for a Hillary Clinton biopic series sounds like a very bad idea.  Licensing any writer/director team to dream up a fictional version of a real character who may or may not be planning to run for President, while that run is impending is asking for a mess.

On the other hand, (and why is this distinction not being made?), CNN’s plan to let the distinguished journalist Charles Ferguson do a documentary about Ms. Clinton, even as she considers her own Presidential possibilities may be a very good idea.  I mean what is a “newschannel” for, if not giving serious, in-depth, documentary-length evaluations of potential candidates.  My guess is that Ms. Clinton may have more to fear from this project than the GOP.

Will Ferguson be making judgments about HRC?  I’m sure he will, as an inevitable part of his journalistic process.  Thus, those judgments will be based on facts, and backed up by evidence on video drawn from real news coverage.  That is very different from a dramatic series, “based on a real story,” with made up dialogue, and character-defining impersonations (even if from a distinguished actress like Diane Lane).

As for Republican Party Chair Reince Priebus’ threats to cut NBC News out of any 2016 GOP Presidential Candidate Debates in retribution, this is just silly, and given the quality and audience size of 2012’s endless series of “thundering herd of elephants” debates, amounts to tossing the Peacock squad into B’rer Rabbit’s briar patch.  Deny a network a chance at an hour or two of the next campaign’s version of Herman Cain vs. Rick Perry vs. Rick Santorum et al?  Hit me again, Reince!  Please!!!

So, Steve Burke, turn away from this golden opportunity to be excluded from that un-funny clown show, by doing the really right thing: kill the Hillary project and leave covering the realities of politics to your professionals at NBC News who put reality first.

I guess NBC could come up with a compromise: do the biopic, but run it on MSNBC, where reality has no role and rhetoric (fawning or abusive) already defines the brand.