Sunday, June 30, 2013

LASSIE, WHERE'S TIMMY? Wait, do you have fleas?

Wow. Talk about precognition. I rarely watch news shows- other than Jon Stewart's Daily Show, which I never miss- but this morning I caught a promo for ABC's this week with George Stephanopolous, who was interviewing Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, now holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden (it's complicated).

So I watched- and there was Julian, being amazingly rational, knowledgeable, and objective, who had to respond to allegations raised by George about irrelevant side issues- whether or not Ecuador as a country was becoming repressive to journalists (talk about a non-sequitur), about where Edward Snowden is now (he's in Hong Kong- no, Moscow, no, he's at the airport, he's on a flight to Cuba!, nope, it's an empty seat- watch the Daily Show recap of the photo of the empty seat on an airplane to do full justice to that one &

To see what a disconnect the "interview" was- it was hardly a conversation, as Stephanopolous never reacted to anything said by Assange, read a transcript about what Assange said- which was basically: hey, this isn't about the person who tells you that you have a serious problem with government invasion of your privacy, it's about the problem itself, then read Stephanopolous' somewhat snarky remarks and dogged tunnel vision, never straying from his script, which had nothing to do with NSA and gov't abuses both nationally and world wide.

To ABC's credit, they also had on a former Justice Dept. lawyer, Jesseyln Radack, who is an advocate for human rights. She made the point- as did Assange- that there is little or no hope for a fair trial or justice for a whistleblower who has already been demonized by the government and the press/media (Bradley Manning, Assange himself, and now Snowden).

There is a real conversation there- how can a person be charged with "espionage" and imprisoned for life for revealing illegal and secret government programs to the press? Radack made the point that one of her clients was charged with espionage after he had had tried to blow the whistle with his boss, the inspector general of his agency, the inspector general of the Department of Defense, then finally went to the press when all else failed.

"STEPHANOPOULOS: [REFERRING TO SNOWDEN] That's not what he's saying, sir. He has also broken the law. Let me bring that now to Jesselyn Radack, who is also here with me right now. Julian Assange mentioned Edward Snowden's father, who has also written -- his attorney has written a letter to Eric Holder, the attorney general, saying that he believes that his son would be willing to come back to the United States if he would not be detained or imprisoned prior to trial, if he would not be subject to a gag order, if he would be tried in the venue of his choosing. Do you think it would make sense for Snowden to return under those circumstances?

RADACK: I actually don't. I have represented people like Thomas Drake, who was an NSA whistle-blower, who actually did go through every conceivable internal channel possible, including his boss, the inspector general of his agency, the Defense Department inspector general and two congressional committees, and the U.S. turned around and prosecuted him. And did so for espionage and threatened to tie him up for the rest of his life in jail. I think Snowden's outlook is bleak here, and instead of focusing on Snowden and shooting the messenger, we should really focus on the crimes of the NSA. Because whatever laws Snowden may or may not have broken, they are infinitesimally small compared to the two major surveillance laws and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that the NSA's violated."

Yes, let's have that conversation.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


What's both fascinating and sad about the state of U.S. journalism is that when presented with an amazing story- something people actually care about and about which they want in depth analysis- the media will stray into irrelevant sidelines. So it is that hours of news coverage about the NSA data mining and e-mail intercepting abuses tell you all about Edward Snowden's pole dancing girlfriend, his travelogue from Hong Kong, China to the Moscow airport, and debate whether or not the journalist who reported on the story- Glenn Greenwald, formerly of Salon, now writing for the U.K. Guardian- is a traitor who should be prosecuted. So where's the reporting on the secret FISA court in the bowels of the Justice Department that has secret hearings that issues secret orders to tap people's phones and read their e-mails-- orders that are never revealed to the public or even to the victims of their snooping?

The analogy that comes to mind is that if a man came to your office, told you that your house was on fire, and that you needed to call the fire department and rush home to see to your property, would you ignore his message and waste your time investigating whether that man was having an affair with his neighbor's wife? Who cares about the messenger who tells you your home is burning to the ground? Your only goal should be to put out the fire and to try to make sure it doesn't start up again.

So, media: do your job. Tell us why we need a secret court with secret hearings and secret orders to invade our privacy. Tell us why our phone carriers are forbidden under threat of criminal prosecution from telling us that they are turning over our records to the government. Tell us what our Constitutional rights are in the year 2013 when it comes to preventing the government from massively intruding into our lives. Remind the American people that two hundred twenty two years ago, in 1791, the States ratified the Bill of Rights, including this rather important provision, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Liberty v. Safety

In a country where over 400,000 die annually from tobacco related causes, over 30,000 from firearms, and 0 from foreign launched terrorist attacks, we Americans appear to have our priorities seriously out of whack. How can we justify ripping apart our Constitutional freedoms to privacy and free speech to combat a "threat" which is virtually non-existent in the real world? Edward Snowden is not a hero- but he certainly is not a traitor. What he has done is to expose the hypocrisy that exists at the highest levels of government where elected and appointed officials pretend that foreign based terrorists are so dangerous that not even members of Congress- let alone ordinary American citizens- are allowed to know what our government is doing to us in the name of protecting us. We need Congress to enact legislation to protect both whistleblowers and our privacy, and instead of criminalizing the actions of citizens who reveal wrongdoing, we need to prosecute the people who knowingly violate our Constitutional rights. As Benjamin Franklin said: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.