If ignorance was bliss, you’d think more people would be happy. In the media, ignorance just seems to make people angrier, and thanks to the Internet, we all get to listen to them.
A number of conservative outlets have featured a story like this one, “Obama Spending $2.7 Mil to Broadcast Communist Propaganda to Vietnam.” The article quotes from somewhere (no attribution or link):
The Department of Health and Human Services is spending $2,797,979 on a study that brings television to more than a dozen remote villages in Vietnam to study its impact on their culture and reproductive behavior.
Can we have a study in which we take away money from government bureaucrats in the United States while using government bureaucrats in Vietnam as a control group to see which country goes bankrupt faster? Instead we’re funding the broadcast of Communist propaganda to rural Vietnamese villages like the anniversary celebration of the Communist Party.
Because I’m trying to dilute ignorance here rather than fan its flames, a disclaimer is needed. I am neither a conservative, nor a liberal, a libertarian, a Presbyterian, a Rastafarian or believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I support public leaders who might serve the public interest, and oppose those who don’t. So, denizens of the Internet, remain in your basements and do not accuse me of loving Obama or hating Obama. Only four more hours to your meds anyway, be strong for me buddy.
A Golden Fleece Award was presented each month by Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, from 1975 to 1987, to identify what he viewed as wasteful government spending.
One Award was given in honor of a $57,800 study of the physical measurements of airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the “length of the buttocks” and how their knees were arranged when they were seated. Another Award made fun of the money spent on insect sex.
Basic research is often very important, and very easy to mock. The buttocks measuring was one part of data-gathering that led to safety equipment standards for aircraft. Fly sex research led to sterile screw-worms that were released into the wild and eliminated a major cattle parasite from the U.S., saving the cattle industry $20 billion.
Back to Vietnam
The media claiming the U.S. is funding Red propaganda, and/or just throwing away money, are, not surprisingly, wrong.
Reading the actual grant from the U.S. National Institute of Health (for only $705k; not sure where the $2.7 million number came from), we learn that the purpose has little to do with Commies:
Billions of dollars are spent worldwide on television campaigns to promote population health even though we lack clear evidence of a causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health. Although a substantial research literature documents television’s effects, existing research is primarily associational; making it impossible to establish a causal direction or to eliminate the possibility that a third variable is responsible for the observed associations. In defending these existing research problems, many note that because television is so widely available, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to randomly assign members of a target audience to comparison and intervention groups.
The idea of researching the impact of something at the cost of maybe millions to better spend billions seems to make sense. The idea of finding a place without any TV that is also safe to work in and somewhat accessible means that isolated hill villages in Vietnam are exactly the kind of location you need.
We’re All Right
Weird conservative media, you are wrong about the Vietnam study. People who think they should write in and criticize me for liking or hating Obama, you are too shallow to get this is all not about “liking” a leader anyway, plus of course the fact that Obama himself had nothing to do with an individual NIH grant. In the spirit of a happy ending, I for one feel much better knowing the government is spending at least some of my tax money on basic research, and thus maybe a tiny, tiny, tiny amount less on drones and the NSA.
A fella can dream, can’t he?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
With great glee, I am now running Linux Ubuntu on all my computers as my operating system, forever replacing Windows. This very blog post is infused with Linux goodness. Smell it. Smell it. Yes, put your nose to the screen and sniff– smells like victory.
With this move here at Chaos Manor, there are no Microsoft products in my home. None. OK, OK, anyone who enjoys tech stuff is already tired of Linux fanboys, a species just as creepy (but not as well dressed) as Apple jihadis. Computers are a tool to get stuff done people, not an stage on which you become a tool. Deal with that. Sleeping on a sidewalk to buy something makes you a sad, lonely person. Most people who sleep on sidewalks don’t have a home, think about that. So, I do not want to be seen as some weird dude in a basement somewhere obsessing about something as pointless in the Big Scheme as a freaking computer operating system. It takes the lotion and initializes its USB ports…
While I am sure the NSA has found a way into our Linux, they at least had to do the heavy lifting. Nobody bent over and went all Deliverance to help them defile our lives. But Microsoft appear to have:
• Microsoft collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
After I wrote another piece about Microsoft-NSA collaboration on Firedoglake, I got an email from a “strategic communications” firm claiming to represent Microsoft. The email reminded me that “Microsoft offers an adamant and robust denial, writing that ‘There are significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week,’ and referencing this Microsoft blog post. The communications person “Wondered if you’d consider adding Microsoft’s comments to your blog, rather than just giving one side of the story.” And so I just did.
That said, why are you still handing your money to Microsoft? Give Ubuntu a try. It is free, as is all the software you’ll need. Ubuntu has grown to the point where for most people and most hardware most times it just works. You can try it without messing up your Windows install any more than it already is. You can also buy prebuilt systems with Linux installed so you can just plug them in and compute.
Big Brother thanks you for your support. Viva la Linux!
BONUS: But you have to believe the NSA has also hacked Linux, so what’s the point? It is indeed prudent to assume the NSA hacked Linux. However, since Linux is open source, meaning lots of people around the world way smarter than me can read the actual computer code behind it, there is some hope that at least some of the NSA hacks can be found and amended. And even if that is not possible, at least you are not paying Microsoft or Apple or whomever for the privilege of being spied upon.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Provocative one-sentence paragraph that asks a question like “Did you know?” or “You’ll be shocked to learn!”
Paragraphs that do not offer much information about the subject but end with tease that if you click NEXT they will.
Dramatic quote from someone on one side of the issue. Facts used to support side left unchallenged even when stupidly inaccurate.
Dramatic quote from someone on the other side of the issue. Facts used to support side left unchallenged even when stupidly inaccurate.
Summary paragraph that says no one is right or wrong.
Italicized section saying the writer has a new book or whatever out now. Follow him on Twitter!
Journalism done for today.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
(Off topic here, but I wanted to say a few words after dropping my child off at college. Regular readers who hope to see evil and corruption exposed, tune in again. There’s still plenty of it out there, also in a way the topic of this essay. This originally appeared on Huffington Post)
Mrs. We Meant Well and I sent off the last of the heirs to the We Meant Well fortune to college. She’s a good kid, smarter than me hopefully, and she should do well at school. Though she is more embarrassed than anything about half the stuff on this blog, her heart’s in the right place. It would be very odd if as a teenager she would be any different. Hell, if she was as cynical as me at her age, we’d need to have her see a doctor.
I kept my mouth shut at the college– there are rituals to these things and dad-confessions are not among them– but I wanted to say sorry to her more than simply goodbye. My kids all grew up overseas while I served with the State Department (though they of course did not accompany me to Iraq). Despite the occasional job hassles, it was not a bad life. For most of the time the world was mostly at peace. We started the adventure around the same time that Desert Storm happened. After a week of silly paranoid concern that the Iraqi Army might somehow attack us in Taiwan, life went back to normal and continued that way until September 11, 2001. We were assigned in Japan at that time, and like all of you, watched the terrible events unfold on TV, albeit late at night because of the time zone thing. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I got up to make some sandwiches to bring in to work, knowing the phone would ring soon and I’d be called in to the Embassy. I remember as clear as glacier water my wife saying “Why would they call you in? That’s in New York and we’re in Tokyo!” Then the phone did ring and that was that. Forever after I would feel like a shadow looking for the sanctuary of a light.
The world my kids grew up in no longer exists. We destroyed it. In reaction to the terror attack, we set the Middle East on fire (still burning), nearly bankrupted our own economy, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with our democracy in return for a security state that exists only to keep us perched on the edge of fear. Nothing pressed us into these actions; we did them all on our own, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, the NSA amok, all that.
That night twelve years ago in Tokyo, when I was called in to the Embassy after midnight? As I approached the gate, I could see a large crowd gathered, not usual for after midnight and certainly not usual in calm-as-dust Tokyo. About a hundred Japanese had spontaneously gathered there, some with flowers bought who-knows-where at that time of night. They clapped for us as we walked in to work. They wanted to touch us as we walked by. It did not last long. Fast forward to March 2003 and a larger crowd gathered to protest the invasion of Iraq, and protest calls blew out the switchboard. Our security people let us out a back gate, saying it wasn’t safe to exit through the front door. In Tokyo. One bomb threat and false positive al Qaeda warning after another followed, hitting a low point when, after weeks of denying it, the State Department admitted that they had shipped diplomatic pouches into our Embassy that might have been infected by the anthrax that was in the U.S. mail system at the time. My office was near the pouch mail room and I had to take Cipro as a precaution and wonder if anything got into my home and my kids’ room off my clothes. Threats and terror alerts became a daily part of our new normal, there and in the U.S.
So I wanted to say I was sorry to my child. Sorry we messed up the world for you. Sorry for, what, how many dead? Sorry countries where Americans used to be at least tolerated with our awkward shorts and sandals ‘n socks are now too dangerous to even visit. Sorry you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon in Iraq, or the Pyramids, unless you join the Army. Sorry you will never know what privacy is. Sorry that you, and your children, will live in an America that exists in a constant state of low-fever war. Sorry you will never know peace. Sorry that we not only did not defeat the terrorists but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and seemingly endless new recruits. Sorry you will never enjoy an airplane trip, sorry you will never trust your government, sorry you will always have that tiny glint of reservation when you hear the anthem, read the Constitution or wonder what happened. And while I am sorry that you’ll blame us, you are right to do so. We did it. Some of us actively participated, some passively let it happen. Some that tried to make changes failed to make them significant enough to hold back even some of the water coming over the levies. Sorry, but if anyone is going to fix this, it is going to have to be you. Do a better job than we did if you want to really find a way to say thanks for the piano lessons and ballet lessons, the puppy, for using the car, for me not being too mad when you violated curfew to spend more time with that boy, for the college tuition.
Funny, but I also just sent my last draft for the new book off to the editor. He’ll make it much better and I know that, but I have given up something that used to be all mine at the same time. It’ll come back different.
We sent my daughter off to college this weekend and while my wife cried about 99% of the time, I held back some tears until the very end. While some kid my daughter had never met before said “C’mon, we’re going out with the guys from the next quad!” I stood there hugging her not in that room but in a million places where she had fallen down or asked for ice cream or needed a diaper changed or the causes of World War I explained. I didn’t hug an 18 year old woman but a six year old, a 13 year old, an infant in diapers, a two year old angry about being wet in the snow.
And despite my need to hold on to her for just that much more she felt closer in that moment to the anonymous roommate demanding she go out the door with her than to me and I knew simultaneously how I hurt and how right she was to need to leave. The space between us was a fraction of an inch but it was a distance I would never cross.
Back home it was quiet. Just my wife and the stupid, now old dog. I walked outside and saw the trees were still an unbelievable green, but just a hint of yellow, almost too little to really see, more of a feeling. There were nine empty beer cans in the recycling bin and I could hear cicadas. I swacked a mosquito. I’m gonna really miss summer.
My mom always forwards me the worst email crap, multi-megabyte Powerpoints of cats, or babies doing something odd, or homilies to life last century and the like. I usually thus delete most FWD’ed messages, but this one caught my eye. It’s making its way around the world so you might have already deleted it. If not, enjoy a cheap laugh. And be nice to your mother this Sunday, Mothers Day.
How to Be an Afghanistan Expert
1. Cite your most recent trip to the region where you saw – with your own eyes, absent the media’s blinders – irrefutable progress. Add points if you spoke with some cigar store Afghan who confirmed this for you. Add double points if you attended an actual jirga. (Subtract points if you were actually at a shura and mistook it for a jirga).
2. Imply that if only the clearance-less masses were privileged enough to see the same “high side” intelligence that you do, they would know the truth. Add points if you have an actual clearance and didn’t just look it up on Wikileaks.
3. Visit a bazaar. Chat with friendly merchants. Lots of salaams, lots of right-hand-over-your-heart greetings. Buy a (warm) orange Fanta. Note – often and loudly – that this bazaar was closed until ISAF forces arrived. Add points if you can drive to this bazaar, versus flying. Add double points if you can wear armor and helmet without looking like some parody of an obese war tourist.
4. Play down the fact that you are paid roughly $1,000 a day to “advise” the military and deny that there is any subsequent conflict-of-interest when you come home and write flattering things about progress in Afghanistan.
5. Whatever you do, avoid spending too much time in Afghanistan. In addition to acquiring language skills and some measure of cultural understanding, you risk becoming cynical and perhaps even despairing of our odds of success.
6. Adopt a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” approach to the region. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and amid the protests of others who have spent years on the ground, imply that through sheer force of will and maybe a Jedi mind trick or two, we shall overcome. Add points if you can beat the other experts in latching onto some insignificant scrap of “evidence” supporting “progress.” Add double points if you are the first to tweet about it.
7. If pressed on the deteriorating security situation, offer some babble about “the night being darkest before the dawn” and tie it into a tortured thesis about how escalating violence is actually a sign of counterinsurgency success. Add points of you can maintain a straight face making this point while citing vastly improved “kill ratios.” Subtract points if your “analysis” is eventually compared to an ISAF version of the 5 O’Clock Follies.
8. Write numerous “analytical reports” with phrases such as “The Way Forward” or “How to Win” in the title. No one, not even your colleagues in the think tank world, will actually read these, but they will be cited widely as a substitute for reading something substantive, that might offer actual insight into Afghanistan. Add points if you can deride previous scholarship on Afghanistan as “Orientalist.”
9. ‘The Grand Slam’ – authorship of a COIN pamphlet that gainsays the holy trinity: Petraeus, Nagl and Kilcullen. If pressed on the apparent failure of COIN in Afghanistan, cite some obscure insurgency – The Malayan Emergency is a good choice – and note how long success took to occur.
10. In case you ever write a book and need a jacket photo, make sure to get a photo of yourself rocking a full beard, a pakool, and a dastmaal. Subtract points if you insist on maintaining this appearance once you return to DC.
In his State of the Union Address, the president said that the federal minimum wage should be raised to nine dollars an hour. He said also that a person holding down a full-time job should not have to live in poverty in a country like America. I could not agree more; for the last few months I’ve lived like the people the president referred to and it is not a pretty picture.
As research for my new book, I have been working in the minimum wage economy and trying to live on the money I make. The situation is much, much worse than the president described in his Address, a tragedy for our society. Here’s what it looks like.
Once Upon A Time
The last time I worked for minimum wage was in a small store in my Ohio hometown, almost a right of passage in high school, pulling in about four bucks an hour stocking shelves alongside my friends. Our girlfriends ran the registers, our moms and dads shopped in the store and a good story about a date could get you a night off from the sympathetic manager. When someone graduated, the manager would hire one of the workers’ friends and the cycle continued.
The New World
At age 53 I expected to be quizzed about why I was looking for minimum wage work in a big box retail store. No one cared; instead, the application process included a background and credit check, along with a drug test. Any of those anonymous agencies could have vetoed my employment and I’d never even know about it. Most places that don’t pay much seem really concerned that their workers are drug-free. I’m not sure why this is, because you can be a banker or lawyer and get through the day higher than angels on a cloud. Regardless, I did what I had to in front of another person, handing him the cup. He gave me one of those universal signs of the underemployed I now recognize, a “we’re all in it, what’re ya gonna do” look, just a little upward flick of his eyes.
After hiring I watched a video on theft. The interesting thing was that in addition to warning us about stealing candy for breaks, we were not to steal time. The store paid us for our time and so even if we snuck out for a breath of air or flipped through a magazine, we were stealing time. Would we have liked someone from the store to come to our home (or, I guess, day-rate motel room, car back seat, shelter bunk or cardboard box under a bridge) and have them do whatever the heck the store would want from us there?
New break policy: zero to five and a half hour shift, no break. New schedule policy: all shifts reduced to five and a half hours or less. Somebody said it was illegal not to give us breaks, but what can you do, call the cops like it was a real crime? It turns out in fact that in my state employers are not required to grant breaks to anyone over age 16; in some places minimum wage workers do eight and nine hours shifts without a meal or a chance to get off their feet for a few minutes. No one gets sick leave, holidays or accrues vacation time. No health benefits.
Eight hours on your feet is tough, but what about sixteen? At age 53 I was the third oldest minimum wage worker at the store. With one or two exceptions, everyone on the schedule worked multiple jobs, often in adjacent stores in the same strip mall. They have to: even if the store gave us 40 hours a week for a year (a big, big if, as most places cap workers at 39 hours to avoid them becoming “full time” and possibly qualifying for benefits. In my case, as work expands and contracts, I’ve been scheduled for as few as seven hours a week at one store, without notice that my hours were going to be cut), your annual income would be only about $15k, before taxes of course. The stores adapted, actually trying pretty hard to create schedules that allowed everyone to hold down their two or three jobs. It was the norm, a fact of life, something for business to adjust to.
Who We Are
Who are the workers? They are adults, many single moms (64% of minimum wage employees are women), a veteran from Iraq (“the Army taught me to drive a Humvee which turns out not to be a marketable skill”), another retired guy, a couple of students who alternate semesters at work with semesters at the local community college and a small handful of recent immigrants. One guy said that because the big boxer drove his small store out of business he had to take a minimum wage job, which only pays him enough so that he sort of has to buy at the big box store. They made him a greeter at the front door and told him to be enthusiastic. He was. That guy was like Patient Zero in our New Economy.
There is no ladder up, no promotion path. Most of us were just trying to make a little money. But some people had been yelled at too many times, or were too afraid of losing their jobs. They were broke. People—and dogs—don’t get like that quickly; it has to build up on them, or tear down on them, like erosion, one thing after another nudging them deeper into it. Then one day, if the supervisor told them by mistake to hang a sign upside down, they’d do it, more afraid of contradicting the boss than making an obvious mistake. You’d see them rushing in early to stand next to the timeclock so they would not be late. One broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she’d get fired on the spot for it. They walk around like the floor was all stray cat tails. It is a lousy way to live as an adult, your only incentive for doing good work being they’d let you keep a job that made you hate yourself for another day.
You had to pay attention, but not too much. It was an acquired skill. Enough time in this retail minimum economy and it was trained into you for life, but for newcomers like me it was a slow process of getting pushed back into the ground every time we had a accidental growth spurt. None of us was trying to be great, just satisfied. This was just grey bread as you felt yourself getting more and more tired each day.
About 30 million Americans work this way, live this way, at McJobs. We pop up like Brigadoon during election cycles, often as caricatures like Joe the Plumber, or as props for an important speech. In between such appearances, about half of all single-parent families live in poverty. These situations are not unique. Wal-Mart has more than two million employees; if Wal-Mart was an army, it would be the largest military on the planet behind China. Wal-Mart is the largest overall employer in the U.S., and the biggest employer in twenty-five states.
More than Minimum
I did work in retail for minimum wage, both at age 16 and again at age 53. While I lived a life from teenager stocking shelves to older adult stocking shelves, the minimum wage only rose by a few bucks. The minimum wage today is $7.25—is a big latte really what an hour of my labor is worth? While the money has not changed, what has changed is who is now working these minimum wage jobs. Once upon a time they were filled with high school kids earning pocket money. In 2013, the jobs are encumbered by adults struggling to get by. Something is wrong.
So to the president I say, yes, please, do raise the minimum wage. But how far is the proposed nine bucks an hour going to go? Are we going to do eight hours of labor for the cell phone bill? Another twelve for the groceries each week? Another twenty or thirty for a car payment? How many hours are we going to work? How many can we work? Nobody can make a real living doing these jobs. You can’t raise a family on minimum wage. And you can’t build a nation on the working poor. Maybe what we need is to spend more on education and less on war, even out the tax laws and rules just a bit, require a standard living wage instead of a minimum one. That’s not all the answer, but it is a start. The president is right that it is time for a change, but what is needed is much more than a nudge up on the minimum wage.
Working for minimum wage, I came to know that these were real problems, with real people behind them, lives. We have to decide if all this is just about money or if it is about more, about society, about how we live, about people, about America.
During those eight years we lost ourselves. Following a singular day– one day– of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. But we wanted to believe and so it was easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 200 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights– silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation tortured men, created an archipelago of secret prisons, a regime of indefinite confinement and renditions to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. How much would be enough for revenge? When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we would kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later.
Then in 2008 hope we were sold and we slobbered over it like the pigs we had become. He was a king, awarded a Noble Peace Prize simply for not being George W. Bush. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously.
Today, this day, four years later we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We re-elected him mainly just because he wasn’t the other guy, everybody’s reluctant guilty choice. We now today go though the motions of a celebratory inauguration like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a second generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
People who saw the movie Lincoln were struck by the personal anguish the president then brought upon himself ordering men to their deaths in support of a moral cause, ridding this nation of the horrors of slavery, human bondage, once and for all. That president enduring many necessary evils in pursuit of a goal he knew to be noble, the unfinished work of creating a truly democratic and just nation. On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham to remind that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs.
So you Barack, who so shallowly call forth Lincoln’s legacy, for what cause do you condone our modern necessary evils? For what noble crusade do you allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because you can do so? Why do you prolong the war, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan? On what crusade do you keep your enemies in Guantanamo?
Lots of talk today, inauguration day, Martin Luther King Day. But those are the questions Mr. Lincoln and Dr. King would demand answers for from their graves, Mr. Obama.
I normally in this space have a lot to say. Sometimes it is a lot to say about important things, sometimes it is a lot about nothing.
I am at a loss at the deaths of children and their caretakers in Connecticut. Another crazed gunman. Another mentally ill man whose solution was murdering innocents, using the weapons of war we sell on the Internet to literally anybody in America. How many this year? The Aurora Batman guy, the Oregon guy, who can keep track?
Obama is, pardon, dead wrong. Today is the day to talk about gun control, though yesterday would have been better. Gun control won’t solve all problems, no law can. But when faced with horror like this you start, you do something goddammit, you don’t shed a tear and cluck your tongue and change the channel. For God’s sake– for our children’s’ sake– we have thrown out most of the Bill of Rights in the name of a phony war on terror, why can’t we interpret the Second Amendment in light of our present day?
You can love your children, or you can love your guns more. We as a nation have gone, quite simply, insane. May God help us, because we obviously have no interest or desire to help ourselves.
Leaving aside how lowly first-time authors are treated in the contract world (I signed away rights to all the Beatles’ early songs), let’s instead drop in on former State Department employee Zalmay Khalilzad. Zal, as he is known to many, was former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations during the glory years of the Bush Decade o’ Horrors. That’s Zal in the photo, on the right.
Given that, you’d expect Zal might be at a mountain top Zen (or Zal) monastery, seeking forgiveness. Instead, he runs Gryphon Partners, a consulting firm that, among other things, goes after US Government contracts in Afghanistan. He sits on the boards of the American University of Iraq in Suleymania, and the American University of Afghanistan. None of this could possibly be a conflict of interest, nor anything close to profiting from his government service.
(An aside. My old boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must be proud of her daughter Chelsea. Chelsea, age 31 and a grad student, has been working on the board of Barry Diller’s media company, a gig that pays $50k a year with a $250,000 stock signing bonus. None of this had anything at all to do with Mom and Dad’s government service. I’m having my daughter send off a resume today).
Back to Zal. Zal has the stones to write a “think piece” on Foreign Policy bitching about losing a contract to the Chinese in Afghanistan, whining that “flaws in the Pentagon-backed process mean that state-owned Chinese companies are at an advantage over private companies.”
Private companies such as his own firm.
Balls, the man has balls. Maybe I should hire his consulting firm to represent me on my next book deal, for the win!
Too soon? No?
OK then, it looks like our current climate change policy (ignore it and maybe it’ll go away) is not working. The backup plan, find some way to attack it with drones, has not proven robust. Blaming it on “terrorists” has also achieved limited success. It looks like periodic massive disasters are just going to be a “thing” now until the complete destruction of civilization, so we better get some rules into place.
To assist, here is the playbook:
– Giant freakish things will just happen. Stop referring to them now as “storm of a lifetime” or a “once a century” event. Stop saying stupid stuff like “no one could have anticipated _____.” Anticipate it. No biblical references. No one may hereto try to graft “apocalypse” or “armageddon” onto any climate terms, such as “snow-mageddon.”
– Just freaking buy on a regular basis milk, water, batteries, candles and bread. You look stupid rushing into the convenience store in your pajamas panic buying everytime it rains.
– Nature is still working the evolution-thing even if you chose not to “believe” it. If you live in a flood zone and refuse to buy insurance, or if you’re told to evacuate and “choose” not to do so until the water is up to your lips, well, that’s nature’s way of trimming back the gene pool. Accept your role in the miracle of life.
– Make up your mind ahead of time about “big government” so you don’t sound stupid in a disaster. If you think government is the problem, and that people should be self-sufficient and not accept handouts and all that, tie a ribbon to your front door so that the first responders can skip your house.
– For the media, let’s save some time. Start the drive to complete panic a good 48 hours out, being sure to intersperse actual important information with complete nonsense crazy talk. Make sure, no matter what the actual disaster is, that all of your reporters are standing in the rain when reporting, preferably in some sort of media-logo emblazoned coordinated gear. The reporters should insert themselves into the most stupid and dangerous places possible. Do at least one quirky story a day, such as someone who figured out a way to use Twitter to stay warm. Go to a “neighborhood” and run a feature about the bodega/bar/family restaurant “giving back” to the community; make it as “ethnic” as possible if east coast disaster, as uneducated-country-philosopher if midwest. Have a person of one race say it is “not about race anymore, today we are all _______ ” as appropriate (Black in urban barber shop, White in redneck tavern).
– Victims, when interviewed, please stick to the script: you lost a lot, not sure how you’ll rebuild, but somehow you will. Cry but in a spunky way. Be ready with a pet rescue story; don’t make the reporters have to ask twice please, they’ll be busy. Try and retrieve a burned/soggy sentimental item from your rubble ahead of time to show the camera crew (if you are unable to find anything, most crews do carry a supply of generic baby dolls and black and white photos for this purpose.)
– Telethons, concerts, fund raisers are another inevitable part of all this. Bruce Springsteen has set up a special email account simply for such bookings– be sure to specify if you are seeking the mournful Bruce (Atlantic City, My City of Ruins) or the we’re gonna get through this together Bruce (The Rising, Wrecking Ball). Bruce has graciously offered to forward your emails to Willie Nelson for disasters west of the Mississippi, and to Bon Jovi for those east of the Mississippi. John Mellencamp needs the money and would also appreciate a call if that’s cool.
– Politicians, get out there early to have your photo taken hugging a victim. Try for someone of a race or socioeconomic level you do not normally hug. Get some professional assistance choosing the right level of casual clothing; don’t overdress but don’t look too sloppy. First Ladies, head for the soup kitchens and go easy on the makeup and jewelry. Remember to wash your hands and use Purell outside of camera range. Accuse your rival/arch enemy/nemesis of politicizing the tragedy during your photo-op. Thank profusely the first responders pulled away from actually responding to provide security for your visit. Before climbing back into your helicopter or limo, remind everyone we’re all in this together. Try and avoid the question of why old bags filled with sand are our only technological defense against this kind of stuff.
– Celebrities, follow the hints for politicians, above. Have your personal assistant purchase some “real people clothing” for you, they’ll know what to get (Gaga excepted). Be sure to say “I’m just here to do whatever I can to help” to call attention to your celebrity-ness while downplaying it, a kind of zen thing. Don’t get caught by questioners who ask if you’ll donate any of your zillions of dollars as part of doing whatever you can. Many common people expect you to know how to serve food or ladle out soup when doing whatever you can at a shelter, so study up on how those things are done. Easy for you Method actors but pop stars take note. Do not be caught on camera asking for sushi or saying things like “Do people really eat this stuff?” Also, note that most day spas will be closed in the aftermath of a disaster, so plan on exiting the area quickly once the media moves on.
– Everyone: stress your personal connection to the suffering, however slight. If you grew up in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, you’re “from the Shore.” If you have ever changed planes in O’Hara, you’re a Midwesterner at heart. If you can imagine a great- great- relative who had a garden, you’re really just a farm boy made good. Find someone, such as a former roommate’s neighbor, actually affected by the disaster to refer to so you can act all self-righteous when people try to make jokes about what has happened.
– Victims, following 24-48 hours of intense attention to your plight, please shut up. Don’t expect any real, long-term assistance. Do not expect any significant changes to your rusty infrastructure. Grab what you can in those first couple of days because that is pretty much what you’re going to get. If you’re lucky enough to score a celebrity visit to your shelter, demand cash or good drugs up front or, if it is Angelina Jolie, take one of her kids hostage for the money.
– Columnists, bloggers, pundits, you might as well predraft your pieces. Have one of each ready please: end of the world I-told-you-so, the disaster is an excuse for the military to take over, it is crazy that crazy people blame the disaster on Obama/the gays/the Chinese/Koch brothers/Shrek, government is good/bad, this is proof of climate change/proof that climate change is fake.
That should get things organized for now. We’ll update the new rules as the situation develops.
Actually, if you already know about Cryptome, sorry, this blog post isn’t for you. Move along, pal, nothing new.
But if you’re interested in national security issues, and particularly if you prefer to study primary source documentation and make up your own mind about things, take a look at Cryptome. The site is w-a-y old school, just a page of links in good old HTML 101. They’ve been online since 1996 and serve as a repository of documents and information, some leaked, some obtained via FOIA. Cryptome was Wikileaks decades before Wikileaks.
For example, Cryptome currently offers aerial views of the CIA’s basic training facility (swanky), Camp Peary in Virginia, with its shooting ranges, driving track and own airstrip.
Following the incident in Benghazi? Cryptome has overhead images of the compound and surrounding neighborhood.
Readers are intended to be critical consumers, as Cryptome offers no commentary or validation. A list of allegded CIA agents and front companies, for example, seems overly broad, but you be the judge.
The web site also focuses on the NSA, cryptography and publishes interesting albeit open source U.S. government documents aplenty. For anyone with such documents to share, Cryptome is happy to receive them, and includes irs PGP key on the site.
I sat with John Brown, one of three State Department Foreign Service officers who resigned rather than support the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for an interview.
We covered a lot of subjects, including a fair amount of inside-baseball State Department stuff about why I went to Iraq, and why I did not resign after Iraq.
This may have been why what I saw in Iraq so shocked me. I was very unused to the, well, disingenuous chatter that seems to me now in retrospect to characterize much of what the non-Consular parts of State do on a daily basis. I had this, perhaps naive, very practical conception of our work. Consular at its best is about real problem solving: mentally ill American Citizen in the lobby, what are you gonna do? Faced with someone shouting incoherently and undressing in your waiting area, there is no room for a carefully conceived statement of concern, cleared by 18 offices over a three week period. You actually have to do something. In this sense, I was really, really the wrong guy to send into Iraq.
Since all that happened with the book, people ask why I did not resign. My answer is that I had no reason to do so. I wrote a book documenting what I saw in Iraq. I am certain that had you followed me around for a year you would have seen and heard what I wrote down. I see what I did as documentary, not necessarily dissent per se. In that what I saw and wrote deviates from what State’s vision of Iraq is is I guess the issue. I note that no one, not a single person in the USG nor any reviewer, has contested anything in the book. No one has said, hey, that story about the chicken plant is wrong, or incomplete or made up. No one, nothing. All of the attacks, the criticism, has been ad hominem attacks against me as a person. State people say I should not air dirty laundry, or I should use the dissent channel, or I should have been more respectful in my language, less sarcastic in tone like a “diplomat” should be, I should have done this or that. But no one has challenged the content, and that is because they really can’t. It is all true.
So why should I have quit? Why should I have resigned? I just wrote a book. It is more like I failed some ideological test.
John and I also talked about broader foreign policy issues.
The U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an Empire role after World War II, we never build the tools of Empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.
Read the full interview online.
While there are a lot of books about the most recent Iraq war, there are very few books that try and show the civilian side of the conflict. We all know the rough outline of the narrative—US invades, society breaks down, sectarian violence spins off into civil war, followed by a low hum of more targeted violence and unstableness that now characterizes life in “free” Iraq. Broad strokes; but what was history like for the average Iraq? Until now, few have told us their stories.
Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 is an imperfect book, much as could be expected from a first oral history of the civilian side of the war. Author Mark Kukis interviewed those he could reach, restrained by the continuing violence in Iraq that threatened both him and his subjects. Consequently, more than a few of the subjects are Iraqis who worked for Western media outlets or who otherwise interacted with the Americans.
However, Kukis, through friends of friends, did gain access to a number of more ordinary people, and it is in these interviews that the book shines. Tale after tale accumulates around you, like snow piling up: a son killed, a child murdered, a father kidnapped, a bombing, an assassination, a life ruined by torture. Before you realize it, you are drawn deeply into the horrific world the US created in Iraq post-2003, forced to acknowledge America’s complicity by the simple tone of the stories, the tellers too tired to embellish and too plain in their suffering to politicize what happened to them.
If journalism is the first draft of history, this is version 1.5. Readers interested in a 360 degree view of events in Iraq 2003-2009 should listen to these Voices.
Hillary Clinton says Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi must be killed or captured (October 2011)
Clinton: “We hope he can be captured or killed soon.”
Hilary Clinton Arrives Unannounced in Libya to Offer New Aid Package (October 2011)
U.S. officials said the fresh aid Clinton is bringing totals about $11 million and will boost Washington’s contribution to Libya since the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi began in February to roughly $135 million.
Remarks With Tunisian Foreign Minister (March 2011)
Clinton: “The Tunisian people have made history once again. You have shown the world that peaceful change is possible.”
Clinton calls for change in Yemen (May 2011)
Clinton: “The government of Yemen must address the legitimate will of the people.”
Clinton, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Embraces a Revolt She Once Discouraged (March 2011)
Clinton: “To see where this revolution happened, and all that it has meant to the world, is extraordinary for me.”
BONUS: Nothing can beat this one of course: Cheney: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire (April 1994)
If any of you happen to be in the Louisville, Kentucky area and/or are professional stalkers, I will be speaking at this year’s Louisville Idea Festival and would enjoy meeting. The Festival runs September 19-22.
The Festival is quite ambitious:
IdeaFestival is a celebration for creative thinkers and the intellectually curious. It’s an eclectic network of global thinkers and innovators bound together by an intense curiosity about what is impacting and shaping the future of the arts, business, technology, design, science, philosophy, health, education, etc.
The festival is also about solutions … about how ideas, imagination and discovery can be recombined in new and novel ways to solve problems both large and small.
It also sounds like fun. Have a look at the other speakers here. My presentation is on Friday around noon, and I’ll be signing books right after speaking. If you’re a blog reader, please introduce yourself!
(If the video clip isn’t embedded above, see it here)
(This article also appeared on the Huffington Post, May 17, 2012)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a letter to the Department of State, said today that the Department’s actions against my book and this blog are unconstitutional, that State’s actions “constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.”
Straight up, no qualifiers.
The ACLU reminds the State Department that the Courts have said that “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression, it is the essence of self-government” and citing the numerous legal challenges the State Department has willfully ignored that grant government employees the same First Amendment rights all Americans enjoy.
Which is what we’ve been saying all along, here, in the New York Times, on NPR, CNN and elsewhere.
After reviewing the State Department’s policies and regulations, the ACLU states that “The State Department’s pre-publication review process, as it applies to blogs and articles raises serious Constitutional questions,” then goes on to detail those questions. The ACLU notes that State’s actions toward me are but one example of its unconstitutional actions and apply to other employees as well. They conclude that “it is highly unlikely that the State Department could sustain its burden of demonstrating that its policy is constitutional… There is no justification for such expansive prior restraint on State Department employees’ speech.”
Now them’s fightin’ words, folks.
Read the entire letter on the ACLU’s website. It is powerful stuff.
What It Means
The ACLU’s announcement that the Department of State has violated the Constitutional rights, the First Amendment rights, of one of its own employees comes to the day, 225 years later, that the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia and the founders began writing an extraordinary document. The First Amendment was added later, but the spirit of free speech underlies every clause and sentence of the original document. It is embedded in the very parchment.
The Founders would retch to see what has become of the spirit of the Enlightment that drove them, simply because America got frightened after 9/11. Those beautiful words of the First Amendment, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Madison and Jefferson were strong enough to give away the power of a government they would run, and place it in the hands of the people that government would serve. There’s courage most of us can never fully understand.
Now, very sadly, our first Cabinet agency, the Department of State, the part of the US government that speaks most directly to people abroad about freedom and democracy, is run by much smaller men and women. They are afraid of their own employees and afraid of what you– The People– will know the way they go about their wretched business. Hillary Clinton, herself a candidate to take over the seat once held by giants like Jefferson, Adams and Madison, has turned her internal security against a blog, and ordered her frightened followers to get rid of one employee because of a book. Her acts now have a label that will follow her and her Department long past my departure: Unconstitutional.
Every fluffy speech she makes to Syrian bloggers, or Chinese dissenters, will carry an asterisk– but Madame Secretary, as you criticize oppressive regimes for shutting down free speech, didn’t you order your own followers to silence a critic? Didn’t your Department act unconstitutionally? Are your actions somehow different than Bejing’s?
Did not you violate, willfully, clearly and repeatedly Madame Secretary the First Amendment rights of an American Citizen? How will you answer them Madame Secretary? Will you lie? Will you defame the ACLU? Will you apply your own legal skills to the analysis of your wrongs? Mumble about a disgruntled employee? Or will you remain silent?
Of course the State Department has not responded to all this. They have not answered me, they have not answered your letters and emails, they have not answered Members of Congress and they have not answered the ACLU. Why not? There is the ACLU letter, five dense pages of legal justification that leads to the core statement:
State’s actions constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.. That is the issue. Now, finally, Madame Secretary, how will you answer?
It used to take awhile for an event to morph into farce. I bet when Abraham Lincoln was shot it took weeks before Civil War-era comedians started telling inappropriate assassination jokes. Things just moved slower then.
Now of course, with the Internet, reality becomes farce much faster. The Secret Service prostitution scandal from Colombia has already hit bottom, based on an interview from a Colombian radio station with the escort (pictured, at work, above) at the heart of it all.
The Agent’s wife has stated she will stand by her now-unemployed whore mongering husband. For those of you outside the Beltway, this is a Washington-area thing, where political spouses profess loyalty to their low-life mates (Hillary and Bill!)
According to the escort, the Agent was too drunk to finish the job and that’s why he would not pay her in the morning (she later said he did the deed then passed out, so who cares). She said the other Secret Service staff took up a collection and handed her $250, begging she would not call the cops. “He did not feel he got what he was being asked to pay for,” said the Pretty Woman.
She was one of 20 professional women brought to the Secret Service party.
The escort also said that the Agent could not dance well. The escort said he liked to dance in a “disorderly” manner in which “he lifted his shirt to show off his six-pack.”
When the escort woke the Agent, he refused to pay, telling her “just go, bitch.”
And lastly, the escort said no one from the US government has been in touch with her or interviewed her. Get this– the Secret Service (unlike the media) says they can’t find her. So much for intel.
This appears at odds with Obama’s stated desire for a “rigorous investigation.”
BREAKING: Apparently both the TODAY show and the US Secret Service have now interviewed the subject. Return to your business, citizens.
The Project for Government Oversight (POGO) details the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that the Senate passed for the fourth time. It is now up to the House to take a break from worrying about dudes getting married and renaming Post Offices and step up.
The bill (S. 743) grants federal workers the protections they need to safely report waste, fraud and abuse. Which is good news because taxpayers, who rely on whistleblowers to disclose corruption within the government, are now one step closer towards saving billions of dollars. If people inside the government don’t tell you the taxpayers what is going on, how will you know? Always important to a democracy that depends on an informed citizenry, in the current age of over-classification, whistleblowers are even more important.
POGO tells us:
To put the bill in real-world terms: it could help prevent scandals like the General Services Administration (GSA) lavish spending binge, help protect important national whistleblowers—like Peter Van Buren and Mike Helms—and encourage would-be whistleblowers to step forward in the public interest.
The bill’s significance is clear. It modernizes the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 by expanding “free speech rights, specifically covering national security and intelligence community workers, federal scientists, and Transportation Security Administration officers. The bill also will strengthen failed procedures, close loopholes, create efficiencies, and affirm lawful disclosures. For the first time, some federal whistleblowers would have a real ‘day in court,’ since the bill provides access to a jury trial in federal district court,” according to a press release by POGO and allies.
Read more on the POGO website.
Anybody who still is not sure that Hillary Clinton is pretty much done with politics soon should check out her latest photos. Now here’s a person that pretty much walks the walk and talks the talk that she is way past caring. Check it out, at left. This new spirit of casualness opens the door for me to wear my Free Bradley Manning T-shirt to work at Foggy Bottom next week.
Meanwhile, the other person I am being fired by the State Department for mocking, complete idiot Michelle Bachmann, has just demonstrated her loyalty to the US of America by becoming a citizen of another country. Sure, it’s Switzerland, a kind of OK country with no reported US drone strikes at present. Nothing says “I love my country” like becoming a citizen of another country. Of course that should not matter to Bachmann, as she is only running for another term in Congress and making laws there could not possibly conflict with her loyalty to her new country, right?
Maybe Hillary’s State Department could look into whether or not Bachmann has lost her US citizenship by naturalizing as a danged foreigner now.
HuffPo reminds that Bachmann is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Financial Services Committee. So the former now includes not merely a foreign citizen, but a citizen of a country not even allied with the U.S., and the latter includes a citizen of a country that just happens to have 1) an exemption for tax evasion in its extradition treaty with the U.S. (an exemption that some convicted American tax evaders took full advantage of) and 2) banking secrecy laws which frequently cause no small amount of frustration to various parts of U.S. government, including, of course, the House Financial Services Committee.
Perhaps Bachmann could check on patriot Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank accounts on her next visit “home”?
Here’s the official statement:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2012, as Loyalty Day. This Loyalty Day, I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance, whether by displaying the flag of the United States or pledging allegiance to the Republic for which it stands.
That is just plain creepy. It is an actual law, 36 USC § 115, which is even creepier.
The history of this holiday adds to the creep factor like a pedophile at a cheerleaders camp. From the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars:
Loyalty Day originally began as “Americanization Day” in 1921 as a counter to the Communists’ May 1 celebration of the Russian Revolution. On May 1, 1930, 10,000 VFW members staged a rally at New York’s Union Square to promote patriotism. Through a resolution adopted in 1949, May 1 evolved into Loyalty Day. Observances began in 1950 on April 28 and climaxed May 1 when more than five million people across the nation held rallies. In New York City, more than 100,000 people rallied for America. In 1958 Congress enacted Public Law 529 proclaiming Loyalty Day a permanent fixture on the nation’s calendar.
So, as our nation rushes headlong into totalitarianism, it is good to know that Loyalty Day exists to protect us all from those filthy disloyal Americans who speak out, blow the whistle, stand up against torture and demand their First Amendment rights.
We loyal Americans will stand quietly to the side, thank you. Now God bless.
Ted Nugent and I go way back, though the relationship has been somewhat one-sided. For example, I saw the ‘Nuge in concert in 1977 when he was the headliner and I was in high school. It was one of the wicked coolest nights of my life, and I guess Ted enjoyed the show too, least as best I could tell from the back of some 20,000 screaming fans. For an encore, Ted slammed his guitar into an amp stack and sent feedback into the concert hall that must have almost blinded several people. It was cool.
Yet here we are in 2012, both of us on some US Secret Service watch list.
Ted’s Problem with the US Secret Service
Ted got into Secret Service trouble for saying things like this:
If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.
Ted also owns more guns than the 82nd Airborne and used to feature a bow hunting kill demo as part of his stage act. He wrote songs like “Wango Tango,” “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” Regardless, the Secret Service met with Ted, shook hands and the matter was resolved.
My Problem with the US Secret Service
I got into trouble with the Secret Service because of this blog post.
Based on that blog post, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) notified the US Secret Service about me:
I own no guns and do not bow hunt. I have never written a song with the word “Wang” in it, to my knowledge. No one from DS or the Secret Service ever met with me to discuss the “threat” and I only learned that I was on the list several months after the fact. I was and still have not been given a chance to clear my name or even understand what threat I supposedly posed. Just a smear tactic, really, part of a series of retaliatory acts by the Department of State because of this blog and my book. A neat example of the use of security to smear an unwanted employee.
Today We are All Ted Nugent
But at the end of the day, Ted did speak for both of us when he said:
By no stretch of the imagination did I threaten anyone’s life or hint at violence or mayhem. Metaphors needn’t be explained to educated people.
And that is the point. No one seriously believes that Ted Nugent was going to kill the President, and no one seriously could believe I was going to assassinate Hillary Clinton. Yet in our current era, no one can question “security,” so when a has-been rocker speaks out of turn, the Secret Service has to step in to set an example. And when a has-been foreign service officer exercises his right to criticize a government official, State Department Diplomatic Security has to step in and set an example: no free speech on their watch.
God bless you Ted, and God Bless America. Also, rock on.
We are all aware of the power of social media– to bend autocratic governments to the will of the people, to inform, to entertain, to allow the Department of State to speak directly to individuals instead of governments. Powerful, 21st century stuff. Indeed, social media is so important to the Department of State that over 150 people work on just that, Tweeting and Facebooking 24/7 like high school freshman on their third Red Bull. The State Department even has a full-time person with the humble title “Innovator,” Alec Ross, to embiggen this amazing set of tools which Hillary Clinton has dubbed “Smart Power” and “eDiplomacy.”
The Australian government actually sent someone all the way over here to study the Department of State’s social media. That guy wrote “US policymakers have put great stock in the transformative power of Internet freedom. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, these tools will be used “to advance democracy and human rights, to fight climate change and epidemics, to build global support for President Obama’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons, [and] to encourage sustainable economic development that lifts the people at the bottom up.”
So with that all in mind, let’s have a peek at what the Department of State felt compelled to pass into the Twitter stream on April 10:
Wow. I wept. That is innovative, 21st century stuff, all on the tax payers dime. Jeez, at least when you “friend” Pepto Bismal on Facebook you get a coupon or something.
How many of those 150 people working on social media at the State Department do you think it takes to crank out a couple of Tweets like that?
(Of course not everyone has drunk the Kool Aid. Philip Seib, Huffington Post: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the existence of an ongoing ‘information war’ that the United States is losing… Clinton’s remarks were particularly welcome as a note of realism from a State Department that often is primarily interested in self-congratulation.”
Oops. No wonder Hillary looks so tired in that picture.
It’s fun to be a blogger, so let’s try one together! You take an item from the news (if under 30, “from the media”) and write something about it. What you write can be serious, funny, sarcastic or poignant– you get to choose! So let’s get started.
Here is a cartoon (“graphic novel”) produced at taxpayer expense (“your money”) by the US Government, specifically by the Department of State. The Department of State lately is very concerned about web freedom for other countries (“smart power”) because it has convinced itself that if people in other countries had full and free access to the internet, they would be nice and we would not have to bomb them with drones (“policy”).
So let’s start by watching the cartoon (“propaganda”):
(If the video does not appear by internet freedom magic above, you can also see it here on the YouTube)
Now comes the funnest part, where you write something about that video for “your blog.” Here are some samples to help get you started.
Ironically, the best internet blocking software is made in the US (Include a link for validity, such as Blue Coat).
Countries the US likes also block or filter the web, places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The State Department itself employs web filtering and blocking, internally clamping off access to web sites that have Wikileaks content that the US government does not want people to see.
Interesting that the video is captioned in English. Is State trying to propagandize the Iranians, or is this really designed to help whip up more war fever in the US?
Why does Tehran in that cartoon look a lot like a US urban area?
If Iran suddenly threw away all of its web controls and blocking, the only change would be a 125% increase in views of videos of cats and babies doing funny things on YouTube.
If Iran allowed FourSquare and Twitter to run free, would Hillary Clinton be Mayor of Iran?
So Iran limits broadband access and throttles its web. You mean like Verizon?
Needs more Family Guy references.
So this is what the government spends my tax dollars on?
Sorry, couldn’t watch it, my employer blocks YouTube at work so we don’t spend all day watching crap and not getting any work done.
(For additional sarcastic blogging inspiration, check out the real-world Twitter feed set up to promote this cartoon at #ConnectIran. Click on some names to note how many of the participants are State Department people sucking up to their bosses by RT’ing State’s message to make it seem like it is “viral.”)
If only the State Department would afford the We Meant Well blog the same freedom it demands for Iranians.
The hipster animation moved me. I too demand the basic human right of internet access for Iran!
And now we must sadly ask ourselves: Can anyone in Iran see this video? We watch it ever so casually here on our computers, while even viewing this in Iran is to risk death.
Today, we are all Persians.
So there you have it, your very own blog posting! After you have written yours, be sure to cut it out and stick it on your refrigerator door (“social media”) for everyone to see!
The following was written by a woman in Iraq to her Twitter followers, an open, raw assessment of her own life and the life of many Iraqi women. Powerful writing, powerful sense of life on the ground for too many women.
I am writing this message to you because I believe that everyone has had enough of me and my crap ”mind my language”, at least if you got annoyed with me there isn’t anything you can do about it no?
It’s been two weeks of this Twitter, two weeks of severe soul-killing depression, and I am getting really tired of myself. I have been suffering from depression on and off since I was 17 years old, and here I am; I am 26 years old, a qualified doctor, and yet I fear seeking therapy or counselling because of the social stigma associated with seeking psychiatric help. Once your family and friends learn that you are depressed and you want to seek help they either think that you are mentally ill or simply lack faith in Allah and that’s why you got depressed. I have been hiding what’s been going on with me from everyone I know down here in Iraq, because I do know very well that they’ll judge me and will never view me the same way again, and that’s why I am pretending to be normal infront of everyone here in Iraq, and it is an absolute torture. To say hello and smile at everyone, to treat your patients, to make conversations with your friends, to deal with your family, to do all of that when the only thing you want to do is to crawl to somewhere dark and isolated and cry your eyes out-it’s just torture…
You know what? The hardest thing to deal with is the guilt. I keep asking myself the whole time ”Why am I depressed when apparantly I have no reason to be depressed?”… I am perfectly healthy, I have a decent job and I do make good money, and yet over the past two weeks I have been praying each night to Allah so that he’d take away my life while I am asleep, but for some unknown reason each time Allah kept turning me down. Take a look at the world Twitter, there’re millions and millions of people out there who lack money, health, jobs. There are many people out there who cannot afford to eat and dress properly. And yet instead of looking at them and thanking Allah for what I already have I go and drown myself in depression, how clever!
You see Twitter, I am a 26 year old single woman who lives in Baghdad, Iraq. I have no parents and no first degree male relatives. My family (a very traditional Baghdadi family) loves me and wants the best for me, but what they don’t know is that they are suffocating me, the whole time they exert their full control over me and prevent me from being the real me, and that’s breaking my spirit. Each time I ask ”Why can’t I own my life?” I get the usual answer ”It’s because you’re a woman!”. Everyday I die a thousand times, and they won’t listen to me because they think their way of dealing with me is the right way. I just want to be me, I just want to have control over my own life, but they won’t let that happen. You have no idea how much I’m hurting because of this, for me almost everyday is ”I wish if I were a guy” day. I tried to leave Iraq for a while, but that wasn’t possible either, immigration is a very difficult thing to pursue especially if you were an Iraqi because no country wants you, so I’m stuck in my cage.
I am writing this because I want you to understand the plight of many other Iraqi women who might be even more depressed than I am and yet don’t have the means to express themselves or tell the outside world about their ordeal. You see, we have no functioning mental healthcare system in Iraq, and even if we do we wouldn’t be able to benefit from it freely because let’s face it we’re women so we don’t own our lives…
After two weeks of pretending to be perfectly normal with everyone and crying my eyes out when I’m behind closed doors I am just too tired, so I had to write this. I am sorry for bothering you Twitter, but I have no other choice. At least with you I won’t have to wear a mask that hides the real me, and I do know that you’d tolerate my rants, I mean Justin Bieber uses you so I believe we’re fine!
A guest blog post by John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute.
U.S. v. Jones: The Battle for the Fourth Amendment Continues
In a unanimous 9-0 ruling in United States v. Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. But what does this ruling, hailed as a victory by privacy advocates, really mean for the future of privacy and the Fourth Amendment?
While the Court rightly recognized that the government’s physical attachment of a GPS device to Antoine Jones’ vehicle for the purpose of tracking Jones’ movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, a careful reading of the Court’s opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, shows that the battle over our privacy rights is far from over.
Given that the operable word throughout the ruling is “physical,” the ruling does not go far enough. The Court should have clearly delineated the boundaries of permissible surveillance within the context of rapidly evolving technologies and reestablishing the vitality of the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the justices relied on an “18th-century guarantee against un-reasonable searches, which we believe must provide at a minimum the degree of protection it afforded when it was adopted.”
As Justice Samuel Alito recognizes in his concurring judgment, physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of invasive surveillance. The government’s arsenal of surveillance technologies now includes a multitude of devices which enable it to comprehensively monitor an individual’s private life without necessarily introducing the type of physical intrusion into his person or property covered by the ruling. Thus, by failing to address the privacy ramifications of these new technologies, the Court has done little to curb the ’s ceaseless, suspicionless surveillance of innocent Americans.
In the spirit of the Court’s ruling in US v. Jones, the following surveillance technologies, now available to law enforcement, would not require government officials to engage in a physical trespass of one’s property in order to engage in a search:
Drones—pilotless, remote-controlled aircraft that have been used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—are being used increasingly domestically by law enforcement. Law enforcement officials promise to use drones to locate missing children and hunt illegal marijuana plants, but under many states’ proposed rules, they could also be used to track citizens and closely monitor individuals based on the mere suspicions of law enforcement officers. The precision with which drones can detect intimate activity is remarkable. For instance, a drone can tell whether a hiker eight miles away is carrying a backpack.
Surveillance cameras are an ever-growing presence in American cities. A member of the surveillance camera industry states that, “pretty soon, security cameras will be like smoke detectors: They’ll be everywhere.” The cameras, installed on office buildings, banks, stores, and private establishments, open the door to suspicionless monitoring of innocent individuals that chill the exercise of First Amendment rights. For example, the New York Police Department has adopted the practice of videotaping individuals engaged in lawful public demonstrations. The government also uses traffic cameras as a form of visual surveillance to track individuals as they move about a city. In some areas, a network of traffic cameras provides a comprehensive view of the streets. In 2009, Chicago had 1500 cameras set up throughout the city and actively used them to track persons of interest.
Smart dust devices are tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) that can detect light and movement. These “motes” could eventually be as tiny as a grain of sand, but will still be capable of gathering massive amounts of data, running computations and communicating that information using two-way band radio between motes as far as 1,000 feet away. The goal for researchers is to reduce these chips from their current size of 5 mm to a size of 1 mm per side. In the near future law enforcement officials will be able to use these tiny devices to maintain covert surveillance operations on unsuspecting citizens.
RFIDs, Radio Frequency Identifications, have the ability to contain or transmit information wirelessly using radio waves. These devices can be as small as a grain of rice and can be attached to virtually anything, from a piece of clothing to a vehicle. If manufacturers and other distributors of clothing, personal electronics, and other items begin to tag their products with RFID, any law enforcement officer armed with an RFID reader could covertly search an individual without his or her knowledge.
Cell phones, increasingly, contain tracking chips which enable cellular providers to collect data on and identify the location of the user. The collected geodata is stored on the device, anonymized with a random identification number, and transmitted over an encrypted Wi-Fi network to the cell phone provider. It is reasonable to expect that government will eventually attempt to tap the troves of information maintained by these cellphone providers.
Collection of Wi-Fi Data: Recently, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology invented for a mere $600 an aerial drone that can spy on even private Wi-Fi networks. The drone the professor created was a mere eighteen inches long. Such a device could be used to detect financial information, personal correspondence, and any other data transmitted over the wireless network. Coupled with the visual component of the aerial drones, these drones will be capable of detecting almost all intimate or personal activity.
Facial-recognition software is another tool in police forces’ surveillance arsenal in which police take a photograph of a person’s face, then compare the biometrics to other photographs in a database. Such a system can easily be placed onto the back of a smart phone and only weighs 12.5 ounces. Facial-recognition software is currently being used in conjunction with public surveillance cameras at airports and major public events to spot suspected terrorists or criminals. Cities such as Tampa have attempted to use this technology on busy sidewalks and in public places.
Iris scanners have quickly moved from the realm of science fiction into everyday public use by governments and private businesses. Iris recognition is rarely impeded by contact lenses or eyeglasses, and can work with blind individuals as well. The scanners, which have been used by some American police departments, can scan up to 50 people a minute without requiring the individuals to stop and stand in front of the scanners. The introduction of sophisticated iris scanners in a number of public locations, including train stations, shopping centers, medical centers, and banks in Leon, Mexico, is merely a foreshadowing of what is coming to the U.S. The information gathered from the scanners is sent to a central database that can be used to track any individual’s movement throughout the city.
As this list shows, the current state of technology enables government agents to monitor unsuspecting citizens in virtually any situation. One of the hallmarks of citizenship in a free society is the expectation that one’s personal affairs and physical person are inviolable so long as one conforms his or her conduct to the law. Otherwise, we are all suspects in a police state. Any meaningful conception of liberty encompasses freedom from constant and covert government surveillance—whether or not that intrusion is physical or tangible and whether it occurs in public or private. Thus, unchecked technological surveillance is objectionable simply because government has no legitimate authority to covertly monitor the totality of a citizen’s daily activities. The root of the problem is not that government is doing something inherently harmful, but rather that government is doing something it has no lawful basis to be doing.
Unfortunately, by failing to establish a Fourth Amendment framework that includes protection against pervasive electronic spying methods that are physically unintrusive and monitor a person’s activities in public, the Court has ensured that the core values within the Fourth Amendment will continue to be fundamentally undermined. New technologies which enable the radical expansion of police surveillance operations require correspondingly robust legal frameworks in order to maintain the scope of freedom from authoritarian oversight envisioned by the Framers.
Obviously, the new era of technology, one that was completely unimaginable to the men who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, requires an updated legal code to enshrine the right to privacy. The courts, first of all, must interpret the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure as a check against GPS technology as well as future technologies which threaten privacy. Second, as Justice Alito recognized, “the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative. A legislative body is well situated to gauge changing public attitudes, to draw detailed lines, and to balance privacy and public safety in a comprehensive way.” I would take that one step further and propose that Congress enact a technological Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the surveillance state. This would provide needed guidance to law enforcement agencies, quell litigation, protect civil liberties including cherished First Amendment rights, and ensure the viability of the Fourth Amendment even at the dawn of a new age of surveillance technology.
The New American quotes ABC News’ Jake Tapper, the reporter that raised the whistleblower cases at a White House press conference. Tapper said “it’s not like they are instances of government employees leaking the location of secret nuclear sites. These are classic whistle-blower cases that dealt with questionable behavior by government officials or its agents acting in the name of protecting America.”
The New York Times also weighed in on the issue of government retaliation against whistleblowers:
The majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.
In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.
Indeed, the paper noted the irony that while former CIA Officer John Kiriakou is being prosecuted aggressively merely for leaking some information about waterboarding to journalists, “none of the individuals who engaged in or authorized the waterboarding of terror suspects have been prosecuted.”
The New American adds:
The administration doesn’t always rely on prosecution to teach whistleblowers a lesson. It has other ways of retaliating against them, as Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren learned when he wrote the book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Van Buren is still employed by the State Department, but he has been stripped of his security clearance, transferred to what he calls “a meaningless telework position,” threatened with prosecution, and otherwise harassed. As a result, he writes, “a career that typically would extend another 10 years will be cut short in retaliation for [his] attempt to tell the truth about how taxpayer money was squandered in Iraq.”
The story of whistleblower retaliation also was featured on the Daily Kos, which included this quote from my NPR “All Things Considered” interview:
And I find that, yes, it is worth it, it was worth it, and it will be worth it to answer that level of hypocrisy and demand from that Secretary of State, Madam, why is your institution not allowing me the same rights that you’re bleating about for bloggers around the world? Why not here at home?
It is quite an honor to learn that We Meant Well has been nominated in the nonfiction category for the 15th Annual Library of Virginia Literary Award.
The winner is not announced until October, but if you’d like to learn more about the award, please see the Library of Virginia web site. Past honorees have included Tom Wolfe, John Grisham and William Styron.
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