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By , October 25, 2013 5:43 pm

Seen on a mail list:

A driver was stuck in a traffic jam on the highway outside Washington, DC. Nothing was moving. Suddenly, a man knocks on the window.

The driver rolls down the window and asks, “What’s going on?”

“Terrorists have kidnapped the entire US Congress, and they’re asking for $100 million dollars’ ransom. Otherwise, they are going to douse them all in gasoline and set them on fire. We are going from car to car, collecting donations.”

“How much is everyone giving, on an average?” the driver asks.

The man replies, “Roughly a gallon.”

What do you teach your children?

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By , July 4, 2013 12:34 pm

When my children were younger, I used to read them books for children about American history. I took them to Lexington, Concord, Boston, Gettysburg, and other historical areas. I wanted them to appreciate some of the great things our country had done and the sacrifices made for democracy and equality.

But it’s been too many Fourth of July’s since I have felt any pride in America. What would I teach my children now? What do you teach your children now?

And how will you answer your young children when they grow up and ask, “Why didn’t you do something to stop the government from turning this country into a surveillance state? Why didn’t you do something to stop the government from taking away women’s rights to control their bodies? What kind of country did you leave me?”

It would be too simplistic – and ineffective – to simply say “Oust the Republicans from Congress,” because there are too many Democrats who agree with them.

We need a more fundamental shift in our country to get us back on course. Will you be part of it?

#Restorethe4th is not a total solution, but it’s an important part. Get behind it and take action.

Edward Snowden’s gift

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By , July 4, 2013 12:27 pm

Reading the news these past few weeks, I found myself frequently angry  at our government – all three branches – over the massive domestic surveillance program described in documents leaked by former Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden. But when I wasn’t dealing with the negative emotions about our government, I found myself somewhat awed by the gift Edward Snowden has given us all – Americans and EU citizens alike – at enormous personal risk to himself.  He has been willing to give up his future and freedom to give us the gift of sunshine.

As more files are released by The Guardian and Washington Post, the light will only get brighter.  But with that gift comes an enormous responsibility on the recipients.  It is up to us – each of us – to ensure that this doesn’t all get swept under rugs or whitewashed.  It’s up to us to ensure that Congress stops certain practices and restores the Fourth Amendment rights that have been trampled on by a government exploiting Third Party Doctrine while issuing alarmist Chicken Little proclamations about “national security.”

It is up to each and every one of us to speak up and take action to make our country a better place – a place that respects the right to privacy and where we, the people, are not viewed through the lens of terrorism.

How many of us would be willing to give up our freedom for the next four or five decades to expose how our government was misleading us and monitoring us?

Over 40 years ago, a young man named Bruce Mayrock set himself on fire outside the U.N. to raise awareness about the plight of Biafran children. He died hours later. Some said at the time that his sacrifice was a total waste and made no sense. After all, Mayrock had never traveled to Biafra and had no real connection to any Biafrans.  His suicide got some local attention, but did not change the course of history.

On some level, Edward Snowden has set himself on fire.  He has sacrificed himself to make this world a better place. It is up to us to ensure that his sacrifice will not be in vain.


Do we need a National Sieve Administration for all the leaks?

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By , June 28, 2013 9:50 am

So I’m sitting here, absolutely gobsmacked over the news that General James “Hoss” Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  is under investigation by the DOJ for allegedly leaking information to a New York Times reporter about the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors.   Cartright would become the ninth person charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.  That’s a lot of prosecutions considering Obama has been in office for four years and  there were only three people charged for all previous administrations, combined.  As Scott Shane and Charlie Savage report, however, not all of the increase in aggressive prosecution of leaks is Obama’s doing:

But a closer look reveals a surprising conclusion: the crackdown has nothing to do with any directive from the president, even though he is now promoting his record as a political asset.

Instead, it was unplanned, resulting from several leftover investigations from the Bush administration, a proliferation of e-mail and computer audit trails that increasingly can pinpoint reporters’ sources, bipartisan support in Congress for a tougher approach, and a push by the director of national intelligence in 2009 that sharpened the system for tracking disclosures.

But the prosecuted leaks are not the only leaks in our national security. Apart from whistleblowers like Tice and Binney who were not prosecuted, some   information was leaked by hackers who attacked HBGary Federal and later Stratfor. Those two hacks revealed a lot of information that was quite an embarrassment to the government and businesses. And when mainstream media talks about “the war on journalism,” they should include government’s attempts to cut WikiLeaks’ access to donations, what we learned from the HBGary Federal hack about efforts to discredit Glenn Greenwald, and what we might have learned from Project PM if the government hadn’t arrested Barrett Brown.  As I think about it now, Brown’s arrest may have been one of the government’s most effective steps to stop the exposure of embarrassing information because the project pretty much fell apart after his arrest.

So we need to use a wider lens when we talk about  “leaks” that goes beyond the whistleblower/leaker nomenclature for government leakers and that also considers why we have seen an increasing rate of leaks and exposures in the past seven years.

In his interview, Edward Snowden talked about how he believed in Obama and how his subsequent sense of disappointment (and betrayal?) contributed to his decision to leak documents to the media.   And maybe it is as simple as that – that when we no longer trust our government to respect our rights – including a right to privacy – we will do what we have to to expose government surveillance and wrongdoing.  When we have met the enemy, and he is, what else is a moral or ethical person to do? When normal whistleblower channels only tip the government so that they can try to prevent the leak, when the President issues directives about “insider threats” that would have people spying on each other and reporting each other instead of reporting government wrongdoing, what options are left?

I believe the ultimate responsibility for the leaks falls back on government for (1) engaging in so much unnecessary privacy-busting surveillance, and (2) not being upfront and clear with the public about the programs.  It is the government’s secrecy and over-classification that has contributed, in large part, to the problem. The government’s secrecy, one could argue, has necessitated the leaks if democracy is to survive.  National security never, however, justifies trying to smear or destroy the reputation of journalists and publishers who are shining the light on government actions by publishing documents that have been leaked to them.

At this rate, we will need a National Sieve Administration to try to plug all the leaks, because although the government’s actions may have a chilling effect on some journalists or media outlets,  they will not be able to stop those whose conscience is stronger than fear of prosecution.

The tagline of this blog used to be this quote from Edward Abbey:  “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” By that definition, Edward Snowden and other leakers are patriots, not traitors. Instead of prosecuting them under the Espionage Act, we should be prosecuting government officials who perjure themselves in Congressional oversight hearings or who lie to the public about government invasions of our civil liberties and privacy.

In the meantime, a new unclassified but “for official use only” CIA memo designed to cut down on leaks from within the CIA was quickly leaked to the Associated Press on Wednesday.



Best. Smackdown. Ever.

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By , June 28, 2013 9:08 am

There’s a provision in U.S. law that says that if a student at a military preparatory school is injured at the school, they are then considered a “veteran due to the service-connected disability” even if they never go on to serve in the military or go on active duty.

At a congressional hearing on how small business owners may be using their status as “disabled veterans” to obtain contracts with the IRS, watch this exchange between Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs and use of right arm while serving her country, and Braulio Castillo, a small business owner and IRS contractor who capitalized on the law because he injured his foot playing football while at West Point MPS and never served in the military after school.

If you don’t feel like standing and cheering her or crying by the time she’s done, let me know:

MSNBC has the story.

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