Torture - Not A Report - Will Harm America

The Senate Intelligence Committee finally released a report on the CIA’s interrogation policies during the “War on Terror”. It always amazed me how quickly American exceptionalism disappeared from war supporters’ vocabulary when confronted with evidence of war crimes committed by Americans. All that talk about Saddam’s torture chambers and human rights just went away. Many attempted to justify it. Some people just accepted it and moved on. Others decided to reclassify it. Others just ignored it.

A while ago I started writing a response to an artical on the debate about releasing the report. I never finished it, but I want to go back to the article because it touches a lot arguments that are easily rebutted.

Security concerns are complicating the release of a controversial report on “enhanced interrogations techniques,” with officials fearing the document could inflame the Arab Street and put Americans in danger.
Notice that torture supporters are acknowledging that torture is counterproductive and puts Americans at risk.
Two of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee cited security concerns when voting against the declassification of the report.
War opponents were often ridiculed for pointing out that the Iraq War would anger the world, possibly leading people to support our enemies, dropping our standing in the world, and making it harder for us to win the war of ideas against extremist Islam. Now this same argument is being used by the other side. Acting against our stated values hurts our position in the world. Being overly violent defending our interests hurts our position in the world.

Let’s be clear about something. It’s not the declassification of a report that will cause anger, it’s the criminal activity. The United States committed war crimes and no one is facing a penalty. That angers me and it was done ostensibly to protect me. Stop blaming the Senate Intelligence Committe or Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden for exposing crimes by members of our government. It is the criminals who deserve the blame and scorn.
Former Bush and CIA officials say the classified program was legal and provided critical information that helped thwart attacks and capture al Qaeda leaders.

Senate Democrats say their investigation found that the harsh interrogation methods did not succeed in extracting useful intelligence.
There is plenty of evidence that torture does not help intelligence gathering. Plenty of people think otherwise. My opinion is consistent with the former. We can’t evaluate it in this case unless we know the details. We shouldn’t take the word of “former Bush and CIA officials” nor “Senate Democrats”. The Senate report is not the final word on the efficacy of torture, but it broadens our understanding of what was done and therefore improves the state of the debate.

In fact, because it brings us closer to implementing better policy, it literally makes us a stronger country. Governments that are held accountable for their policies (e.g. democracies) are historically better governments than those that aren't. The only way to hold governments accountable is public oversight. Whatever our enemies will gain from this report in the form of propaganda we will gain more so in the form of information on how best to protect our country.

Obama banned the interrogation techniques via executive order after taking office, and Attorney General Eric Holder said there would not be a criminal investigation into the program.

But calls for criminal prosecutions could flare up on the left once the interrogations report is released.
Banning the techniques was a step up from the Bush administration authorizing it, but by not prosecuting those responsible Obama essentially legitimized it. Torture was, in fact, illegal at the time. Simply saying “we won’t do it again” is not a valid response to a crime. There aren’t going to be any prosecutions, but the report would be a smashing success if it lead to some. People calling it "political" are ignoring the problem.
The dispute marked a low point in the relationship between the agency and the Intelligence panel.
Good! Congress should be asking tough, uncomfortable questions. They don’t need to be friends with the CIA.
“The agency is ferociously angry at those who have tried to depict their efforts as immoral and unpatriotic,” Gerecht said. “It believes it conducted itself lawfully and got approval from the executive branch and Congress, and Democrats in Congress are trying to change the rules.”
It doesn't matter if it got it from the executive branch or congress, it's illegal. The rules have always been “no torture”.
Gerecht [an advocate for these torture techniques] said the CIA has nothing to fear from the summary being made public.

“If you can’t stand discussing something in the light of day, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” he said.
On this at least a torture advocate is correct.

12/10/2014 2:10:27 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: torture bush cia
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No, White Folks Wouldn't React This Way



I've seen a lot of statements similar to this one above, portraying black people as unusually destructive by asking if white people would do the same. I'm going to assume "act like this" means "riot" and not "protest", though I'm sure there are plenty of people who think no protests are warranted. The obvious answer is no. No, white people would not respond this way because they would view the killing of a young white man as an isolated incident. Given their experiences and the general lack of evidence that white Americans are unfairly targeted by law enforcement, they would probably think it was justified. It would not strike them that this is part of a pattern.

Black people on the other hand do see this as a pattern. This thinking comes from their own experiences and the statistics constantly back it up. It is clear to them that African Americans get stopped by the police more often in cases when they are guitly of no crime. It is clear to them that African Americans get killed unjustifiably by law enforcement at alarming rates.

Now you might say that maybe black people are predisposed to rioting whereas white people are not. White people though have found plenty of reasons to riot over the years. Just this fall white people rioted celebrating a World Series victory. Let's not forget the riot at a pumpkin festival festival in New Hampshire around the same time (I mean, pumpkins, right?). Sometimes white people riot to stop an election recount they don't want to happen or even to protest the firing of a child rapist enabling football coach. This is just to point out that this is a fair comparison. White people aren't predisposed to not rioting.

If you're asking a question like this you really need to take a minute and attempt to view the situation from a different perspective. As a white person it is hard to see things from a black person's perspective to begin with. Most people would rather ignore or misrepresent the African American perspective than take the time to understand it.

It is the impression of many African Americans that black lives aren't valued as much as white ones. This case did nothing to dissuade them of that.

Look at some of the events that took place in Ferguson. A black man is killed by police. The police officer's name is not immediately released. Typical procedure was ignored at the scene. A peaceful protest is met with riot police. The case is sent to a grand jury where the prosecution does not attempt to indict, but rather leaves it up to the grand jury to decide. This is usually not how prosecutors attempt to indict:

In an unusual step, Mr. McCulloch had said he would present all known witnesses and evidence and instead of recommending an indictment, as is usually the case, let the jurors decide for themselves what if any charges to bring.

The officer’s testimony, delivered without the cross-examination of a trial in the earliest phase of the three-month inquiry, was the only direct account of the fatal encounter. It appeared to form the spine of a narrative that unfolded before the jurors over three months, buttressed, the prosecutors said, by the most credible witnesses, forensic evidence and three autopsies.

But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.
On top of that, the officer's testimony is, frankly, not believable.

And now put these events in the broader context of a justice system that treats black Americans more harshly than white Americans. This is important because, as an isolated incident, it's easier to explain away things as coincidences. None of this proves Darren Wilson is guilty of anything, but it does go a long way towards showing why people rioted in Ferguson and protested across the country.

11/26/2014 6:03:19 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: ferguson michael+brown darren+wilson race crime
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Michael Brown Was No Angel

Before Michael Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson he stole cigars - Swisher Sweets to be exact - from a convenience store. All over the internet this fact, among other things, has been used to justify his death. The truth of the matter is that only the events of his confrontation with Darren Wilson can justify his death.

In the month after Brown’s death there appeared a piece in The New York Times detailing Michael Brown’s final weeks. A single paragraph in that piece garnered a lot of attention around the internet, mostly because of its description of Brown as "no angel"

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
It was then that something hit me about Michael Brown’s “problems and promise”, specifically the attempts to smear Brown for “stealing a box of cigars”.

As a teenager, I stole cigars.

Several of my friend and I started smoking at 16 and, because we couldn’t buy them ourselves, we sometimes stole them out of the local Foodland when we couldn’t find someone to buy for us. I think it was usually 2 or 3 of us. One would buy something at the counter. One would look out. One would snatch some out of display case in the middle of the store. This was before cigarettes were exclusively stored behind counters. It was usually something disgusting like GPCs because they were the easiest to get to. Sometimes we’d get better brands and we even got some Swisher Sweets. I think this happened a handful of times.

My friend, doing it on his own once, even got caught at the counter. The cashier asked him to put the cigarettes back so she wouldn’t have to call the police. If caught I doubt he or I would have “[pushed] the clerk of a convenience store into a display case” only for the reason that it wouldn’t matter if we got away - everyone in town knew our dads.

If I was gunned down would the fact that I stole cigarettes be used to justify my death?

While we’re at it, what about the rest of Michael Brown’s less than angelic life. Brown “dabbled in drugs and alcohol”. “Dabbled” is the best way to describe my sparing use of marijuana, but it doesn’t come close to how I used tobacco and alcohol. Though I was never a pack a day smoker I always had a pack on me. As to alcohol, Friday nights were often spent trying to get someone to buy me and my friends beer.

Brown “had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar.” Thankfully I never subjected the world to a song, but I certainly listened to vulgar music. Nirvana talked about heroin, Green Day about masturbation, and Rage Against the Machine about tearing down the entire establishment. Marylin Mason was part of the warm up tape I made for varsity basketball senior year.

Who didn’t get into at least “one scuffle with a neighbor”, or with a friend or family member?

I picked on weaker kids, tried to have sex with every girl in high school, and argued with my parents. Taken out of context I was a monster. Certainly given all my transgressions my death would have been easily justified in the eyes of many.

But of course I was also the valedictorian of my high school, a three sport athlete, a respectful kid, and generally well liked by adults in my community. Would those facts (or the fact that I’m white) have flipped the switch and turned a police officer into a murderer?

Sometimes I wonder if the people who are tarring Michael Brown remember what high school was like. I remember always trying to make people think I was less smart than I was, had less money than I did, and was tougher than I was.

It hit me profoundly when I heard people using Michael Brown’s teenage life as justification for his death. I’m almost certain the facts he is being tarnished with would be chalked up to youthful indiscretions if they were talking about someone like me.

10/13/2014 6:47:22 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: michael+brown race
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Why I'm Mad About Ferguson

This is kind of a brain dump on the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Like the death of Eric Garner the death of Michael Brown and the resulting aftermath consist of a racial issue and some other stuff. Unlike the death of Eric Garner we're not sure how Michael Brown came to die, and so I’m a hesitant to speak too much about it. There should be an investigation, and those involved should be presumed innocent. It may seem callous but I'm not going to talk much about Brown's death. I want to talk about the aftermath. I suppose that says something about being white - or rather the ease of being white - that a young black man is shot dead in the street and you focus on what happens after.

There's no doubt race has something to do with the lack of trust between the people of Ferguson and the different police departments that police them. Take this long article about St. Louis County squeezing their poor residents. I'd say read the whole thing but it's 14,000 words. Just scroll and pick a few paragraphs at random. If you're not full of rage after then never complain about the big bad government again. There were also five laughable because cops back up their own and, on the other hand, insulting to potential witnesses who need protection against reprisal. I’d argue that the Ferguson PD screwed over the later identified Darren Wilson. There’s no way anyone in Ferguson will believe his story after his name was kept out of the news for so long. Regardless of what happens he’ll have to find a new job.

The next logical step for people who don’t feel they are being heard by their government - the one they elect and pay salaries to - is to protest. Maybe even angrily, as is their right. Here’s where things got much worse. Here’s where the Ferguson PD earned Ferguson’s distrust. In response to a protest law enforcement attempted a show of force. First they showed up with dogs. Then they showed up in riot gear. Then there was an armored vehicle, and sniper rifles, and tear gas. To be fair, some of this was after rioting, but never did the police try to de-escalate the situation. Never did they show respect for the residents of Ferguson. For all the righteous talk about the Constitution we hear these days, a lot of people seemed to be perfectly fine with the suppression of the First Amendment in Ferguson - the right to freedom of speech; freedom of the press; the right of the people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The police did little to stop those riots that sparked further escalation, all the while arresting journalists in McDonald’s, teargassing journalists and then confiscating their equipment, and threatening to kill anyone who asked questions. Police have a duty to protect your rights. That includes your right to physical safety, it includes your property rights, and it includes your civil rights found in the Constitution. The police in Ferguson did little to protect anyone’s First Amendment rights. Quite the opposite they actively and violently tried to deny those rights. For everyone who gets outraged whenever talk of gun control arises, or a government surveillance program is unveiled, this should anger you as much as it angered the citizens of Ferguson. A law wasn’t proposed to put extra regulations on a constitutional right. No, the government came out into the streets and just said you don’t have those rights.

Of course, some called the press’ conduct inappropriate, claiming they were becoming the story instead of reporting it. This shows the inanity of most media criticism in general. Reporters are barraged from both sides for not reporting what others believe are important issues. Then when they get deep into a story they’re accused of attention seeking. To the charge of “becoming the story” I can only say “no shit”. Yes, when the right to report on government is being suppressed then that becomes a story in and of itself.

Police militarization was another topic on full display. There were the armored vehicles and riot gear and high powered weaponry police departments have procured through the Defense Department or otherwise. This equipment feeds into an already increasing view - fueled by tough on crime policies and rhetoric, and the drug war of course - that police are at war with citizens. That feeds into the increased and quicker use of force. The escalation couldn’t be more blatant in Ferguson where a man may have been killed for very little reason and an entire community’s rights were suppressed.

I find it ironic that supporters of Darren Wilson and the police response (there seems to be a strong correlation of the two) are calling for Darren Wilson’s right to be innocent until proven guilty to be respected but had no such worry about the rights of protesters in Ferguson, nor for Michael Brown.

9/6/2014 1:16:52 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: police brutality ferguson police+militarization 1st+amendment
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Eric Garner, Another Casualty

You can discount race in any one incident fairly easily. There was nothing overtly racist about how NYPD officers killed Eric Garner. But there it is again, a black man getting killed by police in New York City. If New York City wasn’t knee deep in racially biased policies, if they didn’t have a long tragic history of dead black men, and if some cops weren’t reacting disgustingly then we might be able to explain it away. It’s not to say white people aren’t getting killed in no-knock raids. And it's not to say that an incident can't legitimately be explained away. It’s just to say we’ve seen it so many times that it can’t be written off as an isolated incident.

Sometimes I just think to myself what it’s like to be a black man in a major city (or hell, a lily white suburb, or a small town for that matter). Whether it’s New York or Albuquerque there are, in part, police departments that are out of control. That’s bad enough, but force always seems to come down harder on black men. It’s a scary thought, but then “sometimes” “thinking” about something is much easier than “always” “living” with it.

There’s another issue Eric Garner’s death brings up though. Why were the cops even talking to Eric Garner? More specifically why is the NYPD arresting someone for selling loosies? The reason is because New York City has set out to end smoking.

Of course, as with all drugs, it’s very hard to completely stop people from using them. Admittedly, extreme taxation (along with campaigns highlighting the dangers of smoking) has proved to be a solid deterrent. I have no hard facts to back this up, just a general observation that people seem to smoke a lot less these days. But the market will not be denied. If people want a drug they’ll a) get it and b) get it at a price they can afford. There will always be someone there to meet that demand. The black market can easily undercut the legal price of $12 for a pack of cigarettes.

To be honest, New York City’s smoking prohibition policy is probably a more extreme version of what I would propose for legalizing other drugs. Make it legal. Tax the hell out of it. Use the proceeds to deal with the societal ills associated with the drug’s use. If it’s intoxicating take a strong stance against using it while driving. I mostly oppose smoking bans in businesses, though the worker safety angle is somewhat persuasive. I do have to admit that the smoking ban in Massachusetts made it easier for me to quit seven years ago and generally made going to bars more enjoyable.

The problem is the aggressiveness with which the city is enforcing the law. And the aggressiveness stems from the rhetoric behind the policy to begin with. Police officers work from incentives just like anyone else. When there is a strong focus on eliminating drug use - when people claim we are at war with drug use - then police will be aggressive in their enforcement. It has to be said, Eric Garner is another casualty of the war on drugs. If you are at war with something then there are no half-measures. Every little infraction must be met with force.

7/29/2014 1:12:13 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: eric+garner war+on+drugs nypd police brutality
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Going Back to Iraq

The United States occupied Iraq for over 8 years, from March 2003 to January 2011. Since we left ISIL, a Sunni militia offshoot of Al Qaeda, has slowly claimed territory in the western and central parts of Iraq. This all came to a head this month when ISIL took control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. It was actually quite shocking the progress the group has made. I don’t follow Iraq as much as I did during the war, but it’s clear this isn’t good. ISIL and groups that adhere to similar jihadist philosophy oppose the United States and its allies, and so it’s concerning when these groups take control of large areas of an oil producing country.

We know what the justifications for the Iraq War were - weapons of mass destruction, ties to Al Qaeda, and human rights violations being the big ones. The weapons were not found nor were ties to Al Qaeda. The United States then embarked on an expensive rebuilding process for the purpose of not letting the country fall into chaos and become a haven for terrorist groups like Afghanistan was before 9/11.

Now, 2 years after leaving we are getting a good look at what we built. Obviously the security forces - probably the most important part of the rebuild - are not capable of controlling most of the country. Maybe just as importantly, the government is not accepted throughout the country.

And so now we’re hearing people call for the United States to do something about the situation. Lots of those people happen to the ones that got us into Iraq in the first place and architected the resulting policy failures. I know this because I happened to catch some of the super liberal media over the past couple of weeks. I saw Paul Bremer on Good Morning America the other day. On the treadmill at the gym I saw some one else some time later. As Jon Stewart points out, Iraq War supporters like Lindsay Graham, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, and John McCain have been all over the super liberal media calling for more of the same because you can never go wrong advocating for more war in this country, no matter how wrong it goes. But I digress.

There are calls for bombs and fewer calls for boots on the ground. And some will say that we left too early after 8 years and this tally:

  • over 4,400 American soldiers killed
  • over 32,000 American soldiers wounded
  • the toll on their families at home
  • over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths
  • millions of Iraqis displaced externally and internally
  • a current price tag of $2 trillion that could become $6 trillion when it’s all added up
  • and because it was sold as part of the war on terror, let's add the loss of civil liberties at home, the addition of torture as policy, and the loss of credibility and goodwill around the world among other things
And what did we accomplish? We removed a brutal dictatorship, but that wasn’t the majority of the cost in time, lives, or money. We spent the majority of that on the rebuilding of Iraq, which was supposed to create a stable country with a working government. It didn’t. I’m not saying Iraq will never be that, but the reconstruction of Iraq did not create that.

When this all started after 9/11 Islamist groups - really just the Taliban - essentially had control of Afghanistan. Now, after 8 years in Iraq and 12 and counting in Afghanistan different groups have large footholds in two countries and, when I look at map of ISIL territory in Iraq and Taliban territory in Afghanistan, it looks like they control just as much if not more territory. I’m not saying either group will hold it - ISIL doesn’t seem big enough - but did we really spend all of that and end up with our enemies having more territory?

And so now people seriously want to go back in and spend more money and more lives on something we failed to do in 8 years. People are actually saying we left too early, without actually saying what more time would have accomplished. It is not that we accomplished nothing, but ultimately we failed if after 8 years it could get this bad in 2 years after we left.

Let me tell you something, at this point it is up to the Iraqis to come to a political solution. This is what Iraq War critics (not necessarily opponents of the initial invasion) were saying in 2005. Once Saddam was out it was up to the Iraqis to build a government. Much of that cost in lives and money could have been saved if people had realized that.

I get that we don’t want our soldiers to have died in vain. But what about the others who will go and die in the name of attempting what we could not accomplish in 8 years? Or if it’s just bombs we send, what about the Iraqis who will die? Should we sacrifice those American and Iraqi lives too ?

6/26/2014 2:00:27 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: iraq+war
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Leave No Man Behind?

There is a lot of anger over the prisoner swap of five Taliban commanders for one US soldier, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. My understanding is that there are two sources of anger. The most visceral reactions come from the rumor that Bergdahl deserted his post. Here is a very level-headed take (link via) from a soldier who was there. Soldiers lost their lives looking for Bergdahl or because others were looking for him and not supporting them. If he was a deserter it makes those deaths all the more painful. But, as the author states, "retrieving him at least reminds soldiers that we will never abandon them to their fates, right or wrong." That's a very powerful statement reflecting a deep sense of honor. In my mind the point eliminates his deserter status as a reason not to get Bergdahl back. The article, however, gave me a better understanding of the anger some people are feeling about this deal.

The other, more pragmatic, line of dissent is that this constitutes negotiating with terrorists, which is bad and should never be done because it gives terrorists the incentive to capture bargaining chips, whatever they happen to be. This is problematic for a few reasons. For one, terorrists don't need reasons to kidnap and kill other than what got them into the business. If the Taliban completely believed the United States would never negotiate with them they still would have scooped up any errant soldier wandering the Afghan countryside alone.

More obviously, the United States does negotiate with groups it claims are terrorists. For example, the Reagan administration negotiated with Iran during the Iran-Contra affair. The Bush administration negotiated with Iraqi insurgents after years of calling them terrorists. That's not to say you can't still oppose all such negotiations (assuming you do), but it does show that it's a part of the United States' repertoire. We don't negotiate with terrorists, not out of principle so much as because we're so strong that we don't need. And then there are some times when we have to, so we do.

The bigger problem with the "negotiating with terrorists" angle is the five men who were traded. Each was held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for over a decade. "Terrorism" is a crime. It is different from simply fighting against the United States. If these Taliban soldiers were in fact terrorists rather than military commanders then the United States had ample time to try them for their crimes or pass them off to an international court. We had a duty to seek a just verdict against them and do it in a timely fashion. We did no such thing. For over a decade the opponents of closing Guantanamo Bay have shown they either don't believe these people are terrorists or they don't believe in the US justice system.

A case like this shows how awful opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay and bringing its detainees to trial in civilian courts is. Regardless of his deserter status can't we all agree that Bergdahl shouldn't have been held in a cave without trial for 5 years? And yet, what is the difference between his situation or Robert Levinson's and that of detainees in Guantanamo, many of whom are certainly not guilty of any crime? There certainly are differences, but in the end all have been held for a long time without charge, the antithesis of American justice.

Finally, I just have to ask for what reason should we let Bergdahl rot in a Taliban prison away from his family and country? Is it for a sick sense of justice that runs counter to the stated ideals of American justice? Is it for a war that no one in America is really paying attention to? Does anyone even know what is going on in Afghanistan? How can we leave a man, deserter or not, in a war that our military is about to check out of and that our populace has certainly checked out of?

6/4/2014 1:39:21 AM
Filed Under: World
Keywords: afghanistan
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Snowden, Kerry, Felt, Nixon

Given his remarks about Edward Snowden, I wonder what John Kerry thinks should have happened to Mark Felt. Felt, of course, was "Deep Throat", the man responsible for leaking critical information about the FBI's investigation into the Watergate scandal. His leaks helped publicize the investigation into illegal activity which the Nixon administration was trying to impede. Snowden saw illegal activity by the government as did Felt, and they both sought to expose it for what they claim was the greater good.

The situations don't line up perfectly. Certainly Edward Snowden has leaked much more information than Mark Felt did. Snowden leaked all different kinds of information, from illegal activity to abuses of the law to perfectly legal activity. Felt didn't so much leak illegal activity as leak the progress of the investigation into illegal activity so that it could not be illegally covered up. The information Felt leaked was not, as far as I can tell, classified either. Much of what Snowden leaked was classified (but it should be noted that the United States marks too much information as classified). I'm sure the FBI would argue that in general certain information needs to remain out of the public view for purposes of investigation, so Felt could have been violating FBI protocol or maybe even the law.

The reason I bring up Mark Felt is because he helped put away the most corrupt president of the last 100 years. What made Nixon so corrupt was that he used his power against his political enemies. One of Nixon's political enemies would have been John Kerry himself. Kerry was a high profile activist against a war Nixon was fighting and secretly escalating. It is conceivable that Nixon would have turned his machine against Kerry, violating his privacy to beat him politically or ruin him personally.

Felt didn't "man up" in the same way Kerry wants Snowden to. He hid from the public eye until a few years before his death. Important people within the government knew or had an idea that Felt was "Deep Throat" but he was apparently protected from reprisal because he could expose secrets about other activities the FBI was engaged in. Snowden holds no such protection. Given what has happened to people like Chelsea Manning (while the crimes she exposed are ignored) I see no reason why Snowden would or would be expected to stay and face prosecution.

The conversation shouldn't be about Snowden's "manliness", nor should it be about Chelsea Manning's sex reassignment. If someone is talking about either of these people and they're only focusing on personality you should look elsewhere for debate. I suppose we'll always have disagreements about what constitutes the difference between a whistle blower and a criminal or traitor. But given the sheer volume of questionable activity Snowden's leaks have uncovered, we should be focusing on that information as we did with Felt's. Both showed how far the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies have gone beyond what Americans feel they have authorized - how they have gone beyond what the Constitution, American law, and international law authorizes. A free people with a democratic form of government need that information.

5/29/2014 3:52:03 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: edward+snowden mark+felt john+kerry richard+nixon treason whistleblower nsa
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Why Net Neutrality is Important

Network neutrality is the principle "that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally". It's somewhat of a bedrock of the internet's success, the idea that anyone can get on and provide a service under the same rules as any of their competitors, no matter how big either of them are.

On Thursday the FCC is expected to announce new rules that most digital rights group fear could mean the end of that principle. Let’s look at Comcast** as an example of why that could be bad. Comcast owns NBC and all its content. It also provides on-demand video content. Netflix also provides on-demand video content. So Comcast is not only a service provider on which Netflix must send its traffic, but also a competitor to Netflix. You could see how it might be in Comcast's interest to discriminate against Netflix. Maybe Netflix traffic, in Comcast’s opinion, is taking up too much bandwidth and needs to be throttled. Netflix is something like 30% of all internet traffic at times.

That could change, but even if it doesn't there's still a problem. Netflix could pay for preferential treatment. What happens when a company called WebMovies comes along? Their service will perform worse unless they can front the huge costs needed to play in Comcast’s top tier. In a way this is nothing different than what every startup business has to contend with. There are huge up front costs to starting a business. Want to start building your own automobiles, you'll probably need a production line that costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Again though, what has made the web so innovative is the ability of anyone to get on the infrastructure very cheaply and on an equal footing. There is no real competition in the ISP game, so consumers don’t have many choices if Comcast doesn't provide new services with decent service.

Ironically the ISPs are claiming that net neutrality will harm innovation. Yes, strict regulation can harm innovation. Money will be spent on compliance. Lawyers will advise against actions for fear of sanction. Regulation will be slow to adapt. Here's what the ISPs are saying:

“Under Title II, new service offerings, options, and features would be delayed or altogether foregone. Consumers would face less choice, and a less adaptive and responsive Internet,” they wrote. “An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of ‘Government may I?’ requests from American entrepreneurs. That cannot be, and must not become, the US Internet of tomorrow.”
The giveaway that this was a bit much for me was "altogether foregone". The problem is that ISPs haven’t been innovating and American broadband lags behind other developed nations. In large part this is because, despite the above claim about limiting choice, there’s no real competition right now. If there was I could see the case against net neutrality. If there was there would be no "altogether foregone" features because the market would see a need being unmet and provide it eventually. As it is right now, all the competition is at the application layer. In fact, competition at the ISP layer is going to get worse if Comcast has its way and it is allowed to complete its $45 billion merger with Time Warner. On top of that AT&T is in talks to merge with Directv.

Net neutrality rules that focus simply on making sure ISPs don't discriminate against different services won't cause major harm to ISPs, nor should they slow innovation at the ISP layer.



**[In the interest of full disclosure, in my experience Comcast’s customer service is terrible and their internet service is unreliable. I’ve had so much trouble with their customer service that I refuse to use their cable or internet service.]

5/15/2014 1:59:20 AM
Filed Under: Sci/Tech
Keywords: fcc net+neutrality comcast att
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Personal Privacy

Racism is obviously the big issue in the Donald Sterling fiasco. There is another issue to consider though - the issue of personal privacy. When news broke I just assumed that the person on the other end of the line was recording. I also assumed that she recorded it in California, and that California was a one-party consent state. That would mean that, while dishonest, the recording was legal. Only one person in the conversation has to agree to record, and doesn't have to inform the other party.

California is an all-party consent state, meaning the recording was illegal. That changes my opinion of the situation slightly. Sure, Donald Sterling deserves a lifetime achievement award for racism, but is that the way he should have been got? If you know a drug dealer has been getting away with selling drugs for 20 years does it make it right to violate his or her constitutional rights to put him in jail? I would say no.

Even if it wasn't illegal, there's a question as to what level of privacy we deserve in this society. I once asked why it is even illegal to record a conversation you are having with another person.

On a more abstract note, why is wiretapping illegal? Wiretapping in the form of surveillance is one thing. There should be warrants required because the person being listened to has not given consent. On the other hand, it's illegal for me to record a conversation with you if I don't tell you I'm doing it. Why? I can write down the conversation on a piece of paper. I can remember it in my brain. You've consented to me possibly recording it, just in a less efficient way. What about email? If you send me an email, regardless of whether you add one of those stupid confidentiality notices, I can save it and show it to all my friends. Not that I would ever do it, but I think that if you consent to have a conversation with someone you have already consented to have it recorded.
I think my position has changed a little on this. You know, when you email or write a letter, that your conversation is recorded in some form. You can't know if a conversation is being recorded without asking. It changes a very basic aspect of our culture if you require that before two people can be assured of their privacy. Actually, it changes a very basic aspect of human civilization because there's nothing different in that respect between different cultures. I've been in favor of the one-party consent rule, but after thinking about it for some time I think two-party more reflects how humans interact.

I don't know if it's the "social contract" or "common law" or "good manners", but there is something unwritten that says a conversation between two people, reasonably isolated, is private and should be treated as such.

4/30/2014 2:07:34 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: wiretapping privacy
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