Hard to Deny that Snowden Did America a Favor

lks20130624+Edward+Snowden+hong+kongNew Orleans  There may be one or two skeptics left and folks who delight in endless bar arguments, but it is nigh impossible at this point not to acknowledge what has become painfully obvious:   Edward Snowden’s leaks of confidential National Security Agency (NSA) information was a national service.   You may not like his tactics, but the results of the job done are outstanding.

            The final straw for me has to be the release of the NSA’s four-year strategy plan, which is an exercise in unparalleled hubris and a case study of an outfit out of control.   Get this, they wanted yet more power, even though it is now well established that they enjoyed and abused almost unimaginable power to collect information and spy on Americans, world leaders, and everyone else out there.  They even want Congress to make changes in the law to allow them more power, which has to be the height of absurdity, when virtually everyone agrees that Congress desperately needs to rein in the NSA and force some transparency and accountability over these cowboys.   What planet are they living on?   What country are they working for?

            Any argument that they are in-check based on supervision by the secret federal intelligence court is laughable at this point.   The nature of the government requests is secret as are the court’s opinions, and of course, there is no opponent in court, just the government talking to another branch of the government with no intermediary, but the results speak for themselves.   The government has gone to the court with 1856 requests and 1855 have been approved.  They have gotten turned down once out of almost 2000 requests.   Give me a break.   Judges turn back more pleadings on spelling errors than that in normal courts!   Rubber stamps fail more often than that.   Furthermore since the court is under attack, they have declassified some decisions which have made it even more obvious how thin the grounds were on which many of these orders were standing. And, they want more power.

            Props to the ACLU for bringing the NSA into court as soon as Snowden’s leaks began dribbling out, and here’s hoping that real lawyers and real judges finally give us some justice and, perhaps more importantly, some protection from the NSA.   Edward Snowden may be stuck in Russia, but here’s one guy saying thanks for doing the time, buddy, because we couldn’t have found out about this mess without you, since Congress was both duped and part of the cover-up.


Silicon System of Selling Personal Information for Profit is Under Attack

New Orleans    
The cult of Silicon Valley reigns supreme in these times.  The moguls of Facebook, Google, Linked-In and the rest have become the 21st century of the auto barons of Detroit in the 20th.  They are at the center of the financial pages, fashion shows, and political pundit speculations.  They are worldwide ambassadors of the new American message of innovation and business prowess.  Recently Google officials were the first US corporate ambassadors visiting both Burma and North Korea with our new message of peace and prosperity.   The world is captivated by their tools, searching, posting, tweeting, and networking to create the coming paradigms of the future.

We love the fact that all of this is often free, not the hardware, like our computers, but we often lull ourselves into thinking the rest of it has no cost.   Why should we think about the business model that drives all of this, especially since that story is a less stylist and nostalgic story of the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue.    Monetizing these free and fun internet tools, as the Siliconers say, is all about advertising, and frankly, as too few realize, we pay for that with our privacy, sold to unknown bidders to try to sell us tons of stuff.

A coming struggle in the California legislature may bring this story more attention than Silicon Valley wants.  A bill by a Long Beach assembly woman would force, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal “internet companies, upon request, share with Californians personal information they have collected – including buying habits, physical location, and sexual orientation – and what they have passed on to third parties such as marketing companies, app makers, and other companies that collect and sell data.”

Various Silicon oriented industry groups are predictably saying that this will retard innovation, I guess for advertisers and their soap and suds companies, and of course will cost them more money.  European regulators already require a ton more disclosure about personal information kept by Google, Facebook, and the like.  Facebook when confronted by earlier investigations of how much they give over to their app folks, claimed they have limits, but of course without legislation like this, they are not required to disclose information about their “over sharing.”

The ACLU is all over this at least in California and has mobilized their members to write the companies and ask about their information.  Frankly, believing that California will bite the Silicon Valley hand that feeds it seems unrealistic, almost as unrealistic as believing that all of these modern toys are really free.  Other states need to take the lead on this issue.  Nonetheless it is one thing to pay the piper, and quite another to not even be allowed to know how much we are paying.

Please click for the Silicon Valley Report on the Radio.




Anna Hazare’s Fast Ignites Protest and Action on Indian Corruption

DelAnna Hazarehi      The Times of India and the Hindustan Times, among the largest papers in the world, were filled with incredulous and fawning stories on Sunday of a rarity in modern, big business India: a simple protest that ignited real change in the culture of political corruption. Most of the stories centered on Kishan Baburao Hazare, variously described as a 71, 72, or 73 year old Gandhian leader, also known more popularly as Anna (essentially “uncle”) Hazare, whose “fast to the death” to force the drafting of a Lokpal Bill had won a governmental concession to create a joint committee including non-politicians to create a bill with a commitment from Prime Minister Singh to then have it introduced in the coming monsoon session of the Parliament.

This is really very important, so led me quickly translate for non-Indians what this really means and what is fueling the excitement of “Egyptian-style” change dominating the news and the talk of the town.

A Lokpal would be an independent ombudsman with the ability, if the bill is properly drafted and passed, to independently investigate and take action on corruption.

Winning an independent joint commission breaks the death grip that parliamentarians had had over any review or transparency for their own actions. Previous versions had essentially required politicians to write the bill and the same politicians to decide who and what business might ever be referred to a corruption monitor, essentially guaranteeing that such a post would have no power and no business.

Anna Hazare’s fast to the death, an old tactic suddently captured the imagination of the middle classes of India often portrayed correctly as indifferent to corruption and common practitioners of the steady diet of bribes at all levels and all direction that is a discordant note in the narrative of an emerging India. He did not create a movement but he did create a happening which led many sectors of civil society to rally around him and his fast to break the logjam in Delhi around corruption, drawing supporters from Bihar to Bollywood to the old warrior and his fast. The compromise was an advisory ruling, similar to what we would call an Attorney General’s opinion in the USA, which said that though it was unprecedented, there was no legal reason an independent body could not be appointed to draft the Lokpal Bill. The Prime Minister, seen to be personally honest, but teetering with the Congress Party around huge and embarrassing scandals with the mess of the Commonwealth Games fiasco last fall and the more recent billions lost in the piecing out of 2G telephone spectrum, quickly appointed folks from civil society including as co-chairman a legal gadfly in India who had headed the equivalent to the ACLU here and is described by the Times of India as a “William Kunstler” type lawyer, meaning an advocate of highly unpopular causes.

The celebration at the India Gate in Delhi across from the governmental buildings attracted more than 10,000 to witness the end of Hazare’s fast. Similar celebrations were reported throughout India. Is this Hazare’s 15 minutes of national fame or the start of something that could be a game changer in India?

That’s the project now. Perhaps Hazare and his dangerous fast-to-the-death simply caught lightening in a bottle with the right tactic for the right issue at the right time. The real question is whether or not a the protest can lead to more mobilizations and the happening to a genuine movement for reform. The poor are the real victims of corruption in India and if the emerging middle class stops turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the culture of corruption and allies with them, this could be the dawn of great social change in India.

It is almost hard to believe, but it is breathtaking to imagine!


George Clooney, McCarthy, and Commie Terrorists

edward-murrowNew Orleans In these politically cold, hard, and unsettled times, I took advantage of my new love affair with my library card to try and gain some perspective, maybe even insights, into the McCarthy Era that ravished the American politics, liberals, and the left in the 1950’s by ordering up “Good Night and Good Luck” a story of Edward R. Murrow, the celebrated media commentator, directed by huge movie star hunk, George Clooney in 2005.  I had missed the movie at the theaters, and was surprised at how well done it was, regardless of how many parts fact or fiction, since it is still a movie after all, not a documentary.

There were a lot of recognizable faces besides Clooney including Robert Downey, who always adds something to the mix.  Murrow was played by David Strathairn, who was ahead of me at Williams as I was passing through, and Patricia Clarkson from New Orleans the daughter of one of our Councilwomen.

In the early days of television when news still mattered and commanded an audience, those were different times and Murrow had come to the screen with his name and legacy already writ large from his wartime radio broadcasts.  The movie dates the turnaround, perhaps more symbolically than factually, with a down-the-line Air Force civilian employee in Michigan being pushed out of his job because of a sealed envelope filled with unknown evidence and charges, but provoking enough fear of red Commie taint.  Murrow, as this story goes, picked the piece up out of the back pages of a paper and highlighted the story provoking Senator McCarthy’s attack at him personally.  Now the attacks are shotgun blasts at the high and mighty as well as virtually anyone committed to working for change.

McCarthy in footage from the time accuses Murrow of having been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical, syndicalist union, broken by the Espionage Act in WWI.  Other vintage footage includes McCarthy’s repeated assertions that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was included on numerous official lists of “subversive” organizations serving as fronts for the Communist Party.  None of which was true and all of which were denied.   A low level African-American civilian employee is wildly accused of having infiltrated the “code” room despite her denials of ever having been there or done anything but transmit messages as directed without any knowledge of their contents.

Sobering and depressing stuff that made for a great movie, but a miserable look at life in our country.  This week I read a right wing blog that listed me as the “founder of ACORN” and then added gratuitously, “America’s largest terrorist organization.”  Clearly just a blogger, not a US Senator, so proof, presumably not needed, assertion uncontested, another dangerous voice in the thundering herd, hopefully unheard and ignored.  Watching McCarthy smear with the IWW brush, I thought of the poor guy who was an Obama nominee for the federal court and throughout the summer had to defend the fact that 30+ years before he had been a door-to-door fundraising canvasser for a couple of months for ACORN, and now decades later teetered for months on the edge of the knife.  It goes on and on in the right wing witch hunts of bloggers, Beck, and others woven of whole cloth.

A poll in the New York Times, says only about a 30% surveyed believed that wild talk and hate speech contributed to the recent killings in Tucson, and that’s a good thing.  On the other hand the cumulative results of all of these allegations, accusations, ad infinitum, ad nauseum is guaranteed to chill action for change, participation of citizens, and our very democracy, while leaving many afraid of associations and support in fearful isolation.

None of which stops people like me from doing the work, but all of which categorically makes it harder to the do work and to work at the largest scale possible and necessary.

Watching the movie, it was hard not to be reminded that there are now dozens and dozens of McCarthy-wannabes, but very, very few Edward R. Murrow’s.  George Clooney could make another, more contemporary movie in America now.  The problem is that he probably can’t find enough effective heroes today, and with the new wave of Congressional investigations promised and coming, few lessons seem to have been learned from the McCarthy moments more than 50 years ago.


Holding Fox News Accountable – Stop the Ads Now!

rupertmurdochNew Orleans It’s amazing how we become inured to the ridiculous, even when it is abusive and preposterous.  That’s my cut on Glenn Beck and his ranting, especially when he evokes me as anti-christ and revolutionary.  Over the last couple of years, whenever I would mention the absurdity of it all, too often it would end up on Beck’s show on another whiteboard of whackiness, so I followed Huey Long’s old dictum that there is no real defense for a public attack and let it all run off of me like water off a duck’s back.

When I flew into San Francisco a couple of months I got there just as a crazy was in the news having been arrested in a fire fight with the cops as he was headed to do damage to the Tides Foundation, ACLU and others.  He’s now conceded he was revved up by Beck and the Fox News fanatics.  I didn’t enjoy seeing my name in those articles either, but what can you do, move under a rock?  Nada, me!  Not because I’m such a cowboy anymore (I swear!), but the work has to be done, and it’s the risk we’ve always lived with….

Well, my friend, Drummond Pike, Tides Founder and CEO, has had enough of this shit and though generally much, much more mellow than me, has reared back and lofted spit right in the eye of not Beck, the puppet, but Rupert Murdoch, the grand master of Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and more.  Drummond wrote an excellent letter that’s getting good reviews asking Fox to stop the hate speech before someone else is hurt or killed, and going one better and demanding that Fox advertisers back away from this insanity before it’s too late.   Working with Media Matters and others who are veterans of the Beck advertisers’ wars, he’s clear that the collective underpinning of Fox advertising is subsidizing the Beck harangues, because advertisers have abandoned him like a toxic spill.

Drummond is giving them 30 days to back off.  Or else!

Enough is enough.  Drummond is right, and I’m wrong.  We probably shouldn’t ignore this craziness, but instead should push back until we hurt Beck and Murdoch where it hurts them:  in the pocket book.

Take it from me, Brother Glenn, that’s revolutionary capitalism!

Update: You can read Drummond Pike’s letter to Fox News’ advertisers here: http://blog.tides.org/2010/10/15/dear-fox-advertiser/