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by Jay Rosen
As the New York Times reported:
Though the citation did not name specific reporters, the work was led by Barton Gellman at the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill at the Guardian, and Laura Poitras, a filmmaker and journalist who worked with both newspapers.
And people will debate that— not naming the reporters. Just as they debate the handling of the Snowden documents by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to First Look Media.)
Here I share some thoughts about the Snowden story — or story system — that go beyond what the prizes can recognize.
The Pulitzers are national (they honor U.S. journalism), institutional (the award frequently goes to a newspaper or newsroom) and individual (writers with bylines are typically named.)
The Snowden story is an international enterprise, involving the press, and press law, in the UK, Germany, France, Brazil, Canada and the United States for starters. It involves collaboration and alliance among freelance journalists with their own standing (Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras especially but also to a degree Barton Gellman) who are contracting with institutions and their unique strengths: the Guardian, the Washington Post won the Pulitzer but there are many others: the New York Times and ProPublica (with whom The Guardian shared some of the Snowden documents) Der Spiegel in Germany, O Globo in Brazil, CBC in Canada— and more. There’s no Pulitzer for that.
“Closest to those whose privacy has been invaded.”
Greenwald has said this about the strategy that he and Poitras followed in reporting out the Snowden files:
I reported on most of them under a freelance contract with the Guardian, and she has reported on most under similar contracts with the NYT, the Washington Post, the Guardian and especially der Spiegel. But we also have partnered with multiple media outlets around the world – in Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Spain, Holland, Mexico, and Norway, with more shortly to come – to ensure that the documents are reported on in those places where the interest level is highest and are closest to those individuals whose privacy has been invaded.
In my view that decision — through collaboration, release stories in the press vehicle “closest to those individuals whose privacy has been invaded” — won the Pulitzer today.
“We did not have to do our reporting from London.”
At crucial moments, the “networked” character of the story kept it from being bottled up by the authorities. The most dramatic is when Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian told the authorities in London that he would comply with their demands to destroy the computer hard drives containing the Snowden files. But:
I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?
In a sense it’s that moment that deserved the Pulitzer today.
The international press sphere
When the Guardian shared some of the Snowden documents with ProPublica and the New York Times, there was a logic to spreading the wealth and joining forces in this way. They had worked it out over Wikileaks. Rusbridger:
[It] happened just after we took possession of the first tranche of WikiLeaks documents in 2010. I strongly suspected that our ability to research and publish anything to do with this trove of secret material would be severely constrained in the UK. America, for all its own problems with media laws and whistleblowers, at least has press freedom enshrined in a written constitution. It is also, I hope, unthinkable that any US government would attempt prior restraint against a news organisation planning to publish material that informed an important public debate, however troublesome or embarrassing.
In a sense it has been the international press sphere, an alliance of newsrooms on several continents, that’s been publishing the Snowden files. That way of doing it won a Pulitzer today.
Waiting for one ‘coherent’ story…
In its entirety the Snowden story system is a hard thing to hang a prize on. But we know what some of its principles are. In November of last year Bob Woodward of the Washington Post (there is no larger figure in Pulitzer lore) complained about the way the story system was working. Snowden had made a mistake by not coming to him, Woodward said. He, Bob of Watergate, would have known how to bring order and narrative to the revelations.
Gellman reacted swiftly, and in public, with no hestitation about taking on an icon of the Post:
“I can’t explain why Bob would insult the source who brought us this extraordinary story or the exemplary work of his colleagues in pursuing it,” Gellman said in an email to HuffPost.
“The ‘others’ he dismissed include [The Washington Post's] Greg Miller, Julie Tate, Carol Leonnig, Ellen Nakashima, Craig Whitlock, Craig Timberg, Steven Rich and Ashkan Soltani — all of whom are building on the Snowden archive with me to land scoop after scoop,” Gellman continued. “I won’t get into why Snowden came to me or didn’t come to Bob. But the idea of keeping Snowden anonymous, or of waiting for one ‘coherent’ story, suggests that Bob does not understand my source or the world he lived in.”
by Kevin Gosztola
Why is it that the public will likely never get to read much of a major investigative report the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program—a program that included torture?
Thursday, the Senate intelligence committee voted to declassify portions of the 6,300-page report—the executive summary, findings and conclusions. It was not long after the vote that it was confirmed that the White House would have the CIA conduct a declassification review of these parts of the report before they were released.
This conflict of interest was addressed by Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, who told The Guardian the CIA functionally will control “the declassification process, and they have an interest in how they as an agency are portrayed in the final product.” He added, “They’re not an impartial party, and that’s a flaw in the process.”
Yet, what if it is not a flaw? What if it is a feature? The CIA has made it this far in history without facing any accountability whatsoever for torturing and even causing the deaths of captives it confined in a network of secret prisons the agency maintained.
According to McClatchy Newspapers, the Senate report CIA used “interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119″ captives they held in CIA custody.
While much of this has been understood to journalists and human rights groups that have been interested, the investigation also found that “critics inside the CIA were cut out of the debate over the program or ignored and the news media were manipulated with leaks that tended to blunt criticism of the agency.”
“The CIA’s high-level officials mismanaged the program,” and “interrogators who crossed the line into abusive behavior went unpunished.” The report also confirms the role of the CIA in the deaths of at least six captives.
Deception and hypocrisy has been employed by the CIA with success, and, through entertainment, such as the film, Zero Dark Thirty, the agency has even been able to glorify and sensationalize what it has done in the global “war on terrorism.”
It is all very similar to how the agency acted to protect itself from scrutiny in the 1970s, when much of its covert operations in the 1950s and 1960s, including domestic spying on Americans, were beginning to become widely known.
In 1974, Victor Marchetti, former executive assistant to the CIA Deputy Director, and John D. Marks, former staff assistant to the intelligence director at the State Department, wrote a book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, that the CIA tried to have legally suppressed. It went to court to have the book censored prior to publication. Marchetti became the first writer to be served with an official censorship order by a US court.
Marchetti and Marks argued that hypocrisy, deception and secrecy had become “standard techniques for preventing public awareness of the CIA’s clandestine operations and government accountability of them.” Men who demanded they be regarded as honorable for their role in the CIA, “true patriots,” often lied when caught “in their own web of deceit.” They believed they had a “right to lie” to Americans.
“In this country, secrecy and deception in intelligence operations are as much to keep the Congress and the public from knowing what their government is doing as to shield these activities from [any enemies],” they declared. “The intelligence establishment operates as it does to maintain freedom of action and avoid accountability.”
The CIA “recognizes no role for a questioning legislature or an investigative process,” the former government officials suggested. “Its adherents believe that only they have the right, and the obligation to decide what is necessary to satisfy the national needs.”
“The cult of intelligence demands that it not be held accountable for its actions by the people it professes to serve” because “in their minds those who belong to the cult of intelligence have been ordained and their service is immune from public scrutiny.”
Historically, the CIA had managed to convince US presidents to lie on their behalf. President Dwight D. Eisenhower lied to the American people about the CIA’s involvement in a coup in Guatemala in 1954. President John F. Kennedy lied about the CIA’s role in an invasion of Cuba in 1961 (“Bay of Pigs”). President Lyndon B. Johnson lied about US involvement in Vietnam and Laos. President Richard M. Nixon lied about the CIA’s attempt to fix the election in Chile in 1970. (These are just a few examples.)
Both Marchetti and Marks rationalized that this was due to a “clandestine mentality,” a mindset that “thrives on secrecy and deception” and “encourages professional amorality, the belief that righteous goals can be achieved through the use of unprincipled and normally unacceptable means. Thus, the cult’s leaders must tenaciously guard their official actions from public view. To do otherwise would restrict the ability to act independently; it would permit the American people to pass judgment not only on the utility of their policies but the ethics of those policies as well.”
Not even in the first year of President Barack Obama’s administration did the White House ever seriously want to expend political capital and hold CIA agents or officers accountable for torture. Attorney General Eric Holder initially “identified at least ten instances in which interrogators” went “far beyond what had been sanctioned” by President George W. Bush’s administration. CIA management also had destroyed interrogation videotapes that probably contained evidence of torture, however, the administration chose to move forward instead of looking backward at any crimes committed.
There was no real risk of prosecutions when the Senate intelligence committee chose to produce a report that could set the record straight on CIA torture, detention and renditions. However, that did not stop those in the “cult of intelligence” from interfering in the Senate’s investigation by disappearing documents from a database Senate staffers were using and by conducting unauthorized searches on a network to find out details on how the staffers were preparing the report.
Senate staffers were essentially spied upon because of the interest the CIA has in keeping the true history of CIA torture from becoming official US history. They did not want the Senate to have certain details in the report that would differ from the fabricated stories consistently told by individuals like former CIA director Michael Hayden, former acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Counterterrorism Center head, Jose Rodriguez and others, whose allegiance remains with the “cult of intelligence” they have dutifully served in their lives.
Beyond the promotion of the agency’s own version of history is the reality that the “war on terrorism” is a paradigm that the CIA will likely be able to easily manipulate in the same way that the agency has prevented information from becoming public in recent cases involving Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or lawsuits involving torture victims seeking justice.
Jason Leopold recently highlighted how the Obama administration blocked torture photos from being released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2009. An appeals court had found that President George W. Bush was using FOIA exemptions as “an all-purpose damper on global controversy” and “an alternative classification mechanism.” Obama initially was going to abide by the judge’s order but then “Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz,” accused Obama of “endangering the lives of US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Obama decided to not allow the photos to be released, effectively concealing torture and shielding individuals from accountability.
In a lesser known case, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sought the disclosure of video of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani under FOIA so attorneys for Qahtani could publicly confirm or deny whether they had viewed video that show Qahtani being tortured and abused. They wanted to be able to acknowledge this in open court before the military commissions. But a judge ruled that it was appropriate for the CIA to neither confirm or deny that such images or video of Qahtani existed.
It was “logical and plausible that extremists would utilize images of al-Qahtani (whether in native or manipulated formats) to incite anti-American sentiment, to raise funds, and/or to recruit other loyalists, as has occurred in the past.” He is believed by the government to have been the “20th hijacker,” who would have been on Flight 93 if he had not been denied entry to the US, so “misuse” of his images would be “particularly plausible.”
The judge also contended that, although CCR had highlighted what “written information” was already known publicly to argue for the release of video, the “written record of torture” made it “all the more likely that enemy forces would use al Qahtani’s image against the United States’ interests.”
One talking point the “cult of intelligence” has relied upon more and more often to protect itself from transparency is to argue that transparency would empower the terrorists, who America is fighting in a war. The argument was used against Chelsea Manning when prosecuting her for her disclosures of information to WikiLeaks. It has been repeated to condemn former NSA contractor Edward Snowden for his disclosure of information on massive global surveillance violating the privacy of citizens. (Manning was even charged with the military offense of “aiding the enemy.”)
The threat of propaganda from terrorist groups if transparency is allowed, however, is overwhelmingly insignificant and impossible to detect in comparison to the very real threat of propaganda from the CIA and the “cult of intelligence” if it is able to keep up secrecy, which effectively allows the agency to continue its hypocrisy and deception.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called attention to “the intelligence leadership’s culture of misinformation” and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado had “challenged” the White House to not delegate declassification decisions to the CIA because “significant amounts of information on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that [have] been declassified and released to the American public [have been] misleading and inaccurate.” But a bureaucratic process the CIA can easily tailor to serve its agenda has now been set in motion.
There may be a bit of a reckoning when the tidbits of this major torture report the CIA allows the public to read are released to the public, but the full reckoning that should take place will not occur until the vast majority of the 6,300-page report is made available to the public. It won’t occur until the public can read the stories that Senator John McCain said are “chilling” and too upsetting for him to repeat.
Tragically, over twenty-five years from now, when that finally happens, a number of lead officials responsible for authorizing and committing atrocious acts detailed will probably be dead and gone, and a new generation of leaders in the CIA and the “cult of intelligence” will occupy our attention as we commiserate about their secrecy, hypocrisy and deception engaged in because our system ordains them with immunity from scrutiny and accountability for their actions.
Pointing out why the police or the News-Gazette editorial board are not the best places to get advice on marijuana policy...
by Paul Armentano
WASHINGTON, DC — An estimated 70 percent of physicians acknowledge the therapeutic qualities of cannabis, and over half believe that the plant should also be legal for non-medical purposes, according to survey data released this week by WebMD/Medscape.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents say that cannabis can help in the treatment of specific diseases, and 67 percent say that the plant should be available as a legal therapeutic option for patients.
Oncologists and hematologists were most likely to express support for the use of cannabis for medical purposes, with 82 percent of those surveyed endorsing the plant’s therapeutic use.
Rheumatologists (54 percent) were least likely to say the cannabis provides therapeutic benefits.
Regarding the non-medical use of cannabis, 56 percent of physicians surveyed say that they support making the plant legal nationwide for adults.
Over 1,500 physicians representing more than 12 specialty areas participated in the survey which possesses a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.
Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.
by Paul Armentano
WASHINGTON, DC — Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.
Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.
Demographically, support for cannabis legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (70 percent), African Americans (60 percent), and Democrats (63 percent). Support was weakest among those age 65 and older (32 percent) and Republicans (39 percent).
Seventy-six percent of those surveyed oppose incarceration as a punishment for those found to have possessed personal use quantities of marijuana. Only 22 percent of respondents supported sentencing marijuana possession offenders to jail.
Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed concern that legalizing marijuana might lead to greater levels of underage pot use. (Forty-four percent said that it would not.) Overall, however, respondents did not appear to believe that such an outcome would pose the type of significant detrimental health risks presently associated with alcohol.
As in other recent polls, respondents overwhelmingly say that using cannabis is far less harmful to health than is drinking alcohol. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that alcohol “is more harmful to a person’s health” than is marijuana. Only 15 percent said that cannabis posed greater health risks. Sixty-three percent of respondents separately said that alcohol is “more harmful to society” than cannabis. Only 23 percent said that marijuana was more harmful.
The Pew poll possesses a margin on error of +/- 2.6 percent.
Recent national polls by Gallup and CNN similarly report majority support among Americans for legalizing and regulating the adult use of the plant.
Commenting on the poll, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Advocating for the regulation of cannabis for adults is not a fringe political opinion. It is the majority opinion among the public. Elected officials who continue to push for the status quo — the notion that cannabis ought to be criminalized and that the consumers of cannabis ought to be stigmatized and punished — are holding on to a fringe position that is increasingly out-of-step with the their constituents’ beliefs.”
Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.
by Ari Berman
In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.
Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.
The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.
These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.
Consider these stats from Demos on the impact of Citizens United in the 2012 election:
· The top thirty-two Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200 each.
· Nearly 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93 percent of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the US population.
· It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.
That trend is only going to get worse in the wake of the McCutcheon decision.
Now consider what’s happened since Shelby County: eight states previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voting restrictions (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). That has had a ripple effect elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “nine states [under GOP control] have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”
A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundament rights for all citizens doesn’t sound much like a functioning democracy to me.
Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. He is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics,and has written extensively about American politics, foreign policy and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in the New York Times, Editor & Publisher and The Guardian, and he is a frequent guest and political commentator on MSNBC, C-Span and NPR.
by Glenn Greenwald
I vividly recall the first time I realized just how mindlessly and uncritically supportive of President Obama many Democrats were willing to be. In April, 2009, two federal courts, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required the Pentagon to disclose dozens of graphic photos it possessed showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration announced that, rather than contest or appeal those rulings, they would comply with the court orders and release all the photos. The ACLU praised that decision: “the fact that the Obama administration opted not to seek further review is a sign that it is committed to more transparency.”
This decision instantly turned into a major political controversy. Bush-era neocons, led by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, excoriated Obama, arguing that release of the photos would endanger American troops and depict the US in a negative light; Cheney expressly accused Obama of “siding with the terrorists” by acquiescing to the ruling. By contrast, Democrats defended Obama on the ground that the disclosures were necessary for transparency and the rule of law, and they attacked the neocons for wanting to corruptly hide evidence of America’s war crimes. I don’t think there was a single Democratic official, pundit, writer, or blogger who criticized Obama for that decision.
But then – just two weeks later – Obama completely reversed himself, announcing that he would do everything possible to block the court order and prevent it from taking effect. ABC News described Obama’s decision as “a complete 180.” More amazingly still, Obama adopted the exact arguments that Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney were making over the prior two weeks to attack him specifically and transparency generally: to justify his desire to suppress this evidence, Obama said that “the most direct consequence of releasing the [photos], I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.”
Now, obviously, the people who had been defending Obama’s original pro-transparency position (which included the ACLU, human rights groups, and civil liberties writers including me) changed course and criticized him. That’s what rational people, by definition, do: if a political official takes a position you agree with, then you support him, but when he does a 180-degree reversal and takes the exact position that you’ve been disagreeing with, then you oppose him. That’s just basic. Thus, those of us who originally defended Obama’s decision to release the photos turned into critics once he took the opposite position – the one we disagreed with all along – and announced that he would try to suppress the photos.
But that’s not what large numbers of Democrats did. Many of them first sided with Obama when his administration originally announced he’d release the photos. But then, with equal vigor, they also sided with Obama when – a mere two weeks later – he took the exact opposition position, the very anti-transparency view these Democrats had been attacking all along when voiced by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney.
At least for me, back then, that was astonishing to watch. It’s one thing to strongly suspect that people are simply adopting whatever views their party’s leader takes. But this was like the perfect laboratory experiment to prove that: Obama literally took exact opposition positions in a heated debate within a three week period and many Democrats defended him when he was on one side of the debate and then again when he switched to the other side.
When Democrats were defending Obama’s decision to suppress the photos, I kept asking whether there was a single one of them – just one – who had criticized Obama two weeks earlier when his administration announced they’d released the photos. After all, if they really believed (as they were now claiming) that suppressing the photos was the right thing to do because their release would endanger the troops, shouldn’t they have been objecting when Obama two weeks earlier said he’d release them?
I never found one Democrat defending Obama’s photo suppression who had criticized him earlier when he said he’d release them. That’s when I fully internalized that many Democrats literally had no actual political beliefs other than we support Obama in everything that he does, even when he takes precisely opposite positions in a three week period (most amazingly of all, Obama ultimately succeeded in suppressing the photos – which still have never been seen – not by successfully appealing the court order, but by supporting and then signing into law an amendment to the 40-year old FOIA - sponsored by Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham - that simply exempted the photos from the law).
We’re now about to have a similar lab experiment, this time in the context of the NSA. The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage reported last night that Obama “is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year.” In sum, “the NSA would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits.”
This proposal differs in significant respects from the incredibly vague and cosmetic “reforms” Obama suggested in his highly touted NSA speech in January. Although bereft of details, it was widely assumed that Obama’s January proposal would not end the bulk data collection program at all, but rather simply shift it to the telecoms, by simultaneously requiring that the telecoms keep all calling records for 5 years (the amount of time the NSA now keeps those records) and make them available to the government on demand. But under Obama’s latest proposal, the telecoms “would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would” (the law currently requires 18 month retention) and “the NSA could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.”
As always with Obama, it remains to be seen whether his words will be followed by any real corresponding actions. That he claims to support a bill does not mean he will actually try to have Congress enact it. The details, still unknown, matter a great deal. And even if this did end the domestic bulk collection spying program, it would leave undisturbed the vast bulk of the NSA’s collect-it-all system of suspicionless spying.
Nonetheless, this clearly constitutes an attempt by Obama to depict himself as trying to end the NSA’s domestic bulk surveillance program, which was the first program we reported with Snowden documents. I agree with the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, who told the New York Times: “We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the NSA’s bulk collection of call records should end.”
This new proposal would not, as some have tried to suggest, simply shift the program to telecoms. Telecoms – obviously – already have their customers’ phone records, and the key to any proposal is that it not expand the length of time they are required to retain those records (though telecoms only have their specific customers’ records, which means that – unlike the current NSA program – no one party would hold a comprehensive data base of all calls). As reported by Savage, Obama’s proposal does nothing to change how long telecoms keep these records (“the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers’ calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require”). That’s why, if enacted as he’s proposing it, Obama’s plan could actually end the NSA’s bulk collection program.
That puts hard-core Obama loyalists and pro-NSA Democrats – the ones that populate MSNBC – in an extremely difficult position. They have spent the last 10 months defending the NSA (i.e., defending Obama) by insisting that the NSA metadata program is both reasonable and necessary to Keep Us Safe™. But now Obama claims he wants to end that very same program. So what will they do?
If they had even an iota of integrity or intellectual honesty, they would instantly and aggressively condemn Obama. After all, he’s now claiming to want to end a program that they have been arguing for months is vital in Keeping Us Safe™. Wouldn’t every rational person, by definition, criticize a political leader who wants to abolish a program that they believe is necessary to stop terrorism and preserve national security?
But that’s not what will happen. After spending months praising the NSA for responsibly overseeing this critical program, they will now hail Obama for trying to end it. When he secretly bulk collects the calling data on all Americans, it shows he’s a pragmatic and strong leader who Keeps Us Safe™; when he tries to end the very same program, it shows he’s flexible and devoted to our civil liberties — just as he was right to release the torture photos and also right to suppress them. The Leader is right when he does X, and he’s equally right when he does Not X. That’s the defining attribute of the mindset of a partisan hack, an authoritarian, and the standard MSNBC host.
As for the substantive reform, the fact that the President is now compelled to pose as an advocate for abolishing this program – the one he and his supporters have spent 10 months hailing – is a potent vindication of Edward Snowden’s acts and the reporting he enabled. First, a federal court found the program unconstitutional. Then, one of the President’s own panels rejected the NSA’s claim that it was necessary in stopping terrorism, while another explicitly found the program illegal. And now the President himself depicts himself as trying to end it. Whatever test exists for determining whether “unauthorized” disclosures of classified information are justified, Snowden’s revelations pass the test with ease. That President Obama now proclaims the need to end a domestic spying program that would still be a secret in the absence of Snowden’s whistleblowing proves that quite compellingly.
Glenn Greenwald is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media.
by Norman Solomon
Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: "Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?"
A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.
In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein—more than any other senator—has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.
A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason”—a position she has maintained.
Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.
Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.
This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance—insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.
A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.
More than 40 years ago, under the Nixon administration—when the U.S. government was breaking into the offices of the Socialist Workers Party, busting into the homes of members of the Black Panther Party in the middle of night with guns firing, and widely shredding the civil liberties of anti-war activists—few among ruling elites seemed to give a damn. But when news emerged that one of the two big political parties had severely transgressed against the other with a break-in at the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, the Republican White House had gone too far.
As spring 2014 gets underway, we might be nearing a pivotal moment when major sectors of the establishment feel compelled to recognize the arrival of a constitutional crisis. Consider how the New York Times editorialized in its Wednesday edition, declaring that Feinstein “has provided stark and convincing evidence that the CIA may have committed crimes to prevent the exposure of interrogations that she said were ‘far different and far more harsh’ than anything the agency had described to Congress.”
In the euphemism lexicon of official Washington, “far different and far more harsh” refers to outright torture by the U.S. government.
At the surveillance-state garrison known as The Washington Post, where cognitive dissonance must be something fierce right now, quickly out of the box was conventional-wisdom columnist Dana Milbank, who portrayed Feinstein as a savvy and angelic force to be reckoned with. The adulatory logic was classic for journalists who like to conflate complicity with credibility.
Noting Feinstein’s record as “an ally of Obama and a staunch defender of the administration during the controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs,” Milbank wrote: “So her credibility could not be questioned when she went public, reluctantly, to accuse Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions: violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.”
News media accounts are filled with such statements right now. On the surface, they make sense—but there’s a pernicious undertow. With the underlying logic, the only time we could become sure that Wall Street malfeasance was a real problem would be if someone with the stature of Bernie Madoff stepped up to condemn it in no uncertain terms.
History tells us that we’d be deluded to depend on entrenched elites to opt for principle rather than continuity of the status quo. With few exceptions, what bonds those at peaks of power routinely trumps what divides them. It takes a massive and sustained uproar to really fracture the perversity of elite cohesion.
Consider the fact that the CIA, under the current Democratic administration, has gone to extraordinary lengths to transgress against a CIA-friendly Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence committee, in an effort to prevent anyone from being held accountable for crimes of torture committed under and by the Republican Bush administration.
While Dianne Feinstein has a long and putrid record as an enemy of civil liberties, transparency and accountability, it’s also true that thieves sometimes fall out—and so do violators of the most basic democratic safeguards in the Bill of Rights. Some powerful “intelligence” scoundrels are now at each other’s throats, even while continuing to brandish daggers at the heart of democracy with their contempt for such ideals as a free press, privacy and due process. The responsibility for all this goes to the very top: President Obama.
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Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State".
Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday accused the CIA of interfering with the committee's investigation into the agency's Bush-era torture program, including conducting an unauthorized "search" of the committee's computers and removing documents, in an effort to thwart a potentially "searing indictment" of the interrogation program.
In a statement given on the Senate floor, the democratic senator said she had "grave concerns" that the CIA's search "may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution" as well as "the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance."
She also said the CIA was attempting "to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly."
As Politico reported, Feinstein's
speech was the latest salvo in an escalating battle between the CIA and the Senate over oversight of an interrogation program conducted by the CIA in the early 2000s and Feinstein’s first remarks on the subject. Last week, the CIA was accused of monitoring Senate staffers and it was reported that Senate staffers had improperly taken classified CIA documents out of a secure facility.
The ACLU praised Feinstein's efforts to call out the CIA's surveillance and its efforts to cover up its own wrongdoing.
"After so many years of Congress being unable or unwilling to assert its authority over the CIA, Senator Feinstein today began to reclaim the authority of Congress as a check on the Executive Branch. Public release of the Senate torture report will be the next step to reining in a CIA that has tortured, destroyed evidence, spied on Congress, and lied to the American people," stated Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the group.
Reprieve, a charity that represents some of those tortured under the program, welcomed the senator's comments as well.
"Senator Feinstein is right: the CIA torture program should never have existed," stated Alka Pradhan, Counter-terrorism Counsel at Reprieve US. "The only way to move forward from this terrible chapter in American history is to allow the Senate to fully exercise its oversight function, and to declassify the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA torture program. We cannot learn from history unless we know what it is."
CIA head John Brennan denied the allegations, telling NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, "We wouldn't do that."
"When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous, sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong, " Brennan said.
Yet what continues to stand out to some observers is not Feinstein's defense of separation of powers but the irony that a senator who has been a longtime defender of surveillance is now outraged that her Senate committee was spied upon.
In December, for example, Feinstein said that the NSA's bulk collection of phone data "is constitutional and helps keep the country safe from attack." The comment came a month after she had proposed a bill that would "codify" the NSA's worst abuses. But this defense surveillance goes back years, such as her backing Bush's FISA amendments as well as legal immunity for telecommunications firms for their role in surveillance.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called out the hypocrisy of Feinstein's outrage over senators being spied upon while supporting of NSA spying on ordinary citizens.
In a statement sent to NBC News, Snowden said, "It's clear the CIA was trying to play 'keep away' with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that's a serious constitutional concern."
"But it's equally if not more concerning that we're seeing another 'Merkel Effect,' where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it's a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them," Snowden stated.
There should also be audio recordings, and written transcripts of jury deliberations without ever identifying the jurors. Accounting for the actual proceedings behind closed doors is essential for defendants getting a fair trial and a fair verdict. This would eliminate verdicts rendered based on race, vendetta, or inadmissable considerations like, "Well, I just thought the prosecutor was rude." At least the appellate defenders would have more to work with, better grounds for appeals, and the public can be insured guilty verdicts were fair, lawful, and deserved.
It is important to note that this initiative is bi-partisan...and that recent close defeats essentially mean nothing if opponents belived there was something to celebrate. Legalization is the will of the people.
PORTLAND, ME — On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee.
The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana.
“All options should be on the table,” Rep. Russell stated in the memo, “In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use.”
The memo was signed by prominent elected officials in the state including Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash), House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), Minority Whip Alex Willette (R-Mapleton), and House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland.
In 2013, the Maine House of Representatives fell just four votes short of approving a measure introduced by Rep. Russell which would have placed the issue of marijuana legalization before voters during the fall elections.
Last week, initial tax revenue estimates for the sales tax on recreational marijuana in Colorado were estimated to be just shy of 100 million dollars, far higher than the initial 70 million dollar estimate given to voters in 2012.
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by Dean Baker
One of the initiatives President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address was the "MyRA," an IRA that workers could sign up for at their workplace. The MyRA would be invested in government bonds and provide a modest guaranteed rate of return.
The MyRA has several useful features. It's simple, it has low administrative costs, workers can have money deducted directly from their paychecks, and it has no risk. It also has the great advantage that President Obama can make MyRAs available to workers without seeking congressional approval.
However there was one very notable downside to the MyRA. Workers could not accumulate more than $15,000 in these accounts, at which point they would be required to fold their MyRA into an IRA run by the financial industry. People who commented on this requirement all assumed that this was a sop to the industry.
When the accounts are small, the industry wouldn't make any money on them anyhow. Once they get to be a decent size the government will require savers to park their money with a bank or brokerage house. This is nothing but good news for the industry.
Everyone understands the power of the financial industry, so perhaps Obama had to include a $15,000 cap in order to avoid its wrath, but that doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't be asking the obvious question. If the private financial industry is more efficient than the government, then why do we have to force people to use it? What's wrong with giving people the option of keeping their money in a MyRA?
This is not the only context in which this question arises. The Postal Service recently put forward a proposal to start offering basic banking services to take advantage of its retail infrastructure. This should be an obvious win-win.
There are tens of millions of low and moderate income people who are poorly served by the banking system. The Postal Service would be able to offer them checking accounts and other services at a lower cost than private competitors by taking advantage of underutilized facilities. This will extend banking services to the unbanked population and potentially be an important source of revenue to the Postal Service.
This is not a new idea. The Postal Service used to offer banking services and many countries still have postal banks. So there is good reason to believe that this effort could succeed.
The other notable area in which there has been interest in public competition with the private sector is healthcare insurance. During his campaign, President Obama had promised there would be a public Medicare-type option as part of his healthcare plan. There was much support for a public option in Congress and across the nation, but the insurance industry was powerful enough to keep it out of the final bill.
In these and other cases key industries use their political clout to avoid having to compete with the government. This fear of government competition presumably stems from the fact that they would lose business and profits to the government because it could provide the service at a lower cost.
There is a real basis for this concern. In the case of Social Security, administrative costs are less than 0.6 percent of annual benefit payments. Using payout equivalents as the denominator, the cost of administering private funds averages 20-30 times this amount. Someone has to pay for those high Wall Street salaries.
There is a similar story with Medicare and Medicaid where administrative expenses average less than 3% of the healthcare services provided compared with more than 15% with private insurers. This gap is reduced after making adjustments for differences in healthcare costs per patient, but there is no doubt that the administrative costs eat up a much larger share of healthcare spending on the private side than the public.
Given the additional costs associated with excluding public options in healthcare, finance, and possibly other sectors of the economy, we are in effect making the economy less efficient. We are forcing the public to pay more so that private firms can have more profits and their top executives can enjoy bigger paychecks.
This is sometimes characterized as a debate between people who like the government and people who like the market. It isn't. People who like the market to determine outcomes should be happy with the idea of having the government compete on a level playing field with private sector firms.
If private firms offer a lower price or a better product, the government will be driven from the market with little harm done. However if the private firms prevail because the government is not allowed to compete, this is equivalent to taxing the public by making it pay more than necessary for health insurance and other services, and handing the revenue over to the firms in the industry. That's a great deal for these industries, but it has nothing to do with a commitment to a free market or good policy.
Is there any alternative source for metallurgical (non-thermal) grade coking coal? I mean, recycling and mini-mills only take you so far. At some point, and for certain alloys, you need virgin steel. Petro-coke might be an option, but there are impurities.
THIS MESSAGE IS FOR ALL KANKAKEE COUNTY RESIDENTS WHO HAS CHILDREN THAT GOES TO KANKAKEE JR.HIGH SCHOOL:
MY CHILD IS A STRAIGHT A HONOR ROLL,8TH GRADE STUDENT, HE TOO FELL TO THE HANDS OF THE KANKAKEE POLICE DEPARTMENT,AND KANKAKEE SCHOOL DISTRICT111. I AM OUTRAGE!!!! MY CHILDS WAS THROWN AGAINST A WINDOW SO FORCEFUL THAT HE WAS TANGLED INTO THE WINDOW'S BLINDS.MY CHILD HAD TO B CUT OUT THE BLINDS BY THE POLICE OFFICER WHO ARRESTED,HARRASED,INTIMIDATED MY HONOR ROLL STUDENT..MY CHILD RECEIVED MULTIPLE INJURIES TO HIS FACE,EYE,AND BODY!! AND THEN HANDCUFFED,SHACKLED BY THE LEGS...AND THEN AFTER ALL THIS...THE PRINCIPLE HAD THE DAM NERVES TO SAY... HE CAN COME BACK TO SCHOOL IN THE MORNING!!! WHERES THE DAM JUSTICE!!!!
by Marge Baker
In the four years since the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United v. FEC ruling, two things have become abundantly clear.
First, we have a major democracy problem. Citizens United paved the way for unlimited corporate spending to distort our elections. Staggering amounts of money have poured into our political system since the Court handed down that decision.
Second, and just as importantly, it’s become clear that until we fix that democracy problem, it’s hard to fix any problem. In other words, until we fix the funding of our political campaigns, we can’t fix the individual issues that matter most to everyday Americans.
This has proven true across the board. Whether the issue you’re most concerned about is making your community safer, guaranteeing that your family has access to clean water, or ensuring that workers get a fair minimum wage, when wealthy special interests can buy their way into the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, progress on these issues will continue to stall.
Clearly, when moneyed interests can spend virtually without limitation to influence our elections, they can set the political agenda.
The Citizens United ruling gutted the ability of Congress and the states to put common-sense limits on this runaway spending, and the effects haven’t been subtle. In the wake of these campaign finance changes, outside political spending by Super PACs and other channels has reached an all-time high of $1 billion, the Associated Press found.
And now, a case currently being considered by the Supreme Court, McCutcheon v. FEC, could could allow even more money to flood our political system.
This isn’t the kind of “democracy” Americans of any political background want. A recent poll shows that more than nine in ten Americans think it’s important for elected officials to reduce the influence of money in our elections.
Though the problem of money in politics can feel overwhelming, there are a number of workable solutions being considered federally and implemented in the states.
Small-donor legislation is one good option. This type of law provides matching funds for small donations at a multiple ratio (such as 5:1 or 10:1). It also amplifies the effect of small donations, providing a way for them to carry real weight in political campaigns. That encourages political participation by people who may have felt before that their contributions didn’t matter.
For candidates, small-donor public financing provides an alternative for those who don’t want to be reliant on, and beholden to, wealthy special interests to fund their campaigns.
Another is the mandatory disclosure of political spending. Although Congress isn’t likely to pass disclosure legislation anytime soon, many states are responding to the post-Citizens United spending bonanza by closing loopholes so that big, special interest donors can’t hide behind “dark money” groups in elections.
Additionally, the year after Citizens United, a group of law professors asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders and the public. Despite the proposal’s immense popularity, the SEC recently took the corporate political disclosure rule (SEC File No 4-637) off its agenda. That agenda, however, isn’t binding, and the SEC could — and should — still adopt the rule right away.
But most importantly, to fix our democracy problem, we have to be able to enact common-sense regulations on political spending. To fix the root problem — in the absence of a change in who’s on the Supreme Court – we must amend the Constitution to undo the damage of Citizens United and other cases that have handed huge power to Wall Street and giant corporations.
City by city and state by state, the people are taking that power back. Sixteen states and more than 500 cities and towns have called on Congress to pass an amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases.
All of these solutions are steps toward a larger goal: putting our democracy back in the hands of “we the people,” and fighting for a more transparent, vibrant democratic system responsive to the needs of everyday Americans.
WASHINGTON, DC — In a profile published online over the weekend in New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama continued his softening towards marijuana legalization. In the interview, the president alluded to his own youthful marijuana consumption and clarified that, while he doesn’t believe it to be a healthy pastime and has discouraged his daughters from its use, it is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. President Obama also stated that current moves towards legalization are important experiments that can help end discriminatory arrest practices.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” President Obama stated when asked about the growing public support for ending marijuana prohibition.
When asked to clarify if he thought it was “less dangerous,” Obama replied that he thought it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” He continued that “it’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do and African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” he stated, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
“It’s important for it [marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
You can read the full article on the New Yorker’s website here.
Perhaps President Obama will continue to evolve and find himself on the right side of history when it comes to marijuana legalization. It would take just one simple Executive Order to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and help institute some real lasting change in our nation’s failed war on cannabis. At a minimum, these statements show just how far we have come from the “Just Say No” era of American politics.
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by David Sirota
President Obama claims the right to extrajudicially execute American citizens, keeps a so-called “kill list,” and has bragged he’s “really good at killing people.” This isn’t bluster. Obama has backed this up with action, having killed U.S. citizens — including a 16-year-old boy – without charging, much less convicting, any of them with a single crime.
The implications are profound (and profoundly disturbing), and raise questions about Americans’ constitutional right to due process, the most basic constraints on presidential power, and our treatment of whistleblowers. Indeed, how can anyone expect those who witness executive-branch crimes to blow the whistle when the head of the executive branch asserts the right to instantly execute anyone he pleases at any time?
All of this may sound theoretical, academic, or even fantastical, straight out of a dystopian sci-fi flick. But it isn’t. It is very real. After all, only a few months ago, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee publicly offered to help extrajudicially assassinate NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And now, according to a harrowing new report that just hit the Internet, top NSA and Pentagon officials are doing much the same, even after court rulings and disclosures have concluded that Snowden is a whistleblower who exposed serious government crimes.
In an article headlined “America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead,” Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson reports:
‘In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,’ a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. ‘A lot of people share this sentiment.’
‘I would love to put a bullet in his head,’ one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly…
‘His name is cursed every day over here,’ a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas Intelligence collections base. ‘Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.’
One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.
‘I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,’ he said. ‘Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.’
Buzzfeed characterizes this as government officials merely “seeth(ing) in very personal terms.” However, with a top legislative branch leader offering to assist in the very extrajudicial assassination now being promoted by NSA and Pentagon officials, and with the executive branch categorically asserting the right to order such an extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen, this is more than mere “seething.” These are outright threats.
Think about it: As President Obama would no doubt acknowledge, the NSA and Pentagon are not independent agencies. As president he oversees and runs them. That is, they are overseen and run by the same Obama administration that has asserted the right to execute American citizens without indictment, trial or conviction. While these may just be officials speaking off the cuff, their language (“Most everyone I talk to”/”A lot of people share this sentiment”) makes clear that their sentiment represents a pervasive culture throughout the government — again, the same government that not-so-coincidentally asserts the right to kill people in exactly the way they discuss.
It all leads back to that same harrowing question: how can Americans who witness executive-branch crimes feel comfortable or even physically safe blowing the whistle on said crimes?
The answer in the Obama era is: they can’t.
by Dan Gillmor
Tuesday's US appeals court decision on "net neutrality" is a major, and deeply worrisome, step in the wrong direction.
The promise, and for several decades the reality, of the internet was decentralization: a network of networks where innovation would take place largely at the edges, not in the center. It was the antithesis of the centralized systems of the communications and media systems that prevailed in the 20th Century.
We are on the verge of losing the internet that held such promise, at least for the near and medium term. Today's federal appeals court ruling in a suit by Verizon against the Federal Communications Commission's already feeble network neutrality rules is only the latest evidence. The court ruling (pdf) will embolden America's rapacious telecom companies, which assert the right to decide what bits of information get to internet users' computers in what order and at what speed, or even if they get to our computers at all.
This was entirely predictable. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Congress and several presidents have created a policy and regulatory regime almost designed to limit choice in the long run. The FCC's 2010 "Open Internet Order", shot down by the court on Tuesday, was just one more bad move in a series of missteps. It purported to regulate the carriers in a way that the FCC had earlier ensured could not be done legally, because the commission had freed the carriers from any commitment to behave as the utilities they have become.
The FCC could fix that tomorrow, and thereby slow this rush toward a highly controlled internet. Given the clout of the telecom industry and its well-paid allies, not to mention the timidity, if not culpability, of the policy makers, that's a long shot.
The telecoms have repeatedly promised not to do what is in their obvious best interest: turn the internet into an enhanced form of cable television. You are deluded if you think any American corporation, much less these giants that grew up as government-granted monopolies, will operate for the public interest when that conflicts with their bottom lines and political power. I predict that in a few years, Verizon's statement on Tuesday, promising a commitment to customers' internet access "when, where and how they want" will be seen as a classic in corporate BS.
Besides the carriers, who wins if this decision stands, and if Congress and the FCC don't reverse course? Google will complain bitterly, but it will be one of the winners, because it can afford to be – and, besides, Google already sold out its users on net neutrality in the mobile arena via a deal with Verizon in 2010. Look for deals where telecoms "partner" with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and big media companies of all kinds.
If you are a smaller company in media or digital services, you lose. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and the other carriers will inevitably give higher priority to traffic from companies that pay – a double-dipping process for the carriers – and lower priority, if any at all, to the ones that can't or won't pay. If you are an innovator, you lose, because you will effectively need permission from the central players. Facebook didn't need permission to become a behemoth, but the next innovator in social networking will.
Really, though, you and I are the chief losers, because we will pay more and get less than we would have in a more competitive world where we, not the central authorities, make the key decisions about the services and media we want. We won't know what innovation doesn't happen, because it won't be around.
The one positive impact of today's ruling, I hope, is that it will reinvigorate a public debate about our online future. And maybe Congress and the FCC will recognize that we need a course correction. It could start by recalling why the internet grew so fast, so amazingly fast, in the 1990s – because when we had to dial up via phones lines, and the phone company couldn't insist on being the only internet service provider, hundreds of ISPs competed for customers. Then Congress and regulators told the cable and phone companies they could squeeze out, or ban entirely, any competition on "their" lines.
To get the US on a better course, the FCC could classify the telecoms as "common carriers" – a designation that would require them to behave neutrally toward the companies that provide information and services, allowing end users to make the decisions. That would be progress, but it's not enough. It could also become onerous regulation that hinders innovation in its own right.
Eventually, if America is to have truly state-of-the-art broadband, as a number of other countries have done, we will have to recognize that there's little genuine competition among ISPs today. We'll have to accept that there's a natural monopoly in the deployment of fiber optic lines to homes and businesses (or at least to the curb outside). If we allow single companies to build those lines, we will have to require that those companies allow others to provide internet access itself on the lines – sharing them, in other words.
Last week my university hosted a group of journalism teachers from other schools. These professors are planning to help their students appreciate what I call the "startup culture", an entrepreneurial environment that rewards ideas and execution in an always-changing technology and media ecosystem. At the end of our five-day workshop, I implored these educators to learn more – and help their students understand – the impact policy has on what they do today, and what they will be able to do tomorrow. In particular, network neutrality is a linchpin to a future in which tomorrow's media ecosystem will emerge.
It's all about control, I said. If control reverts to the center of the networks, tomorrow's innovators will need permission, and tomorrow's media users will have fewer choices. The court's ruling is a big step backward for the future innovation America supposedly wants.
Go Carol Go! You will be the only honest person in Illinois Government! Where do I send donations?