Snow Jobs And Snowden Jobs

Edward Snowden is back in the news for his document cache, allegedly now in the hands of the Russians and Chinese.

Britain has pulled out agents from live operations in “hostile countries” after Russia and China cracked top-secret information contained in files leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the Sunday Times reported.

Security service MI6, which operates overseas and is tasked with defending British interests, has removed agents from certain countries, the newspaper said, citing unnamed officials at the office of British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Home Office (interior ministry) and security services.

Snowden downloaded more than 1.7 million secret files from security agencies in the United States and Britain in 2013, and leaked details about mass surveillance of phone and internet communications.

The United States wants Snowden to stand trial after he leaked classified documents, fled the country and was eventually granted asylum in Moscow in 2013.

He went to Russia via Hong Kong, and although he claimed in 2013 that the encrypted files remained secure, Britain believed both Russia and China had cracked documents which contain details that could allow British and American spies to be identified, the newspaper said, citing officials.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Snowden had done a huge amount of damage to the West’s ability to protect its citizens.

Team Greenwald calls bullshit on the allegations.

Aside from the serious retraction-worthy fabrications on which this article depends – more on those in a minute – the entire report is a self-negating joke. It reads like a parody I might quickly whip up in order to illustrate the core sickness of western journalism.

Unless he cooked an extra-juicy steak, how does Snowden “have blood on his hands” if there is “no evidence of anyone being harmed?” As one observer put it last night in describing the government instructions these Sunday Times journalists appear to have obeyed: “There’s no evidence anyone’s been harmed but we’d like the phrase ‘blood on his hands’ somewhere in the piece.”

The whole article does literally nothing other than quote anonymous British officials. It gives voice to banal but inflammatory accusations that are made about every whistleblower from Daniel Ellsberg to Chelsea Manning. It offers zero evidence or confirmation for any of its claims. The “journalists” who wrote it neither questioned any of the official assertions nor even quoted anyone who denies them. It’s pure stenography of the worst kind: some government officials whispered these inflammatory claims in our ears and told us to print them, but not reveal who they are, and we’re obeying. Breaking!

The truth I suspect is somewhere in the middle.  Of course Greenwald will deny everything vehemently and his permanent, self-serving outrage mode is grating as hell (and no, the NSA is not reading every single e-mail in America), but Britain has a surveillance regime that makes the Patriot Act look like child’s play, and they’re not above actually using the scare tactics Greenwald is accusing them of using this time.

Where that truth is, well, I don’t know. Neither side benefits from telling it, it seems.

Hash it out below.

Monday Evening Open Thread

Mr. Charles P. Pierce:

Memorial Day should be a gentling time, always. Hell, cemeteries are set up to be places of peace and contemplation; there is no more placid, gentle place in Washington than among the markers at Arlington, no better place to be at twilight than the Iwo Jima Memorial there. We should stop and think of the people who made the sacrifices, certainly. But we also should think about what they made those sacrifices for. They did not make them to defend a timid people wary of their own freedom. They did not make them so that other people might one day recklessly force other men and their children to make that same sacrifice for vague and futile purposes. At the moment, more than a few important people are agitating for this country to commit its sons and daughters again to the intractable tribal conflicts in the Middle East. Enough of that for today. On Memorial Day, it is indecent in the extreme to contemplate honoring the dead by sacrificing more of the living.[*]

No, this is not for today. Today is for wandering aimlessly through the markers and monuments, and the small flags spread like daisies in a meadow. Today is for cool little ponds beneath the shade of willow trees and marble benches on which to sit and hear the springtime birdsong, on which to watch the leaves at the very tops of the trees quiver and shake, on which to think and to mourn, to remember and to pray the prayer with which our greatest president ended his greatest speech.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

That is how you celebrate Memorial Day. And, to it, all say amen.

* but monsters never rest

Monday Evening Open Thread: #FoxNewsFacts Trending

First you LOL. Then you *headdesk*…

Apart from handegg & mockery (same as every night!) what’s on the agenda for the evening?

I’ll Take Racist Media for $200, Alex

Alex:  What is the question that evokes the answer:  “A cartoon with a watermelon punchline referencing the President of the United States.”

We reply in chorus: “What was the racist garbage in the Boston Herald today?”

Again, this has been picked up in the comments, but it’s been making me crazy for a couple of reasons.  For the obvious one, I’m just going to outsource to Charles Pierce, who knows the Herald very well indeed:

 Let’s move along down my personal resume to The Boston Herald, where the current editors, whom I know well, today made me ashamed ever to have set foot in the place, let alone worked there for six years. They ran an editorial cartoon by someone named Jerry Holbert. In the cartoon…the White House intruder is in the bathtub while the president is brushing his teeth. The caption reads: “White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought.” This is what the cartoonist, Holbert, has the intruder saying from the tub.

“Have you tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste?”

Pierce notes the hollow contempt for those of us disgusted by this in the non-apology that followed our outcry, the assertion that there’s not a racist bone in Holbert’s body, that he was just referencing his own kids toothpaste, and that, wait for it….

…we didn’t mean to offend anyone.  Take it away, Charles:

Of course, it was not meant to offend anyone. That was just a bonus. What it was meant to do was to appeal to the base prejudices of the elderly white suburban demographic to which the Herald has been pitching itself for three decades. It is racist hooey pitched to fans of racist hooey. Period. And, like so many other things, it is different with this president. It is different because there are no rules.

I got the remnants of my day job to get back to, so I’m just going to touch on the most clueless bit of attempted contrarian justification for this bit of garbage, this, coming from Jonathan Chait:

I don’t think the joke hinges upon black people liking watermelon. I think the joke is about the Secret Service’s security failures. Obama himself is not even the subject of the joke — his perspective is that of, or close to, the reader’s. The point of the joke is that White House security is so lax that a random person could wander into the president’s living quarters undetected and take a bath, and regard this as so casual he could chat about a commonplace topic as toothpaste.

Glad that’s clear.

Black people liking watermelon is certainly not the main comic premise of the cartoon

Well, that’s alright then, dear, isn’t it?

and was probably not intended as a secondary premise, either.

And you know this, how? Because you’ve peered deeply into Holbart’s eyes?  You’ve seen into his soul?  You know him to be a good man?

The cartoonist, Jerry Holbert, explained that he came up with watermelon because he was thinking of his kids’ Colgate watermelon-flavor toothpaste.

My kids. Yeah. That’s it!

Possibly he made a subconscious connection between a black president and watermelon.

Because, of course that’s what anyone would do when contemplating the first African American president.

But it seems very doubtful this was his intent.




Two things:  1 — when an experienced reporter falls back on “seems” you know they got nuthin.  They’re telling you what the wish to be true, not what they know, or necessarily even think is likely.

and 2:  Chait should know better, but has tangled himself up around race before, so may not:   racism, like sexism, or anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry and dehumanization of the other, is not about what is in someone’s heart.  It’s not a question of essence, of identity, of who someone is.  It’s all about what one does and says.  Action in the world defines both the sin and the good deed.

In this world, as opposed into that swelling in Chait’s spotless mind’s eye, Holbert used one of the oldest caricturers with which slave-holders benefiting from stolen lives and labor sought to limn African Americans as simple, lazy and unoppressed by their oppression.  It’s an explicitly racist trope, and everyone who’s reached the age of reason (Holbert is my age to the year) knows it.

Turner Slave-ship

Holbert may be certain that he has not one prejudiced bone in his body, but what he or Chait thinks about intent or the “real” import of this cartoon is utterly irrelevant.

The cartoon speaks for itself, and its creator, and its defenders…to the shame I fear they will not feel.


J. M. W. Turner “Slave-ship”  1840

The Day The Newsweekly Died

Let’s say you are the editor of essentially the last rag standing, the final remnant of the once insanely influential tribe of dead-tree general-interest newsweeklies.  Let’s say you are the lord of Time.

Now, we all know Time is increasingly just another one of time’s victims, a dinosaur in a world filled with post-CGI-meteor digital mammals (extended grotesque metaphor in honor of the party of the first part).  So if you’re the editor, you’ve got a tough trick:  how to cut through all those pesky byting insects? (Consistency? we don’t got no consistency.  We don’t need no Kinky People Can Often Find Good Sex consistency!)

And finally, let’s say you have no moral compass; you don’t care about what’s true, or about the pain your decisions could inflict on millions of people touched by the subject of your cover story.

That’s when you come up with this:

Time Cancer cover

It’s not possible. We’re nowhere near what’s promised on that cover.  Hell, even conceptually, you can’t “cure” “cancer.”  It’s a family of illnesses that share certain characteristics (most importantly, uncontrolled cell division) but that present a whole host of different pathologies and possibilities for treatment; no matter what advances may come, no one who can count past three expects some unitary cure.  But rather than rant on, I’m just going to outsource my rage and disdain to my friend (and MIT colleague) Seth Mnookin, writing yesterday in Slate:

 Witness the headline emblazoned in all-caps on the cover of the magazine’s April 1 issue: “HOW TO CURE CANCER.” It’s followed by an asterisk that directs you to a subtitle, just to make sure you get the point: “Yes, it’s now possible, thanks to new cancer dream teams that are delivering better results faster.”

Which, of course, is completely, utterly, inarguably false. The roughly 580,000 Americans who will die this year from cancer know the reality all too well. For some context, that’s more people than will die from chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes, accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes combined.

According to Seth, the actual story is more a squib than the blatant idiocy implied by the cover, which is a minor relief.  But the cover on its own is hugely damaging — and Seth gets into what makes it so before coming to the heart of the matter:

Which brings us to the real problem with Time’s headline, which is not that it’s wrong, or even that it might create funding problems for future cancer researchers—it’s that in the context of a fatal disease with excruciatingly painful treatment options, it’s simply cruel.

Exactly.  Cancer has harrowed my own family — non-small-cell lung cancer took my mother ten days before my scheduled wedding, for one example — so I know to the bone what it feels like to encounter witless fantasies like this one.  But it shouldn’t require such a loss to grasp the fact that you don’t get to put the word “cancer” and the word “cure” in the same sentence — hell the same paragraph — unless you’ve cleared the wards and are carrying some folks to Stockholm in sedan chairs.  Go read Seth — and spit on the ground in front of the display everytime you see one of these.

Oh…one more thing: if you had any doubt that the newsweeklies had fully and fatally jumped the shark, doubt no more.

A Little More About Ron Paul

I just noticed that ED Kain responded to my post about Ron Paul’s racist newsletters. After distilling out the “liberals are bad” and “I’m less tribal than you” rhetoric, as well as his notion that I was trying to attack him personally as a bigot, which I wasn’t, I think what’s left is this: Paul’s conservatism about involving us in foreign wars is more likely to do more good than the bad that could be engendered from some racist stuff published in his newsletter in the 90’s.

Fair enough, but not good enough. Because the difference between endorsing someone for President and endorsing that person’s positions is the difference between trusting his character and agreeing with his ideas. This is an elementary and common-sense distinction: there are a lot of untrustworthy people who have good ideas. Even if you agree with some of Paul’s positions, it’s clear that he’s one of those people. He showed poor judgment by hiring some racist yahoo to edit his newsletter, and just saying “it wasn’t me writing it” doesn’t work when he made money from its publication.

I’m no expert on the history of the Ron Paul political machine, but from what I can tell, this isn’t the only time Paul has trusted a shady character. But even if it is, if you’re going to endorse Paul, you need to explain how his presidency won’t be co-opted by a racist at the DOJ, or a goldbug at Treasury, when he can’t even control what goes out in his name in a goddam penny-ante newsletter. Where does the buck stop in Ron Paul land? When you endorse someone for Presidency, if you’re serious, you need to address that head-on.

An enjoyable and rewarding use of your time

Have a minute? Your Congressperson or Senator could use a gentle reminder that Rupert Murdoch’s business empire probably did not just tap phones in England. Did they tap the phones of 9/11 victims? Did they expose leading Americans to blackmail the way they did Gordon Brown and the British royal family?

Somebody with subpoena power should probably find out. Though Boehner’s Congress will investigate one day after hell freezes over, it will be fun to know exactly how far your Republican Member’s staff will go to defend papa Rupert. They have no more idea how far this story will go than you do.

Do you ever wonder what exactly Roger Ailes would say under oath to a Senate Committee? I do.