Category: Censorship

The growing clamor to grant Edward Snowden clemency


A Washington, DC, city bus

Briefly, because I can’t say it better than these people did, please check out the links below for eloquent arguments about the value of Edward Snowden’s lawbreaking, and the Obama administration’s pernicious folly in persecuting him.

On the last day of October, from his exile in Russia, Snowden wrote a letter seeking clemency.

snowden letter

On the first day of January, a New York Times editorial endorsed his request.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

In a series of tweets, a US business journalist who has cheered on the excesses of the security state, condemned the Times’ position.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 9.54.24 PM

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf eviscerated Barro’s argument in a logical tour-de-force.

When should a leaker of government secrets be forgiven rather than jailed? Here are some possible standards:

  • When the leak reveals lawbreaking by the U.S. government
  • When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges
  • When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms
  • When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress
  • When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress
  • When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge.

The Snowden leak meets all of those thresholds, among others….

Leaks of classified information in the United States will remain common, regardless of what happens to Snowden, because they frequently serve the interests of people in power—and they won’t be prosecuted precisely because they are powerful or connected. That longstanding, bipartisan dynamic is far more important to the norms surrounding official secrets in the U.S. than how a singular, unrepeatable, once-in-a-generation leak is handled….

For apparently altruistic reasons, Snowden revealed scandalous instances of illegal behavior, and the scandal that mass surveillance on innocents is considered moral and legal by the national-security state, though it knew enough to keep that a secret. It is difficult to imagine another leak exposing policies so dangerous to a free society or state secrets so antithetical to representative government. The danger of a Snowden pardon creating a norm is virtually nonexistent.

The Friedersdorf piece in particular deserves to be read in its entirety.

Edward Snowden’s Christmas message: asking is cheaper than spying.

Every Christmas since 1993, British Television’s Channel 4 asks a noteworthy figure to record an “alternative” to starchy pieties of Her Majesty’s annual Christmas message to her subjects.

This year, Channel 4 tapped whistleblower Edward Snowden. From his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden sounded a pithy, 1 minute, 43 second, warning about the dangers of government spying:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalysed thought….

Remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

H/T: A.C.H. Noskwith

Why I should never say “…gets the last word”

No sooner did I write that two veterans would get the last word on the Remembrance Day poppies discussion, than a Facebook message arrived from my friend Walter Van Veen, whose teenage father spent the war hiding in a secret compartment in an Amsterdam flat.

A Jewish family shared the compartment. Facing starvation, they gave themselves up a few weeks before the end of the war—and were killed. Walter’s father held out and survived.

Walter writes:

You know my take on this [the media firestorm over white poppies being handed out at the National War Memorial]. This is one fairly cynical narrow view based on how some people and agencies manipulate Remembrance Day.

War stinks and we all know it, so Remembrance Day is not to glorify war, but to remember those who stood and counted themselves in when they had to be.

There is no doubt that I would not be alive today except for Canadian soldiers. My mother continues to say, at 88, that the day the Canadian soldiers entered Amsterdam in 1945 was the best day in her life.

Why anyone would sail across the ocean, land on the beaches of Normandy in a hail of bullets, walk halfway across Europe in the heat and the cold to save a nation of people that they didn’t even know is beyond the imagination of most Dutch people.

So let’s remember the sacrifices of those young Canadians and thank them. We don’t have to like war to do that.”

Who can argue with that?

Remembrance Day reflections – with updates

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the United States, where right-wing scoundrels turned patriotic symbols into political cudgels, left me with a lifelong aversion to flags, ribbons, lapel pins, and other obligatory trappings of national fealty. When I moved to Canada, this aversion morphed into a disinclination to wear poppies.

As best I can tell, most Canadians see the poppy as a neutral symbol of respect for veterans. Social pressure to wear it is strong. Acquaintances and strangers alike view my failure to fall in step as inexplicable, disrespectful, and distasteful. I regret this. After years of attempts to explain my position, I mostly avoid the conversation today, and I regret that, too. I can only offer the hope that the occasional outlier’s refusal to adopt mandatory, state-sanctioned idolatry is healthy for democracy.

poppy (1) In a Facebook post this morning, Coast journalist Tim Bousquet, who also grew up in the US, offered a succinct expression of one of my reasons for eschewing the opium flower:

  1. Kill 10 million boys pointlessly.
  2. Honour pointlessly killed boys with anti-war Remembrance Day ceremonies.
  3. Morph “honouring pointlessly killed boys” into “honouring veterans.”
  4. Militarize Remembrance Day ceremonies.
  5. Label those opposed to war as anti-veteran.
  6. Anti-veteran = anti-troop = unpatriotic.
  7. More war.


(For the record, Bousquet included an eighth point:  8. Profit! I don’t know that he’s wrong about that, but it’s not central to my own allergic reaction to tendentious heraldry.)

[UPDATE] Scott Taylor has a gutsy column on bullying around the poppy in today’s Herald

[UPDATE 2] Contrarian reader Greg Marshall writes:

I wear a poppy religiously, to the point that, thanks to the crappy pins they use on them, I think I have bought half-a-dozen this year. It is not because of social pressure, but because I grew up doing it, and it feels right. My family was a veteran’s family, and most of my parents’ friends were vets as well. They were lucky, since few of them had been at the “sharp end,” and did not have to wear the emotional effects of combat. That was for my high-school physics teacher, who did a tour on Halifaxes with 6 Group, and was a shadow of a man.

I don’t share all your views on this issue, but I certainly understand and sympathize with them, and Bousquet’s points are not without merit. I wish they were not. I can’t put on the poppy without thinking of the waste of life these wars have caused, and the utter pointlessness of it.

[UPDATE 3] My old Daily News colleague Ryan Van Horne writes:

In attempting to explain why he doesn’t wear a poppy, Tim Bousquet takes the worst possible reasons one could have for wearing one and assumes that everybody wears them only for those reasons.

World War 1 was a colossal waste of life and a pointless war. World War 2, while also a colossal waste of life, at least served a purpose for fighting back against tyranny. War is not a glorious endeavour, but a sometimes necessary evil.

One of the things that soldiers fought and died for was the freedom that you, Tim, and I enjoy to choose to wear a poppy and to write columns and blog posts without fear of retribution. If you eschew the poppy because it is against your principles, I hope that you and Tim at least recognize that young men died in a war to preserve that freedom.

I’ve never fought in a war and I don’t know any veterans, but I have three sons who are the same age as many of the young men who went off to fight in World War 2. I know that a generation made a huge sacrifice and I appreciate that. That is why I wear a poppy and always will.

[UPDATE 4] Debra Forsyth-Smith writes:

As someone who lived in the U.S. for some years, I certainly applaud your point of view on many symbolic gestures which in reality are confusing at best and meaningless at worst.

But jingoism is not the same as respect and remembrance of sacrifice.  It is in this spirit I wear the poppy.  In the very same spirit, I respect your decision not to.

[UPDATE 5] Robert Collins writes:

I respect your opinion on wearing, or not wearing, the poppy, as I am sure many veterans do as well.  I try to wear one but often lose it or don’t have money with me when I see them available, or I hand mine to someone else who “needs” it for a particular situation.

Regardless, it is a personal decision and a personal choice. The problem that I have with your position (and Tim’s) is that it is as political as the very reason you state for not wearing it. It is the Yin to the Yang in the argument. The poppy is not political. It is very simple. It is to remind us of individuals who died, often in tragic, horrible, and often very lonely situations.  Some of them were in that situation knowing full well why. Some were there because they were lied to and some didn’t understand why they were there but were told it was the right thing to do.

I see it as being similar to the ceremony in Berwick for Harley Lawrence. No one was there to make a statement about mental health or homelessness or anything else. They were there simply to honor a fellow human being who died in a tragic, horrible and very lonely situation.

It is too easy for us today to assume ulterior motives and become cynical about everything around us. For me, the poppy is a sanctuary from that to a simple and basic compassion for another person’s sacrifice and loss. It can be very liberating and comforting if you allow it to take you there, but don’t feel you have to let it.

Dear Elections NS: Where are the poll-by-poll results?

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 10.02.03 PMThe election took place a week ago, but Elections Nova Scotia has still not published the poll-by-poll results from each riding. This, despite a notice on the agency’s website (see right) promising to post them by last Friday.

In past elections, newspapers carried the poll-by-poll results two days after the vote, if not the very next day.

These were understood to be unofficial results. Minor adjustments inevitably followed before the final, official results were published in a booklet. But the preliminary totals have always been public information.

Elections Nova Scotia obviously has the numbers. Why is it withholding them?

I suspect we will hear some song and dance about waiting until they deem the results “final” or “official,” as if the nabobs of Elections Nova Scotia possess some special wisdom and maturity to handle preliminary data that would send ordinary Nova Scotians into paroxysms of… well, of what, exactly?

This attitude would be of a piece with the creeping authoritarianism that seems to have overtaken Elections Nova Scotia—illustrated by the kneecapping of its political donations reports  (a misstep it partially relented on this summer), and the bully boy hissy fit it threw in response to a small handful of ballot snapshots.

A breach of duty at two important institutions





In the moral panic that arose in response to Tom Flanagan’s comments on child pornography last week, most of those who rushed to join the lynch mob were guilty of self-righteousness abetted by misrepresentation. CBC New executive Jennifer McGuire and University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon, however, deserve special mention for their failure to uphold the responsibility their instituions have for protecting controversial speech. Both had a duty to uphold a core principle of their organizations, and they weren’t up to the task.

Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas — feedback

Two reader responses to the angry rant from a utility customer who objected to receiving generic holiday greetings at Christmastime.

Jeffrey Shallit writes:

Jewish-ChristmasThis guy represents everything that is bad about Christian North America. He doesn’t understand freedom of religion; he feels so threatened by non-Christians he wants to resort to violence; and he assumes everyone who is Canadian is necessarily Christian (forget about all those damned, Jews, I suppose, not to mention native Canadians who might follow traditional native religions).

Although not Jewish myself, I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia that was predominantly Jewish. Many lost members of their family in the Holocaust at the hands of Christian Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians. (And please, do not object with a version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Their murderers often called themselves Christians, and the long history of Christian anti-Semitism cannot be denied.) These Jews did not always celebrate Christmas, even the secular version, and many objected strongly to the presumption that everyone did.

In such an environment, if you did not know what people celebrated, it was simply rude to assume one way or another. Thus, I grew up wishing people “Happy Holidays” unless I was sure. Most people I knew did the same. I still do so.

David Major counters:

Unless I am awfully mistaken, the notion of the neutralized nomenclature is a thoroughly urban myth.

The idea was born in a corporate manger fearing the tag of presumptiveness.

Mind, there are situations where the gathering is fairly intimate where a good host might fairly be as inclusive as possible.


Happy Canada Day

The much anticipated fireworks display over Halifax proved an austere celebration. They were fun while they lasted, about 12 minutes, and the cheerful, appreciative, harbourside crowd was a delight.

This cheerfulness, a certain joie de vivre, has a leavening effect on patriotism, an emotion that, left unchecked, can be unpleasant and dangerous.

In that spirit, I point out that, over the last 24 hours, we’ve had the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team don Tory blue jerseys for their pre-Canada Day bout with the Yanks, and the managing editor of the National Post tweeted his outrage that the Globe and Mail occasionally publishes op-ed pieces by moderate-left New Democrat organizer, pundit, and genocide expert, Gerry Caplan.

Leave the public stage for exclusive use by the cranky and aggrieved right wing, is apparently Jonathan Kay’s concept of journalistic virtue, one his journal implements with rigor.

Yet, somehow, the nation survives. Happy Canada, everyone, most especially Mr. Kay.

H/T: BC.  Photo: Sarah Kate Marsh (@sarahkatemarsh).

Pynch-Worthylake redux

An American friend writes:

I just call to your attention the fact that in all the posts about Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake, none of you polite Canadians commented on her name. I”m pretty sure she was Dean of Discipline at Hogwarts before coming to NS.

Tsk, tsk.

[Update] Reader Bev Brett replies:

I find it interesting that not stooping to namecalling is considered “polite.” Obviously the people who wanted their points in the debate to be considered valid held back. Rather than “polite,” I would call it “informed discussion.” If anyone makes fun of someone’s name during a serious debate, I automatically dismiss the argument.

Authoritarian Superintendent of the Month — feedback

Golly, tons of reaction — on all sides — to cyber-libertarian Jeff Shallit’s nomination of South Shore District School Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake as “Authoritarian High School Superintendent of the Month.” (Apologies for the delayed posting; it’s been a busy week.)

Chris McCormick writes:

I figure someone’s right to express their opinion is balanced by my right to ignore them; the principal’s reaction just valorizes the ‘victim society’ where we want to whitewash all differences and offending symbols…remember Lenny Bruce [language NSFW]? “It’s the suppression of the word which gives it the power, the violence…”

Jeannie Eyking:

I have been aware of Superintendent Pynch-Worthylake’s work for about 10 years.  From everything I’ve heard, I understand her to be an intelligent, brave, and discerning professional and leader.  When I read your blog this morning, I thought there must be more to this story than first presented.  The editorial in the Cape Breton Post made the story more complete for me.   My conclusion is the her decision was not only reasonable, but brave.

The young people in our schools are arriving with all sorts of things written on their shirts, much of which promotes disrespect. What was written on Swinimer’s shirt was not benign. The phrasing is significant. “Life is wasted without Jesus”  is a judgment of what you should be and do, not an expression of what I choose for me.  This is no small point. Tolerance and free speech can only be protected, if we have the intelligence to sort out the difference.  The principal and Nancy Pynch-Worthylake tried to do that.  I applaud them both.

A reader whose family includes a retired Anglican minister, passed along antidote apparel depicted at right:

A reader who is not from the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater writes:

It’s obvious Jeffrey Shallit does not live in the Annapolis Valley or Bridgewater, because if he did, he’d know that no matter how strongly you felt it, you’d never say anything like this: “Swinimer’s t-shirt expresses a moronic and wrong sentiment, and he sounds like the typical evangelical jerk who can’t keep quiet about his own ‘good news.’”  Because the fall-out from evangelicals, of which there are many who attend Baptist, Pentecostal, and break-away Protestant churches in the Bible Belt of Nova Scotia, would not be worth it. Shallit, safe from the wrath of God in Waterloo.

Reader Dana Doiron thinks the The Cape Breton Post got it right:

Proselytizing at school and suggesting that the international students at his school were damned (I spoke to students and parents) were the issue.  The t-shirt was just the most recent manifestation to which the complaining students could point. Parents, teachers and religious leaders (and, politicians) should help students learn tolerance and empathy not just the assertion of individual rights. The student’s dad may have taken the best step toward resolving this issue by removing his son from school today to go home and change shirts.

What Shallit was reacting to, given the information available at the time, was Swinimer’s suspension for the sin of wearing a T-shirt expressing minority religious views. If Swinimer was browbeating fellow students, or proselytizing disruptively on school time, that’s another matter. Wearing a slogan the superintendent doesn’t like is not grounds for dismissal in a democracy.

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