Category: U.S. Politics

If you’ve done no wrong, why fear NSA surveillance?

A catchy little ditty about surveillance of citizens, en français.

In partial translation:

If you have nothing to hide, then you could put a camera in your bedroom and your bathroom, and publish images on internet. Or if you have nothing to hide, then you can get your login and your password on facebook or in google, publish and everyone can go dig it.

Our lists of things to do
Our soft sms
Our writings of anger
And our address books
Our favorite pubs
Our schedules pool
Our sworn enemies
And the name of the neighboring

Nothing, nothing, nothing to be ashamed of
nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing to hide

H/T: Bethany Horne

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.

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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.

Two veterans get the last words

A Connecticut reader who describes himself as a paratroop veteran from the Korean War era who was lucky to be assigned to Germany, “rather than that slaughter house of Korea,” writes:

I find this convention that has developed of saying, “thank you for your service” off-putting. It immediately shuts the door.  Nothing more to say except, “Thank you.” Puts us in a box. You will never hear veterans speak to each other this way.

Besides, the dirty little secret is most of us had the time of our lives. It was great fun.

Another reader sends along this message from his brother, a Vietnam vet. It originally appeared on the very active Facebook page of the Savannah, Georgia, chapter of Veterans for Peace, a veterans organization that promotes public awareness of the costs of war, and seeks to restrain governments from waging it.

There is no glory in war, no honor in victory. Every soldier is not a hero. Being a veteran I hope that one day youth will lay down their weapons, all youth across the face of the earth and refuse to fight the wars of old men. The rich make the wars the poor fight so the rich can become more rich. If war was not profitable there would be no war.

If you really want to honor a veteran, truly honor those who have served, do not thank us for our service, remove the ribbons from your cars, and promise all those who suffered and died and those who continue to suffer that no more veterans will be made. You see, I am a Viet Nam veteran from 1969-1971. In many ways I am still there. We carry it forever. It may dim but it is always there.

So, as a veteran, I beg you do not send your sons, your daughters, you spouses, your brothers or sisters off to die in someone else’s war. I close my eyes and look upon those horrors that we committed and those done to us by our own government. Hug your children, your loved ones and hold them near. Don’t let them die alone in some faraway country.

When you hear the drums of war and see the flags unfurl and the politicians making their speeches, grab you loved ones and say no more. Then you may say you have truly honored a veteran.

Out of sight, out of mind: 175 dead children


Pitch Interactive, a data visualization shop in Berkeley, California, has produced an interactive infographic illustrating the results of US drone attacks in Pakistan. I can’t embed it, but clicking on the link will take you to a 90-seconds chronological overview.

Clicking on the ATTACKS, VICTIMS, NEWS, and INFO links in the upper left corner of the infographic adds background information and sources.

Less than 2% of the victims are high-profile targets.
The rest are civilians, children and alleged combatants.
This is the story of every known drone strike and victim in Pakistan.

Since 2004, the US has been practicing in a new kind of clandestine military operation. The justification for using drones to take out enemy targets is appealing because it removes the risk of losing American military, it’s much cheaper than deploying soldiers, it’s politically much easier to maneuver (i.e. flying a drone within Pakistan vs. sending troops) and it keeps the world in the dark about what is actually happening. It takes the conflict out of sight, out of mind. The success rate is extremely low and the cost on civilian lives and the general well-being of the population is very high. This project helps to bring light on the topic of drones. Not to speak for or against, but to inform and to allow you to see for yourself whether you can support drone usage or not.

H/T: Himalaya

Charting the rise in natural catastrophes

The number of “significant” natural catastrophes in North America causing more than $1 billion in losses of more than 50 deaths, 1950-2012:

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Number of natural catastrophes in North America, 1980-2011:

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For the climate change skeptics in the audience, these charts come not the Ecology Action Centre, the Natural Resources Defence Council, or the Pembina Institute, but from Munich Re, a $265-billion company that is one of the world’s leading reinsurance brokers. (A reinsurer is an outfit that re-sells insurance liabilities when the risk becomes too great for a single retail firm, so it is on the front lines when catastrophic events loom.)

Bear in mind, this is what has already happened, when the sea level rise and ocean warming forecast by climate scientists has barely begun.

Both charts originated in Severe weather in North America: Perils · Risks · Insurance, a 260-page report Munich Re produced on the rise in major natural events. Perhaps because our coastlines are so built up, the rise is occurring faster in North American than in other parts of the world. The top chart is reproduced in a 44-page report of a forum hosted by the Washington DC-baseed Urban Land Institute: Risk & Resilience in Coastal Regions: A ULI Global Policy and Practice Forum Report [PDF]. The bottom chart appears in a 12-page executive summary [PDF] Munich Re’s report, the full version of which is available from the company for $100.

Take a walk along the shoreline of any city in Atlantic Canada. The Gabarus Sea Wall ain’t the only thing we need to be worried about.

H/T: Richard Stephenson

When Henry Kissinger almost visited Cape Breton

Henry 2 copy

In the summer of 1976, Tom Enders, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, and officials of the US State Department were negotiating the details of a meeting between Foreign Affairs Minister Allan J MacEachen and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Since Kissinger had called upon MacEachen in Ottawa the previous October, the assumption was that the next meeting would take place in Washington.

As recorded in a confidential August 7, 1976, State Department memo to Kissinger, one of more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976 released last week by Wikileaks, MacEachen suggested an alternative plan:


Kissinger accepted the staff recommendation, and the visit went ahead in Washington on August 17 and 18.

Image of HK visiting Meat Cove: Peter Barss

How many Americans have guns killed since Sandy Hook?

100? 500? 1,000? The correct answer is much higher: more than 22 fatal shootings per day in the first 98 days since the horrific elementary school massacre.

Huffpo has an interactive chart: (Please don’t just look at the graphic. Click on the link and then on “next.”)

gundeaths since sandy hook


How to apologize

At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams reviews the week’s celebrity apologies, and finds most wanting. Then she highlights this example of how to apologize with grace:

[L]est you think nobody knows how to own up to bad behavior, there have this week also been some fine examples of how to do it correctly. David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA/ladykiller appeared at a Los Angeles ROTC dinner and got the awkward part out of the way early. “I join you, keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago,” Petraeus said. ”I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret — and apologize for — the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters.” Gosh, he makes it look so simple.

Memo to disgraced MLA Russell MacKinnon… oh, forget it.

An interactive history of drone strikes in Pakistan

How often has the US attacked targets in Pakistan with unmanned drones, and how many of those killed have been children, civilians, putative insurgents, or “high-value” military targets?

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has prepared an interactive graphic to help answer these questions, which you can try for yourself by clicking the screenshot below.

Drone Strikes


Definitely worth a look. The bureau summarizes the results:

The justification for using drones to take out enemy targets is appealing because it removes the risk of losing American military, it’s much cheaper than deploying soldiers, it’s politically much easier to maneuver (i.e. flying a drone within Pakistan vs. sending troops) and it keeps the world in the dark about what is actually happening. It takes the conflict out of sight, out of mind. The success rate is extremely low and the cost on civilian lives and the general well-being of the population is very high.

The interactive graphic has two views. The Attack View pictured above shows each attack chronologically; the Victim View focuses on the people killed in each strike.

The category of victims we call “OTHER” is classified differently depending on the source. The Obama administration classifies any able-bodied male a military combatant unless evidence is brought forward to prove otherwise. This is a very grey area for us. These could be neighbors of a target killed. They may all be militants and a threat. What we do know for sure is that they are targeted without being given any representation or voice to defend themselves.

With increasingly sophisticated drones become ever more widely available, how long before the US regrets opening this particular Pandora’s box?

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