A response to Jeffrey Toobin’s piece in the New Yorker

This is a poor attempt at character assassination by an apologist for the current administration. It is a desperate attempt, too as is usually the case where someone tries to play the Nazi card.

First, you very unjustly ascribe extreme views to Mr. Snowden when there is no evidence that he actually holds those views. Snowden applied a principle from Nuremberg (‘Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience.’) to his own actions, but that obviously does not equate to him saying that ‘those who followed the law were nothing better than Nazis.’ a belief which you ascribe to him.

Second, there is, in fact, very good reason to believe that laws have been broken. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s testimony to Congress troubled Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, because it was misleading. Carl Levin was being polite; simply stated, Clapper lied. How else would we know that that testimony was misleading? Isn’t perjury a law that should be respected, and when that perjury is to Congress on a matter of public importance, doesn’t that rise to a level that whistle-blowing is justified? The only way that lie can be justified is a belief in a paternalistic and hypocritical state that would be antithetical to a modern, democratic state in which a free press exists.

Leaving aside Mr. Clapper’s perjury, the several programs that Mr Snowden publicized each can, to a reasonable person, appear unjustifiably broad and, judging by the widespread outrage that the information about these programs has engendered, many in U.S. and other countries share this view. To retreat to the legal rationalizations of the present administration, which seem to have been distilled to: “if it is written down somewhere, even in a secret court, it must be legal” is a slippery slope that could ultimately be used to defend anything, including—since you asked for it—Nazism. However, what I find very disturbing about this piece is that it attempts to rationalize the extra-legal and immoral actions of the nascent U.S. police state, a police state that calls for journalists and intellectuals to criticize rather than defend. Let it be noted that, at this important time, you defended, and did not criticize.

A response to Jeffrey Toobin’s piece in the New Yorker

TED Censored

Here’s a TED talk that was censored.  It seems the idea that everyone does not owe their jobs to a few rich people struck quite a nerve and couldn’t be published:


The above TED talk, by Richard Wilkinson, is from October 2011, and it’s all about economic inequality. There’s quite a lot of buzz today about another talk on economic inequality which was recorded, then quashed by TED officials. You can check out the full transcript here, from National Journal.

At first glance, this is quite a strange discrepancy. Both talks are on economic inequality, and they do differ a bit, but if anything the Wilkinson talk is more radical. The gist of his is that once a country has reached “developed” status, wealth doesn’t much matter for the health of that society, broadly speaking (including things like longevity, mental illness, crime, prison population, poverty, etc). Instead equality is what matters. More equal societies are better.

The censored talk, given by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, makes a fairly banal point that starting a successful business depends entirely on having a population of people with the ability to buy your product:

I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a “circle of life” like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

See the rest of the story at the above link.  Note after the web storm of protest they did eventually decide to release the talk.  But why should it take a protest?

TED Censored

New Puzzling Doctrine of the Two Classes of the Unborn

The new doctrine implied by recent public statements of Catholics criticizing President Obama are indeed curious, though they are regrettably not unprecedented. Under this doctrine there seem to be two categories of  the unborn, and they deserve completely different accounting in the moral sphere.

One class of the unborn deserves very little recognition, and therefore their suffering is of very small concern.  Into this first class fall, for example, the unborn victims of the several wars we are now fighting, those unborn killed by pollution, or directly by hunger, or those unborn poor who need quality healthcare, among other groups too numerous to mention here. Lest we forget, there are many of the born in similar groups who are perishing each and every day.  These very real deaths now also include the first deaths caused by global warming, whose toll shall, with near certainty, dramatically increase every year.

The other class of unborn is so especially deserving of our protection, however, that even though the President has no direct legal authority to protect them, the mere announcement of a candidate of his opposition to a legal precedent enjoins us to put all of our concerns for the first class of the unborn out of our minds, and cast our votes, as unthinking automatons, to continue the wholesale slaughter of those unborn in the first class, while making very slight progress helping those unborn in the second class.

Therefore I, being uneducated by only 2 degrees from Jesuit Universities, must ask those who promulgate this new doctrine of the two unequal classes of the unborn to clarify, with some precision, what are those characteristics of the first class of the unborn that make them so undeserving of our protection and conversely makes those in the second class so especially deserving of our protection?

This question deeply vexes me.

New Puzzling Doctrine of the Two Classes of the Unborn

Demand Zero

Occupy Wall Street could actually use a demand that is straight-forward and would have broad support. Accomplishing this would give the OWS movement credibility and moral connectivity. The demand should be one that is concrete and would advance the OWS agenda while morally isolating its opponents. The best demand for this purpose would be:

A constitutional amendment that would eliminate any of the benefits of the Bill of Rights from accruing to corporations, and simply state that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights only accrue to natural born persons is exactly the kind of demand that OWS needs to make.  It is a simple demand, and one that, if acted upon would dramatically change the political landscape by allowing all kinds of limits on corporations.  Such an action is a precondition for dismantling incipient corporate fascism before it takes root.

Any one who opposed that would so clearly isolated themselves that they would be committing political suicide. Also, such an amendment would have concrete results, for example, overturning Citizens United.

I like the catchy name Demand Zero, too.

Demand Zero

Censorship, USA (Google stands up edition)

As described in the Guardian (and Hat tip to RMS)

Google faced down demands from a US law enforcement agency to take down YouTube videos allegedly showing police brutality earlier this year, figures released for the first time show.

The technology giant’s biannual transparency report shows that Google refused the demands from the unnamed authority in the first half of this year.

According to the report, Google separately declined orders by other police authorities to remove videos that allegedly defamed law enforcement officials.

The demands formed part of a 70% rise in takedown requests from the US government or police, and were revealed as part of an effort to highlight online censorship around the world.

Figures revealed for the first time show that the US demanded private information about more than 11,000 Google users between January and June this year, almost equal to the number of requests made by 25 other developed countries, including the UK and Russia.

Censorship, USA (Google stands up edition)