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The Importance of Polks and Pulitzers

By: Barry Eisler

These Polks and Pulitzers matter, and we should be glad when they’re awarded to people who deserve them.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, two of the journalists whose reporting just won their organizations Pulitzers based on the Snowden revelations, have been reluctant to return to America because of various official calls for their arrest; the refusal of the Justice Department to provide any assurances that it would not arrest them; and the detention of Greenwald’s spouse David Miranda at Heathrow last August (nor are Greenwald and Poitras alone in being at risk of being arrested by their own governments for acts of journalism). But on Friday, they decided to come home to accept the prestigious George Polk Award they had won for National Security Reporting (and to dedicate the award to their source, Edward Snowden).

I was visiting my native New Jersey for a family event the day of the Polk ceremony, and managed to get a press pass so I could attend (thank you, Polk and Pulitzer winner and Rain fan Bart Gellman!). Greenwald and Poitras arrived together at JFK while the awards assembly was already in progress.  There was a phalanx of reporters and photographers waiting for them in the lobby of Roosevelt Hotel, where the awards were being presented, and outside customs at JFK. The presenters changed the order of award presentation to accommodate their schedule, saving the National Security Reporting awards for last. The whole thing was thrilling and hugely satisfying to see.

More importantly, it was exceptionally widely watched. And this is what I want to talk about here.

Of course I’m just speculating, but I imagine Greenwald and Poitras decided that if they timed their return to coincide with their acceptance of their award, they could make it maximally difficult for the government to do anything excessively vindictive and heavy-handed. It’s not just the sound bite the government would bee up against — “Two Polk Award Winners Arrested En Route to Receiving Journalism Award.” It was the massive attention focused on their return. All those photographers, at JFK and at the Roosevelt.  All those intrepid fellow award-winning journalists, and dozens more covering the event in the gallery and at the press conference afterward.  If the government had tried to move against Greenwald and Poitras just then, it would have faced a remarkable amount of real-time scrutiny. Or, to put it another way, there was never going to be a worse time for the government to act than during the half-day window of exceptional focus and watchfulness the Polk ceremony created.

Why does this matter? Because it suggests that whatever you might think of the substantive value of this or that award (and it’s true that with Tom Friedman using three Pulitzers to mangle his metaphors and Obama launching drone attacks from atop a Nobel Peace Prize, one might reasonably conclude that such awards can be handed out somewhat haphazardly), there’s no doubt the awards still garner great attention, attention that can act as a check on unconstitutional governmental vindictiveness.

For this reason, I was hugely disappointed that Time Magazine made the safe pick of Pope Francis for its Person of the Year, relegating Edward Snowden to #2. Pope Francis isn’t at risk of arrest, disappearance, torture, and murder. Snowden most certainly is.

For this reason, too, I’m pleased that Snowden has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. When I tweeted about this back in January, I was surprised at how many people, citing Nobel Laureate Obama among others, responded along the lines of “The Nobel Prize doesn’t mean anything.” Look, maybe you yourself are not impressed by prizes like the Nobel, but if you care about Edward Snowden (along with journalists and other whistleblowers) and appreciate the sacrifices he’s made for freedom and democracy all over the world, wouldn’t you want to make it more difficult for the government to arrest or mistreat him or worse? And if you do want to make such things more difficult, don’t you see that “US Government Arrests Nobel Peace Prize Winner Snowden” would at least to some extent serve that objective?

I think there are two general reasons people reflexively display their cynicism in the face of awards. One is what NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen calls “The Church of the Savvy,” which consumers of establishment media pick up by osmosis and then begin to ape. The other is an odd form of narcissism, because after all, if an award doesn’t matter to me, then it shouldn’t matter at all.

All of which is weird, when you stop to think about it.  Maybe you don’t care about the Academy Awards, but that doesn’t mean winning one doesn’t enhance an actor’s star power, increase her earning potential, and broaden the scope of roles she’ll be offered. Similarly, whatever else you might think of journalism awards, they can make it harder for the government to interfere with journalists exercising their First Amendment rights, or to throw whistleblowers in prison for espionage.

So those Polks and Pulitzers matter, and we should be glad when they’re awarded to people who deserve them. And here’s hoping the Nobel committee does the right thing in October, and gives Snowden some more of the recognition he deserves and some more of the the protection he needs.

P.S.  Thomas Friedman is so ridiculous and pernicious that I couldn’t possibly link to all the wonderful articles hilariously deconstructing and parodying his unique brand of destructive navel gazing. But here are a few.

No Kidding: The Most Incoherent Tom Friedman Column Ever
Flat N All That: Matt Taibbi Eviscerates Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”
Come Up With the Ultimate Thomas Friedman Porn Title
Surprise Winner in Thomas Friedman Porn-Title Contest
The Definitive Collection of Thomas Friedman Takedowns

Most especially, see the Friedman chapter in Barrett Brown’s marvelous book Keep Rootin’ for Putin — and contribute to Barrett’s defense fund, too.

Over Easy: Conflict Minerals

By: Crane-Station Wednesday April 16, 2014 3:47 am

On Monday, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a ruling in National Association Of Manufacturers, Et Al.,v. Securities And Exchange Commission(SEC). Citing freedom of speech, the court ruled that companies cannot be compelled to disclose whether the minerals they use to manufacture their products came from “conflict mineral” areas.

Conflict minerals involve tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, and are often associated with electronics devices, or the Information Technology (IT) industry. The term refers to minerals that are mined in the remote eastern Congo region of Africa, in unregulated mines under conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. Warlords obtain and profit from the minerals utilizing rape, child labor, child soldiers, extortion and other business methods that are legendary for human exploitation, including slavery, torture and murder by starvation. In addition, the real profiteers of the literal gold mine do not live in the Congo. Rather, many of them live here.

Congress responded in 2010 to the human rights catastrophe with the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to initiate regulations compelling companies to disclose whether or not the minerals originated from a conflict-free area. The SEC Conflict Minerals Rule was set to require manufacturers to disclose conflict mineral information on their websites and file a report with the SEC with full compliance this year.

The manufacturers responded by suing the SEC in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that their first amendment right to freedom of expression is violated by a rule that compels them to disclose unfavorable information that might hurt their bottom line. The district court rejected their argument and granted summary judgment for the SEC and the ACLU. The Manufacturer’s Association appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Court writes (at page 20):

Products and minerals do not fight conflicts. The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups. An issuer, including an issuer who condemns the atrocities of the Congo war in the strongest terms, may disagree with that assessment of its moral responsibility. And it may convey that ‘message’ through ‘silence.’ See Hurley, 515 U.S. at 573. By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
See id.

Hogwash! Silence is not disclosure. Up is not down. The First Amendment protects our freedom to express our opinions and it protects the freedom of the press so that we have the necessary information to form evidence based opinions and vote intelligently. In other words, the First Amendment protects the public’s right to know. It was never intended to protect silence.

The Fifth Amendment protects silence. A person cannot be compelled to testify against himself in a criminal case. It does not protect a corporation like a tobacco company from disclosing that cigarettes are harmful to health and may cause cancer. Likewise, since a company’s decisions about sourcing in its supply chain can impact the funding of conflict, it must be able to make informed choices about conflict minerals in its supply. Furthermore, “conflict free” is not a metaphor. It is a yes or a no to a question.

Our right to know is what this case is about. We have a right to know if products we buy are available for purchase as a result of outlaws, thieves, murderers-for-hire, rapists and butchers specializing in human rights violations conducting their business.

That said, it is likely that the SEC will seek an en banc review in this case, as the ruling issued on Monday was not unanimous. One of the justices held back, pending the outcome of en banc review in a similar case that has to do with disclosure in meat labeling.

Amazingly enough, today is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington DC to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which president Abraham Lincoln signed on April 16, 1862.

Related:

Conflict-free smelters and refiners

Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition -EICC – Extractives and Conflict Minerals Resources

Unrelated:

The Decorah Eagles Live Cam

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday April 15, 2014 8:15 pm

 

A jar of medical grade Purple Diesel cannabis

Medical cannabis for prisoners … and cocaine addicts in Uruguay.

Tonight’s video is “Why is ketchup so hard to pour?” from TED-Ed.

Ever go to pour ketchup on your fries…and nothing comes out? Or the opposite happens, and your plate is suddenly swimming in a sea of red? George Zaidan describes the physics behind this frustrating phenomenon, explaining how ketchup and other non-Newtonian fluids can suddenly transition from solid to liquid and back again.

Being able to refer to ketchup as a non-Newtonian fluid sounds like it could be fun conversation at the right parties.

We’ve covered Uruguay’s efforts to legalize cannabis frequently here on Firedoglake. A recent tidbit via Mint Press News: prisoners in Uruguay will be able to get medical marijuana with a prescription. Not only that, they might use cannabis to treat cocaine addiction, rather than sending addicts to jail! Via Huffington Post:

‘Jail is not a very suitable place for someone to safely overcome drug addiction,’ Leonel Briozzo, the country’s undersecretary for public health, said in an event at the U.N. Briozzo called for ‘new strategies for drug addiction treatment, especially for harder drugs like “pasta base.” And in that sense, we harbor a possible hope that medical marijuana can play a role in this as well.’

‘Pasta base’ — also known as ‘paco’ — is cocaine base paste, a byproduct of the cocaine refining process. The cheap drug swept through Uruguay and neighboring Argentina during the 2000s, leaving public health officials struggling to control its fallout.

Research on medical marijuana’s efficacy in treating addiction to other, ‘hard’ drugs like pasta base appears limited. But other countries, such as Colombia, have begun considering projects seeking to use marijuana to treat addicts.

‘The idea isn’t that marijuana will substitute for what is obviously a much harder and more dangerous drug, but that marijuana can help reduce the anxieties when you go off that drug,’ said Coletta Youngers, an associate at the International Drug Policy Consortium.

Bonus: Our Rad Justice System,” a comic from Matt Bors.

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Den Plirono Delegation from Athens Visits Barcelona

By: GREYDOG
Den Plirono members holding a banner

Vassilis Papadopoulos, Linda Ross (aka greydogg) and Theodosis Temzelidis

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

A delegation from the Den Plirono (“I Won’t Pay”) Movement in Greece met Friday, April 4, 2014, in Barcelona with Linda Ross and other activist comrades to deepen relations between the civil disobedience movements of the two countries.

Vassilis Papadopoulos, president of the Movement, and Theodossis Temzelidis, member of the political secretariat of the Movement, represented Den Plirono in Barcelona.

Linda Ross is a well-known activist who has supported the Den Plirono Movement in many ways and is now living in Barcelona.

During the meeting, they exchanged experiences between the movements of the two countries and laid the foundations for the further deepening of relations. 

The delegation of the Movement will meet with other political forces in the region.

Greece and Spain are in the midst of the storm of the capitalist crisis. Common problems include the closing of stores in Barcelona as in Athens and in other cities of the two countries.

The solution to the problems of 99% of the people can be found in the common struggle of the peoples of Europe and the overthrow of the system of exploitation through the assertion of human rights.

The people united will never be defeated.

Den Plirono movement:

Europe: Copycats and the Arrow of Time

By: Deena Stryker Monday April 14, 2014 7:25 am
Closeup of 6 o'clock portion of an antique clock face, with hour and minute hands at 4:30.

Time’s arrow pulls Europe forward.

I’ve often written about the application of the modern physics principle — that the arrow of time is irreversible — to world affairs and politics in general. Today it is combined with copycat behaviors, thus becoming all the more important to understand

As Ukrainians pursue the historically-dictated split of their country, the West once again joining with Poland while the largely Russian-speaking East either becomes independent or joins again with Russia, using popular brute force not seen in Europe since the Second World War — or perhaps the Russian Revolution — European demonstrators fed up with Brussels and IMF imposed austerity are obviously thinking ‘We can do that, too!’

Ever since the end of World War II, in which Communist and Socialist parties across Europe played a major role in resisting and undermining German occupation, trade unions have provided the left with a strong backbone, allowing workers to demand and obtain benefits American workers cannot even imagine. Their resilience continues to be seen every day on images of demonstrations across the European continent against levels of unemployment that hitherto had not existed in the welfare states.

European workers are also well aware of the role militarism plays in diminished social welfare, as EU countries have allowed themselves to be increasingly co-opted by Washington since 9/11. Although Vladimir Putin correctly noted the similarity between Kosovo’s right to independence and that of Crimea, the crisis in Ukraine is different from the nineteen-nineties war in Serbia.  Serbia lay in the heart of a Europe that was merely in the process of becoming united. Ukraine’s only claim to belong to a united Europe lies in its long history of being part of Poland; but it has an even longer history of being part of Russia. As for today’s Europeans, the fact that Ukraine looms as a putative relative inevitably dares them to show that they are just as capable of putting their bodies where their convictions are.

So much for the copycat aspect of the situation. As for the irreversibility of the arrow of time, this refers to the fact that once a trend is set in motion, it continues until it reaches a bifurcation point, when it can ‘dissipate’ (in the language of physics) to something different. What direction bifurcations take is unpredictable, but is usually influenced by previous history. Translated, this means that as revolts gather steam, the likelihood of them being stopped through negotiation or compromise is slight because each side is propelled inexorably forward. Revolutions and wars are the most obvious examples of bifurcations.

Nick Turse: The Pentagon, Libya, and Tomorrow’s Blowback Today

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday June 16, 2011 7:43 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

A protester holds a sign reading 'NO MORE'

As the United States encourages insatiability in countries like Libya, it creates tomorrow’s enemies.

Be careful what you wish for.  In 2011, a Libyan rebellion began against autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.  It undoubtedly reflected the wish of many Libyans for a new world of their own without his heavy hand or that of his secret police and secret prisons. Wishing to be rid of a ruler long seen as a nemesis, Washington, in tandem with its NATO allies, joined the fray at a moment when it looked like the rebels might otherwise be going down. Without consulting Congress, and so of course without a declaration of war, President Obama brought in the planes, drones, and Tomahawk missiles. Air power certainly helped turned the tide and then hasten the fall of the autocrat.  Only one problem: what came next.

The aftermath proved to be a slowly devolving Libyan nightmare filled with militias of every sort, including jihadist ones. The results have been grim, including of course the death of a U.S. ambassador. In the meantime, weaponry from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals, ranging from modern assault rifles to antitank weapons and even shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, soon began spreading to Mali, elsewhere in North Africa, and later as far as Egypt and Syria, as well as into the hands of “extremists and criminals.” The result has been a regional boost for exactly the jihadist forces the U.S. opposes most fervently, while for Libyans, it was the saddest story of all.  A recent poll indicates that, with a desperately weak central government and marauding militias, “more than one-third of Libyans report feeling unsafe going to the market, school, or work,” while 40% of women feel that way simply leaving their houses heading anywhere.  In response, Libya has been transformed into a gun-toting society, with firearms in nearly 30% of Libyan homes (though, according to that same poll, most Libyans “would happily give up their arms in an environment of a well functioning military and police and with an improvement in general security”).

Given the unsettling results of the 2011 intervention thus far, you might imagine that Washington and the Pentagon would think twice about what in the world to do next and perhaps adjust their approach. As events of the twenty-first century have made all too clear, however, there is no genuine learning curve in Washington when it comes to such things.  The only response is always, in some fashion, more of the similar, if not the same. Today, Nick Turse explores a new Pentagon scheme to train up a force whose Libyan recruits will be drawn from already existing and often notorious militias as a supposed future bulwark for the weak central government. It’s one of those plans that may sound sensible in Pentagon briefings but has “cockamamie” written all over it.  It practically comes with a bound-to-fail guarantee stamped on it and an assurance that it will increase the misery of Libyans.  Writ small, it seems to go to the heart of the distinctly underreported U.S. pivot to Africa which, as Turse has so vividly and repeatedly shown, is proving to be largely a machine for destabilizing the continent, stoking extremism, and creating the conditions for blowback. Of course, given the way Washington thinks, those results offer a guarantee of their own: a self-perpetuating employment program for the U.S. military into the distant future. Tom

Washington Fights Fire With Fire in Libya
How Not to End Violence in a War-Torn Land
By Nick Turse

Is the U.S. secretly training Libyan militiamen in the Canary Islands? And if not, are they planning to?

That’s what I asked a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). “I am surprised by your mentioning the Canary Islands,” he responded by email.  “I have not heard this before, and wonder where you heard this.”

As it happens, mention of this shadowy mission on the Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa was revealed in an official briefing prepared for AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez in the fall of 2013.  In the months since, the plan may have been permanently shelved in favor of a training mission carried out entirely in Bulgaria.  The document nonetheless highlights the U.S. military’s penchant for simple solutions to complex problems — with a well-documented potential for blowback in Africa and beyond.  It also raises serious questions about the recurring methods employed by the U.S. to stop the violence its actions helped spark in the first place.   

Ever since the U.S. helped oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with air and missile strikes against regime targets and major logistical and surveillance support to coalition partners, Libya has been sliding into increasing chaos.  Militias, some of them jihadist, have sprung up across the country, carving out fiefdoms while carrying out increasing numbers of assassinations and other types of attacks.  The solution seized upon by the U.S. and its allies in response to the devolving situation there: introduce yet another armed group into a country already rife with them.

The Rise of the Militias

After Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, a wide range of militias came to dominate Libya’s largest cities, filling a security vacuum left by the collapse of the old regime and providing a challenge to the new central government.  In Benghazi alone, an array of these armed groups arose.  And on September 11, 2012, that city, considered the cradle of the Libyan revolution, experienced attacks by members of the anti-Western Ansar al-Sharia, as well as other militias on the American mission and a nearby CIA facility.  During those assaults, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, local armed groups called on for help or which might have intervened to save lives reportedly stood aside.

Jesus can’t get a few winks and God can’t buy Infiniti

By: patrick devlin Tuesday April 15, 2014 12:00 pm

 

Cross posted at the demise

Alarmed at the thought of poor shelter-less citizens invading the public’s well-kept city benches, citizens in Davidson, NC motivated by their “concerned for the safety of the neighborhood” have reported to local officials that a vagrant has set up camp in front of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.

The vagrant, an art installation by Timothy Schmalz, is a life size bronze of a man, sheltering himself against the cold with a makeshift blanket, sleeping on a park bench called “Homeless Jesus”. An indication that the bronze sleeping vagrant is the Christ, the homeless wandering religious philosopher of the first century who challenged the people of his time to “give up all you own and follow” and, in later centuries, was exalted as the “king of kings”, are nail wounds on his exposed bare feet. The bronze is accompanied by a plaque with the gospel verse from Matthew; “as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”

Rev. David Buck, St. Alban’s minister, told USA Today that the life-size statue that beckons viewers to become part of the work by leaving space on the ‘park bench’ for a single person to sit “makes people think about their faith commitment and the plight of the homeless in this country.” Rev, Buck feels that the art work, which is on church property, reflects the church’s commitment to social justice. Buck said that it is important to remember that “faith expresses itself not in beautiful buildings only, but mainly in care for those less fortunate, the marginalized.”

The artist had originally attempted to gain the cooperation of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (both Catholic churches) to display the art work, but had been turned down by both churches.

Concerned citizen Cindy Castano Swannack, who called the police to report the loitering artwork, when advised that the homeless person was actually art that had found a home, said she disagreed with the depiction of Christ as a vulnerable fellow human stating that Jesus was “not a vagrant” and not someone “who needs our help.”

As North Carolina citizens were coming face to face with a homeless Jesus, God himself sued the national credit reporting company Equifax for taking actions to prevent the deity from accessing Infiniti.

God Gazarov, who has a godly credit score of over 720, states in court documents that Equifax has prevented him from securing financing for the Infiniti that he wants to jump in and take for spin around the known universe, or at lease Brooklyn.

Gazarov, a Russian citizen who shares his first name with his grandfather, claims that Equifax has blocked him from accessing his credit file and score because security measures that the company uses refuse to accept that his given name, God, is his real name.

Gazarov says in his complaint that the company has denied his existence for more than 2 years, and his credit history, as reported by the company, is as empty as Christ’s tomb, preventing Gazarov from getting approved for credit cards and loans. Gazarov said that Equifax customer service personnel have even suggested that he change his first name to facilitate smoother credit transactions.

Equifax said that it was working with God to resolve problems with his account. The company says it “has processes in place to help ensure that businesses and individuals requesting access to credit are who they say they are. These processes flag standalone names that generally may not be associated with the valid openings of credit accounts.”

Gazarov’s attorney said that the company now, after the revelation of the court action, may indeed be ready to acquiesce and admit the existence of God.

Warrant reveals more fetishes of a #Scranton, PA Roman #Catholic priest

By: Ms. Pinky Stanseski Tuesday April 15, 2014 1:11 am
The back of a iPhone 4 including its camera lens and flash

Police searched the iPhone and other devices of a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse.

Sexually violent predator Father Altavilla, a Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton Priest charged with touching a teenage girl in 1998 told detectives he frequently searches the internet for depictions of women being raped.

Catholic Priest & his iPad & iPhone

The search warrant application for his iPhone, iPad & other devices revealed that Father Altavilla confessed to Lackawanna County Detectives Jennifer Gerrity & Vincent Uher on the day of his arrest that he struggled with a fetish involving feet, pantyhose, chloroform, and strangulation. He took pictures of the feet of teenage girls, including his victims, then he kept the pictures in a bag inside his residence.

Cryptic message

Father Altavilla consented to authorities permission to search his residence & they seized his computer & iPhone. Detective Uher saw a message in plain view indicating the author of a message to Father Altavilla was “haunted for years” & the author still remembers waking up with Father Altavilla. It is unknown if the message was in text, tweet, wall post or e-mail form, but Lackawanna County Assistant DA Jennifer McCambridge confirmed the woman who Father Altavilla is accused of raping in 1998 did not send the message. The Pennsylvania State Police are still analyzing the contents of Father Altavilla’s computer and everything else they seized. Father Altavilla will face his preliminary hearing on Rape & corruption of minors on 4/30/2014.