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Wars, Foreign Policy & Civil Liberties Taboo at First-Ever Presidential Twitter Town Hall

12:43 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A first-ever presidential Twitter town hall with President Barack Obama kept questions from Twitter users focused to jobs and the economy, avoiding the many questions on the wars, foreign policy and civil liberties issues that have primarily been created because of legislation and policies deemed necessary to prosecute a “war on terrorism.”

The questions touched on: mistakes made during the recession, being realistic on job creation, rising cost of higher education, issuing an executive order to raise the debt ceiling, the possible creation of a startup visa program for immigrant entrepreneurs, promoting alternative energy especially in oil states like Louisiana and Texas, protecting collective bargaining rights and stalling the onslaught from state legislatures around the country, helping homeowners who just can’t sell their homes, jobs, growing small business, tax breaks for honorably discharged veterans, changing the tax system to address the deficit, using the free market to help homeowners, privatizing education, tax cuts, space exploration, welfare programs and, very briefly, defense contracting and the war on drugs.

One can make the argument that this was to be on jobs and the economy and not civil liberties or the wars or foreign policy. But, job creation and the economy is dependent on the wars and the costly foreign policy, which the Obama Administration continues. Also, there are economic questions that can be asked, which touch on civil liberties issues in America.
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At the President’s Twitter Townhall, #AskObama About His Pathetic & Disgusting Civil Liberties Record

6:23 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

*Update:For my report on the Twitter town hall event, go here.

President Barack Obama will be participating in a first-ever Twitter @townhall event. The town hall, moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, is to be limited to discussion of jobs and the economy.

Effectively limiting the discussion to jobs and the economy leaves out an array of issues on the state of freedom, justice and liberty in America that warrant conversation. Should we the people really allow the White House to limit this discussion to just the economy?

The Obama Administration came in pledging to be different than the Bush Administration. It has continued and expanded on many of the Bush Administration “war on terrorism” policies, which effectively shredded the Constitution and eroded American civil liberties. President Obama has been outright atrocious when it comes to protecting American civil liberties and so bad it is no longer clear that he is the lesser evil when compared to former President George W. Bush.

Here are some questions that he should be made to address at the town hall to be held at 2 pm ET:

The Justice Dept has been sending letters indicating state laws may not override federal law on medical marijuana.

#AskObama What’s your position on state moves to decriminalize marijuana so it can be used for medicinal purposes?

Or, to frame the question in terms of jobs and the economy:

#AskObama: What’s your position on growing the economy and increasing jobs by further decriminalizing medicinal marijuana production & use?

Illinois recently recalled and abolished the death penalty.

#AskObama Would you like to see more states follow in the footsteps of Illinois and pass their own legislation to abolish the death penalty?

President George W. Bush admits he authorized waterboarding or torture against detainees as president.

#AskObama Why should US not fulfill legal obligation under Torture Convention & investigate & prosecute fmr Bush officials for torture?

You  missed the deadline for closing Guantanamo.

#AskObama What plans, if any, does your administration have to shut down Guantanamo? Do you still plan to shut it down?

#AskObama While demonstrating interest in closing Guantanamo, you have embraced policy of indefinite detention for detainees. Why?

Your administration’s statistics show the “Secure Communities” initiative invites racial profiling and leads to deportations of people who have committed no crimes or very minor offenses.

#AskObama Why have you ignored law enforcement and political leaders’ concerns on the “Secure Communities” program?

Your administration has deported 779,000 people, more than President George W. Bush’s last two years in office. ICE apparently has a mandate of deportation of 400,000 individuals per year.

#AskObama Why should ICE’s dragnet enforcement that is tearing apart immigrant families in America be acceptable or tolerated?

On same-sex marriage:

#AskObama Why do you think same-sex marriage is a states’ rights issue & why do you seem afraid to become moral leader on this issue?

More and more state legislatures are pushing laws that require drug testing for individuals to be drug tested if they receive public assistance.

#AskObama Do you think it is fair that more & more state are requiring drug testing in order to receive public assistance?

On the continued mass incarceration of people in America, especially people of color:

#AskObama US has 25% of world’s prison population. Are you concerned about mass incarceration of people in America & what should be done?

Government is employing more and more technology, which enables surveillance of US citizens. Police powers are being expanded, with the US Supreme Court often coming down on the side of law enforcement’s efforts make their job easier by not having to be concerned with citizens’ civil liberties.

#AskObama Should citizens abandon expectations of Fourth Amendment rights in the 21st Century?

Hot watches, cell phone tracking, x-ray vans that can see through walls or people’s clothing, etc are new methods of surveillance being used on citizens.

#AskObama Do citizens have a right to know if and when they are under government surveillance & should they?

The PATRIOT Act recently had three key provisions extended.

#AskObama As a constitutional professor, do any parts of the PATRIOT Act concern you any longer?

A religious rights issue:

#AskObama When does your administration plan to make changes to terrorism financing laws so they don’t unfairly target Muslims?

State legislatures around the country are stripping women of their right to an abortion. Some recent state laws are so extreme that they outright degrade and humiliate women, who dare to consider exercising their right to choose.

#AskObama What kind of leadership on reproductive freedom issues does your administration plan to show, if any?

There are currently antiwar and international solidarity activists under investigation by a federal grand jury based in your hometown of Chicago.

#AskObama How do you think your administration has done when it comes to protecting the right to dissent? #stopfbi


#AskObama Do you find it acceptable that the State Dept would like to criminalize US citizens delivering aid to Gaza? #flotilla2

You tremendously failed (and perhaps tainted the case) the last time this question was asked of you. So, I know you might be afraid to answer, but give it another shot. I’ll even ask about him in a different way.

#AskObama Why do you think Bradley Manning, if he did release classified info, isn’t military whistleblower protected under law? #WikiLeaks

And, finally:

#AskObama Why is your administration prosecuting war on whistleblowing & going after people like Thomas Drake, James Risen?

Interview with Dan Sinker, @MayorEmanuel, on the Next Generation of Political Parody

2:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

One week ago, citizens from all over the world came together in New York City to discuss technology and how it is reshaping politics, governance and society at Personal Democracy Forum 2011. The roster of speakers touched on freedom of expression, freedom of information, open government, privacy, using technology to build social movements and how governments use technology to suppress citizens.

Dan Sinker, the person behind the @MayorEmanuel fake twitter account and creator of “an alternative reality real-time novel about a Rahm Emanuel that was not from our dimension” that unfolded during Emanuel’s successful run for mayor of Chicago, was one of the speakers at the conference.

I interviewed Sinker, a journalism professor at Columbia College Chicago, for We talked about how fake twitter accounts are changing the way people understand politics and whether what he did was part of the next generation of satire in America.

Sinker said of fake Twitter accounts:

They help us to laugh at things we might think are absurd, at things we might think are hard to stomach. They allow us to laugh in the face of adversity or the reality that we live. I think the other thing is that they  allow a new lens with which to see and understand politics. One thing about the @MayorEmanuel account is you had to know who was who in all of Chicago city politics to really get a lot of the references, to get a lot of the jokes.

He added the account didn’t spoon feed people so hopefully many who followed the account did some research to learn about the individuals whom this Rahm was naming during the campaign.

The thing about satire or parody, Sinker says, is people can “read in their own thoughts into the character” so you had a number of far-right wing characters embracing the character.”
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WikiLeaks Demonstrates Where Citizens Need to Apply Pressure for Media Reform & Justice

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) put on by Free Press took place over the weekend. Thousands of attendees gathered to discuss the state of media and democracy in the US and how best to fight for better media. While the discussions tended to be general conversations on policy and politics, social justice and movement building, journalism and public media, the role of culture and art in media making, or technology and innovation, one subject was continuously mentioned in panel sessions: WikiLeaks.

It would be a stretch to suggest this if it weren’t for the fact that at the “Media and Corporate Power: Beating Back the K Street Juggernaut” panel The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel mentioned an individual in Russia, who has drawn inspiration from WikiLeaks, and now plans to publish corporate documents from Russia to his own “leak portal” website. Vanden Heuvel wondered why media reformers don’t get their own “leak portal” website established for the sole purpose of giving whistleblowers a place to turn and having a central location for Americans to see the truth about corporate power in the US. Following her remark, Bob Edgar of Common Cause thought it important to add the US should stop torturing or abusing the soldier alleged to have leaked information to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning.

The panel had nothing to do with WikiLeaks except for the fact that the issue of corporate power and transparency is critical to the story of WikiLeaks. The organization’s commitment to exposing secrets makes the organization an enemy of corporations, especially any corporation that has a well-established relationship with the political class in Washington and has records to prove just how they mutually work together to subvert democracy.

An organization like Free Press may prefer to not elevate WikiLeaks or any stateless news organization like it too much by making it a component of their agenda. That is understandable given the fact that the Knight Foundation, prior to the release of the Iraq War Logs and the beginning of Cablegate, awarded twelve groups with a “News Challenge” grant but did not award WikiLeaks a grant despite the organization’s request to spend about a half a million dollars “over two years to bring its anonymous method of leaking documents to local newspapers.” But, no organization in the world has exposed the fault lines in media and democracy like WikiLeaks has in the past year.

Part of the new news ecosystem that has arisen from what Yochai Benkler calls the “networked public sphere,” Benkler describes in piece of writing found in a book titled, “Will the Last Reporter Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It,” which was handed out to attendees at the conference:

On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released a leaked video from a US military helicopter that appeared to show US pilots callously killing combatants and civilians alike, including two Reuters news staff. Reuters had been seeking release of the video unsuccessfully, under FOIA, for over two years. The video became front-page news in all the leading papers the next day. WikiLeaks is a very-low-budget nonprofit hosted in Sweden. The site originally described its origins as having been “founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa.” Its $600,000 annual budget is raised from contributions from around the world. Its resources are documents or videos uploaded by anyone, anywhere, securely and anonymously. It is a Wikipedia for leaks, produced by anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time.


Attendees at the NCMR in Boston appeared to be keenly aware of the dangerous precedents, which would be set for media and democracy in the US, if the government were allowed to continue to suppress WikiLeaks and make an example of the organization as it has done. Keep in mind, already US-based companies like Visa and MasterCard have refused to process donations to WikiLeaks or Assange. PayPal has refused to allow WikiLeaks to use the service for donations. Amazon has censored the Wikileaks website, forcing it to go offline temporarily. Tableau opted to prohibit WikiLeaks from using its graphics service for data visualizations. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University warned students to refrain from commenting on the leaked diplomatic cables on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter–to not post links to the documents if they hoped to ever work for the State Department (while at the same time pledging to host World Press Freedom Day in 2011). The Obama Administration and the Department of Defense ordered hundreds of thousands of federal workers to not view the once secret cables or else. And, HBGary, a cybersecurity services firm, developed a plan to sabotage WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America (it now will likely face a Congressional probe).

WikiLeaks has demonstrated where media reform activists need to apply pressure to expand freedom and justice in American society.

On policy and politics, the issue of net neutrality is made clear. As Timothy Karr of Free Press said on an edition of Democracy Now!, “Should companies or the government be allowed to censor and block content that’s on the web at will, or do they need to follow constitutional law?” The US government’s current answer to that question is why WikiLeaks has asked individuals or organization to set up mirror sites to host the leaked information it has released.

Additionally, the organization has seen individuals sympathetic to it targeted. Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp, each with links to WikiLeaks, face an order from the Department of Justice to allow government to look at their Twitter account data to help with the government’s investigation of WikiLeaks. The case touches on issues of privacy, as the judge hearing the three’s legal arguments against disclosing information has argued the order is “a routine compelled disclosure of non-content information which petitioners voluntarily provided to Twitter pursuant to Twitter’s Privacy Policy.”

WikiLeaks has shown how movements can benefit from making a commitment to government openness and transparency a component of their struggle. US State Embassy cables were faxed into Egypt during the Egyptian uprising. Information activists believed the cables had the power to move Egyptians to join the revolution.

When it comes to journalism and public media, WikiLeaks shows how professional journalists in the corporate or Beltway media find themselves to be part of an elite class. They think citizens need them to understand and process current events and the political issues of the day. They find they should be deciding what to cover and what to leak and should cooperate with government when making decisions on coverage and leaks. Their worst fear is an organization like WikiLeaks that levels the playing field and challenges their “gatekeeper” role in society by publishing previously secret information for the public to read and cover on their own blog. They do not want citizen journalists to become as credible as they have historically been because then they might have to confront their allegiance and fealty to power. They do not want to be held accountable for failing to engage in the investigative journalism Americans should expect from the press.

WikiLeaks does not have a base of operations in the United States. Its founder Julian Assange is not a US citizen. Yet, the government has opened up a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia to investigate WikiLeaks and politicians like Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein would like to go after Assange and prosecute him under the Espionage Act. Bradley Manning, alleged to have leaked the information, continues to face inhumane treatment at Quantico Marine brig in Virginia. And, the political class remains committed to ensuring whistleblower protections for federal employees are further curtailed.

Media reform activists should learn from the government’s response to WikiLeaks. Organizations within the movement for media reform and justice should note how the limits of freedom in American democracy have been exposed.

The press’ indifference to WikiLeaks means media reform activists must increase their investment and reliance on independent media willing to openly admit, as the great muckraker I.F. Stone said, governments lie. It means singling out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others that promote Internet freedom abroad but overtly or covertly subvert it within the US. And, it means working to make it harder for the US government to criminalize and discredit those who use technology and innovation to its full potential.

Whether US citizens accept the limits power seeks to prescribe or impose will greatly determine the future of media and democracy, especially as media work to tell the stories of workers and the poor–that are being forced to bear the brunt of revitalizing an economy the financial sector helped collapse–and fight to expose the work of corporations that have hijacked American democracy.