Category Archives: Commentary

Tributes to Aaron Swartz

The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime” by Alex Stamos

I did not know Aaron Swartz, unless you count having copies of a person’s entire digital life on your forensics server as knowing him. I did once meet his father, an intelligent and dedicated man who was clearly pouring his life into defending his son. My deepest condolences go out to him and the rest of Aaron’s family during what must be the hardest time of their lives.

If the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, so be it, but in the meantime I feel a responsibility to correct some of the erroneous information being posted as comments to otherwise informative discussions at Reddit, Hacker News and Boing Boing. Apparently some people feel the need to self-aggrandize by opining on the guilt of the recently departed, and I wanted to take this chance to speak on behalf of a man who can no longer defend himself. I had hoped to ask Aaron to discuss these issues on the Defcon stage once he was acquitted, but now that he has passed it is important that his memory not be besmirched by the ignorant and uninformed. I have confirmed with Aaron’s attorneys that I am free to discuss these issues now that the criminal case is moot.

I was the expert witness on Aaron’s side of US vs Swartz, engaged by his attorneys last year to help prepare a defense for his April trial. Until Keker Van Nest called iSEC Partners I had very little knowledge of Aaron’s plight, and although we have spoken or attended many of the same events we had never once met. Read the rest

RIP, Aaron Swartz by Cory Doctorow 

My friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday, Jan 11. He was 26. I got woken up with the news about an hour ago. I’m still digesting it — I suspect I’ll be digesting it for a long time — but I thought it was important to put something public up so that we could talk about it. Aaron was a public guy.

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

But he was also unmistakably a kid then, too. He would only eat white food. We’d go to a Chinese restaurant and he’d order steamed rice. I suggested that he might be a supertaster and told him how to check it out, and he did, and decided that he was. We had a good talk about the stomach problems he faced and about how he would need to be careful because supertasters have a tendency to avoid “bitter” vegetables and end up deficient in fibre and vitamins. He immediately researched the hell out of the subject, figured out a strategy for eating better, and sorted it. The next time I saw him (in Chicago, where he lived — he took the El a long way from the suburbs to sit down and chat with me about distributed hash caching), he had a whole program in place. Read the rest

Prosecutor as bully by Lawrence Lessig

(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.)

Since his arresting the early morning of January 11, 2011 — two years to the day before Aaron Swartz ended his life — I have known more about the events that began this spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer that morning. He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help. When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt, but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt.

The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us. But as I’ve read these aches, there’s one strain I wish we could resist: 

Please don’t pathologize this story.

No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.

First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine. Read the rest

The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz by Glenn Greenwald

Aaron Swartz, the computer programmer and internet freedom activist, committed suicide on Friday in New York at the age of 26. As the incredibly moving remembrances from his friends such as Cory Doctorow and Larry Lessig attest, he was unquestionably brilliant but also - like most everyone - a complex human being plagued by demons and flaws. For many reasons, I don’t believe in whitewashing someone’s life or beatifying them upon death. But, to me, much of Swartz’s tragically short life was filled with acts that are genuinely and, in the most literal and noble sense, heroic. I think that’s really worth thinking about today.

At the age of 14, Swartz played a key role in developing the RSS software that is still widely used to enable people to manage what they read on the internet. As a teenager, he also played a vital role in the creation of Reddit, the wildly popular social networking news site. When Conde Nast purchased Reddit, Swartz received a substantial sum of money at a very young age. He became something of a legend in the internet and programming world before he was 18. His path to internet mogul status and the great riches it entails was clear, easy and virtually guaranteed: a path which so many other young internet entrepreneurs have found irresistible, monomaniacally devoting themselves to making more and more money long after they have more than they could ever hope to spend. Read the rest


Stealing Ideas by Kevin Webb, written shortly after Swartz received his initial indictment in 2011.

Teaching Torture

Michael Collins


Texas School District(s) Allow Male Administrators to Paddle Female Students

Sometimes keeping up with our societal decline becomes a bit too much. For example:

SPRINGTOWN, Texas — Like many schools in Texas, “spare the rod and spoil the child” might be considered the motto at Springtown High School.

But when two teenage girls there reportedly suffered bruises after being paddled by male assistant principals, some parents complained. They weren’t upset about the punishment itself, but instead that the school violated the policy requiring an educator of the same sex as the student to dole out the paddling. Associated Press, September 24 2012

The school board for Sprigtown, Texas responded by expanding official policy to allow male administrators to paddle female students. There were no restrictions on prurient motives or sexual arousal by male administrators while administering the structured beatings. AP failed to report any serious questioning of the process save those by People Opposed to Paddling Students, a Texas-wide organization opposed to corporal punishment. Seventy-five percent of Texas school districts allow paddling as punishment, some for minor offenses up the line of disciplinary. (Image:  The Faculty)

But Texas isn’t the only state where parents serve up their daughters to paddling. Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi allow liberal corporal punishment of K-12 students. The national ranking for these state educational systems are 42, 43, 44, and 35 respectively. Along with Texas (rank, 26), these five contiguous states form a pedagogic arc of adult deviance.

New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey, the top five ranked K-12 states for education have little to no corporal punishment allowed in public schools

Can these paddling educators read or research?

We hear a lot about teacher competence and the tests required to demonstrate fundamental skills. Maybe we need assessment for reading and research abilities for K-12 school administrators who spank and the state education departments, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico states mentioned previously.

It wouldn’t take a lot of reading and research to find Murray Strauss’ classic research summary, Beating the Devil out of Them. A meticulous researcher, Straus is a prolific researcher and author. He provides a summary of his research findings in Chapter 10 (full text). Here are just a few.

Spanking doesn’t work unless you want enhance your child’s prospects of growing up to be depressed or violent.

Children who are spanked consistently tend to be more aggressive than children who are not.

Spanking diminishes the parent-child attachment bond and produces children who have a much less developed sense of conscience than those who are not spanked.

If the pedagogic paddlers are truly motivated, they might continue with the bibliography from the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. They would find hundreds of research studies on corporal punishment, child victimization of all types, family violence, violence against children, etc.

I wouldn’t count on any research activity by corporal punishment heavy stats and school districts any time soon. In many cases, paddling and other corporal punishments are more about the needs or visceral reactions of adults than they are about any perceived benefit for the victim and his/her peers. More narcissism, less boundaries, and no responsibility by adults who physically abuse children in the name school discipline.


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The Money Party

Iceland shows leadership again with Wikileaks decision

Is Iceland the only country that is not a corporatacracy? When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Iceland faced what Greece, Italy, Spain and France are now facing. They were bankrupt with long-term massive debt, much of it attributed to shady banking practices and a failure of government regulators.  U.S. and European governments responded to the manufactured crisis by offering hefty bailouts to “save” financial institutions that were “too big to fail” while sentencing their greater societies to failure. 

Breaking from the pack, Iceland told its bankers they could pay for their own mistakes and crimes rather than stick citizens with the the bill, enact severe austerity budgets and give up their sovereignty to the IMF, Central Bank and World Bank. It wasn’t a painless process to reach that decision. Icelanders took part in massive protests, much like we are seeing in Greece, Spain, Britain, Italy and the United States. The difference is that Iceland’s government listened. Today, Iceland has one of the fastest-growing GDPs and among the lowest rates of unemployment. It has repaid its international loans ahead of schedule. 

Now Iceland has shown its independence from corporate powerhouses again. Reykjavík District Court ruled July 12 that Valitor, formerly VISA Iceland, violated contract laws by blocking credit card donations to Wikileaks. The court ordered Valitor, which processes transactions for Visa and Mastarcard, to open the donation gateway to Wikileaks within 14 days or it will be assessed a fee of 800 000 ISK ($6,200) each day it fails to comply.

U.S. financial institutions, including VISA, Bank of America, MasterCard and a half dozen other companies, acted outside legal frameworks, almost certainly at the urging of the  U.S. government, in creating a banking blockade against WikiLeaks shortly afterr the whistleblower site published embarrassing evidence of U.S. war crimes and dubious activities of certain U.S. embassies in 2010. The blockade effectively froze $20 million in donations from all over the world that were intended for Wikileaks.

People around the world who cheer for Iceland are trying to move their own governments to act in the national interest. Instead, the majority of government leaders have alligned themselves with powerful industrry lobbyists and well-connected heirs apparent.

It’s true Iceland is a small country, about the size of Kentucky, with a homogenous population of just 320,000 compared to the extremely diverse United States with 314 million. Still, the tiny nation offers those much greater in size and wealth lessons on how to respond to a crisis with integrity and indepenence. 


Rebekah Brooks, Witness for the Prosecution

By Michael Collins

Criminal charges against Rupert Murdoch insider and favorite Rebekah Brooks may be a prelude to looming charges arising out of Brooaks’ testimony before the Leveson Inquiry last week.

Crown Prosecution Services charged Brooks, her husband, and four others with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on Tuesday May 15. The alleged conspiracy took place between July 6 and July 19, 2011.

Brooks and the co-conspirators concealed and removed materials sought by police in their investigation of phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation subsidiary, News International, according to prosecutors. Brooks resigned as chief executive officer of the subsidiary on July 15, 2011. (Image: SnowViolent)

Brooks’ current legal troubles should not obscure the significance of her testimony before the Leveson Inquiry last week. During her several hours on the witness stand, she was confronted with an explosive email that, if true, implicates Conservative Party Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a conspiracy to pervert the British regulatory process in favor of News Corporation’s bid to acquire the ten-million-subscriber pay TV company BSkyB.  News Corp owns 39% of the company.  It sought the remaining 61%.

The acquisition was absolutely critical for for News Corp.  BSkyB accounted for 14% of News Corp net income in 2011.  Had the Murdoch’s completed the acquisition by the start of 2011, BSkyB would have accounted for 36% of 2011 profits.

In addition to the Hunt-BSkyB evidence, Brooks’ testimony at the Leveson Inquiry last week may result in additional charges of hiding and destroying evidence.

Were the emails lost on Brooks’ BlackBerry part of the conspiracy to pervert the course of justice?

When Brooks left the News International CEO position in 2012, she surrendered her BlackBerry to the company. Under questioning by Queen’s Counsel Robert Jay of the Leveson Inquiry on May 11, 2012, she noted of the emails that the BlackBerry had contained: “We had to image them and we had some problems with that.” (See Brooks Blackberry.) The emails were all destroyed except one, a compressed message from Prime Minister David Cameron that had no content.

Queen’s Counsel Jay pinned down the dates of the missing emails in this question: “So we have, as you explain, emails and texts which only cover a limited period, from the beginning of June 2011 until, you say, 17 July. Maybe 15 July or 17 July. Brooks responded, “I think it was the 17th.”

Those dates include a portion of the time period during which prosecutors allege that Brooks engaged in the conspiracy to pervert justice. Brooks claimed that “my Blackberry was imaged by my legal team,” the point at which the emails disappeared. If the lost BlackBerry emails are part of evidence destroyed or hidden, maybe it wasn’t Brooks’ legal team that imaged the BlackBerry and hid or destroyed the stored messages. No one on her legal team was charged in the conspiracy by Crown Prosecution Services.

Could it be that Brooks was somehow responsible for the destroyed or hidden emails? If so, her inquiry testimony last week makes her the star witness for her own prosecution. There is little doubt that Brooks provided vital evidence for any future prosecution of Jeremy Hunt.

The Michel-to-Brooks smoking gun email, June 27, 2011

The high point of the Brooks testimony last Friday came when Queen’s Counsel asked about an email sent at 16:29 on June 27, 2011: “Frederic Michel sends an email and it goes to just you” (full email). Brooks seemed surprised even though she had reviewed the evidence prior to the hearing: “I would be surprised if it just came to me.  As you’ve seen from the previous emails, they were always copies in to the same — almost the same group of people, but perhaps it was directly to me.” (See Brooks 5.)
At the opening of the email, Michel tells Brooks that “Hunt will be making references to phone hacking in his statement on ­ this week … hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issue.”

Plurality refers to the criterion Jeremy Hunt has outlined as the basis for approving News Corp’s bid to acquire the remaining shares of BSkyB. The term references the number and diversity of media outlets available to the British public. If the acquisition reduced media plurality, there would be cause to deny the bid (an unlikely outcome). Michel claimed that Hunt would exclude the explosive phone hacking allegations against News Corp’s British newspapers from his considerations on bid approval.

If true, Michel’s statement implies a conspiracy between Hunt and News Corp to rig the BSkyB approval process. Hunt would be acting as an agent for News Corp.

The Michel-to-Brooks memo ends with this: “JH [Hunt] is now starting to look into phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and Number 10′s [Cameron’s] positioning.”

The closing elaborates the opening paragraph and expands the conspiracy from Culture Secretary Hunt to Prime Minister Cameron.

In her reply to Michel, Brooks asks “when is the rubicon [sic] statement” and Michel responds “Probably Wednesday” (June 29, 2011).

Is Michel’s smoking gun email reliable? Look at the evidence.

News Corp apologists have seeded the media with the notion that Michel, News Corp’s chief lobbyist on the BSkyB acquisition, is some sort of Walter Mitty who exaggerates claims of his access. Brooks even alluded to this in her testimony.

Rather than rely on name calling, let’s look at the evidence based on Hunt’s behavior after June 27, 2011, to determine the veracity of the claims in the email and the implications about a Hunt-News Corp conspiracy to rig approval of the BSkyB bid. (Image:  DCMS)

Thursday, June 30, 2011, House of Commons: Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Tom Watson asked Culture Secretary Hunt:… if he will make a statement on the News Corporation acquisition of BSkyB.” Hunt replied, “Earlier today, I placed a written statement before the House outlining the next steps in my consideration of the potential merger between News Corp and BSkyB.” That statement, he said, reflected changes in his process of approving the bid that offered “a further layer of very important safeguards.”

Hunt made his statement to the House of Commons on Thursday, in line with Michel’s predictions in his email to Brooks.  Was the written statement to which Hunt referred the “rubicon statement” Brooks had asked about in her reply to Michel?

What did Hunt say in his written statement on the News Corp bid to acquire BSkyB?

Written Ministerial Statement: News Corp/BSkyB merger, Jeremy Hunt, June 30, 2011 (or here)

“I believe that there are sufficient safeguards to ensure compliance with the undertakings [by News Corp]. Furthermore, the various agreements [between News Corp and the government] entered into pursuant to the undertakings will each be enforceable contracts. Therefore whilst the phone hacking allegations are very serious they were not material to my consideration.”

Hunt announced that he was in favor of approving the bid and that he was referring the News Corp acquisition to the Competition Commission. He outlined the new safeguards he had referenced to MP Watson and, in the last sentence, separated “phone hacking allegations” from his considerations. To remove any impact of the outrage against News Corp for phone hacking, Hunt had structured the referral to make sure that the Competition Commission would be “constrained to rule on issues of media plurality” only.

Hunt was playing a double game with the public, it seems. On July 20, 2011, Hunt told the BBC, “The question that News International have to answer is why malpractice happened throughout a very important part of their organisation without people like Rupert Murdoch knowing,”

Hunt was simply acting out the strategy that Michel talked about in the smoking gun email, separating the real prize, the approval of the BSkyB acquisition, from the hacking scandal while talking tough on the scandal.

Michel’s smoking gun email is clearly reliable evidence of a News Corp-Cameron government conspiracy to rig approval of News Corp’s BSkyB acquisition. Hunt’s behavior, just what the email predicted, demonstrates that the email is highly reliable evidence of that conspiracy.

Hunt went to Parliament to make a key statement on the bid within Michel’s time frame. He took the position that Michel had said he would on the bid. And, most cynically, Hunt separated the issue of corporate responsibility and fitness represented by Murdoch media properties from the approval criteria for the bid.

Ironically, to fend off the intense attacks on Hunt after the testimony of Rupert and James Murdoch in mid-April, PM Cameron suggested that the Leveson Inquiry would be the forum that would best judge Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s suitability for office.

That judgment is clear - Hunt acted as an agent for News Corp.

The inquiry also foreshadowed the charges against Rebekah Brooks for perverting the course of justice by destroying evidence.

How many careers will Rupert Murdoch end during his descent into a maelstrom of business and political oblivion?

More importantly, how many lives has Murdoch destroyed through the nihilistic news and editorial policies throughout his media empire?


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Rebekah Brooks Leveson Inquiry with Comments

The Money Party

Stealing Ideas

Reading about Aaron Swartz’s most recent run-in with the law dredged up all kinds of feelings. I’m a long-time admirer of his work and was obviously saddened to hear of his troubles. At the same time, reading the indictment I was surprised by the seriousness of the charges and evidence against him.

I was also reminded of my own attempts at similar work, collecting and analyzing journal articles, patents,  and various forms of metadata. I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve spent sitting in basements of academic buildings, breaking federal laws in the pursuit of answers. And I was reminded of my colleagues who still spend their days painstakingly scraping data off the web–sometimes legally sometimes not–the name of academic inquiry.

None of us want to break the law. It’s simply that we don’t have a choice.

The mechanisms for sharing academic discourse are broken. They barely even function as systems for connecting interested parties within existing disciplines. Ask just about anyone who spends their time writing or consuming scholarly work and you will hear a litany of complaints about how poorly suited the academic publishing industry is to modern day collaboration.

I’ve spent most of my professional career just outside of the academy but have seen the failures of these systems first hand. I formed my opinion on the matter as a undergraduate assistant in a major neuroscience laboratory –- building publishing tools to help the lab’s director break copyright law.

His work regularly appeared in and on the cover of major journals. Yet he was in a field that was moving faster than the journals could help facilitate. He took matters into his own hands by publishing the articles on the laboratory’s site, almost always violating the licensing terms of his own work (rights now held by Elsevier or AAAS, not the author). I asked about the legality of what we were doing and was told not to worry. If the journals didn’t like him bending or breaking the law he’d publish elsewhere and it would be their loss.

As far as I know the publishers understood the bargain and never complained. Unfortunately this sort of non-aggression pact is available only to a select few. Your average untenured neuroscience professor doesn’t have the luxury of pissing off Science or Nature.

But for those of us interested in meta-analysis –- these questions about questions that people like Aaron and myself are forced to pursue from basement wiring cabinets, scraping large swaths of text from the web–the hobbled and clunky tools for downloading PDFs through research library proxy servers, one poorly OCR’ed page at a time, simply do not work.

If you want to understand the collaborative nature of a specific field or follow the trajectory of an idea across disciplines a reference librarian can’t help you. Instead, you have to become a felon.

What’s missing from the news articles about Aaron’s arrest is a realization that the methods of collection and analysis he’s used are exactly what makes companies like Google valuable to its shareholders and its users. The difference is that Google can throw the weight of its name behind its scrapers, just as my former boss used his name to set the terms with those publishing his work.

Aaron and the other “hackers and thieves” like him don’t have that option. But their work is no less important–they are collecting and organizing information in order to ask deep questions about the nature of academic discourse. Unfortunately for most, the structure of the publishing industry and the laws that surround creative works prevent these questions from being asked, at least without taking sometimes substantial risks.

It shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be this way but there are at least two main issues holding back progress:

First, as a society we’ve forgotten the Jeffersonian ideal that intellectual property laws should enable and encourage the spread of ideas and creative pursuits rather than lock them away.  Many have fought for a return to this vision, however, the prospects for such change seem dim. If there’s anywhere this idea should still have a fighting chance, it’s within the walls of universities.

However, it is this most basic failure, our inability to create a rational set intellectual property laws, that necessitates the creation of things like JSTOR. We shouldn’t need it in the first place. Nor should anyone curious enough to ask questions as big as Aaron’s ever need to break JSTOR or the law to find answers.

We should offer people with big questions more than a trip to jail–we should celebrate their willingness to explore our collective intellectual heritage. Universities should take the lead in building the platforms needed to support such inquiry. It is an embarrassment that JSTOR is the best the academy has to offer.

But this leads to the second and perhaps more fundamental problem: journals are only partly about communicating. They’re also about controlling academic discourse. The editorial power held by journals and those that run them (quite different from those that own them) shapes most academic careers and the very structure of disciplines. It’s almost certain that pursuing new forms of collaboration and communication will reshape these power structures–sometimes subtly, sometimes not. That’s the nature of change.

Change, however, doesn’t come easily within academic communities. It should be no surprise that universities have done far more to free the content of their courses than they have the content of their publications. The former has economic value, however, the latter holds the keys to the academy itself.

This conservatism is at least in part responsible for why, despite the new possibilities offered by the web, most scholarly work is still published as though it were 1580. It’s also responsible for allowing a handful of powerful corporations to gate access to this knowledge and make authors pay for the privilege of signing away rights to their own work.

Sir Tim Burners Lee invented the web to solve this very problem. Twenty years later it allows us to do almost everything imaginable–except get unfettered access to scholarly communication. 

It is not technology that holds us back.

Aaron’s arrest should be a wake up call to universities–evidence of how fundamentally broken this core piece of their architecture remains despite decades of progress in advancing communication and collaboration.

The MIT staff who called the FBI police* would have been served better by calling the chancellor to ask, “How have we created a system that forces 24 year-olds to sneak around in the basement, hiding hard-drives in closets in order to ask basic and important questions about our work? Can’t we do better?”

Update: I’m not OK with scraping JSTOR or any other copyrighted data source for the purpose of re-distribution. Some, including the FBI federal prosecutors, have made the claim that’s what Aaron planned to with the data. Others have pointed to his past research analyzing influence in academic writing. I have no insight into his real intentions, however, I do believe the latter goal is important and likely not possible without breaking the kinds of laws discussed above.

Also, it’s true that JSTOR does offer a bulk interface for research users. That interface didn’t exist when I was doing my work. But it’s not clear it would have made any difference. There are many, many research applications, including mine, that are still not possible with approved means of accessing data. Giving researchers a straw is not a useful response to requests for open and complete access. We shouldn’t settle for less.

 * For those interested in the blow by blow: since writing this post I’ve learned that no one at MIT called the FBI–in fact it’s not clear the FBI was ever involved. As I now understand it, the local police were called to investigate a break-in. Because this involved network equipment the Secret Service were called by the Cambridge police. After that the investigation took on a life of its own outside the MIT campus.

Originally published July 19, 2011, here

Reaction to Osama bin Laden's death runs deeper than celebration videos

Video of Americans’ first reaction to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, depict young men and women celebrating with joy at Ground Zero in New York and in front of the White House in Washington. Some of the footage looked out of context, like fans reacting to their team winning the Super Bowl instead of a sobering closure to a very bad chapter in history.

This is the image shown to the world. But it isn’t the whole picture. Below are some thoughtful responses to the death of America’s “Enemy Number 1″ as well as American response from a psychiatrist, a Christian ethics scholar and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In his short essay, “Celebrating Death,” James Knolls, a forensic psychiatrist and editor of Psychiatric Times quotes the 6th Century Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, then asks:

Can this be something to celebrate? Should it be something to celebrate? What can this tell us about ourselves? What is the “proper” reaction?”

His May 4 article includes a photo of little girls with hand-scrawled signs celebrating the death of bin Laden. One can’t help drawing a parallel between these images and those we’ve seen of young children in the Middle East shouting “death to America!” or little girls painting “love from Israel” on bombs that would be dropped on Lebanon. 

David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, asked in a May 2 essay that Americans reflect on their ideas on war and peace.

“Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemies Fall”

 “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
—Proverbs 24:17

We feel compelled to respond today to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States and to the jubilant response across the nation.

A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense.

But as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.

In that sense, President Obama’s sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.

NPR’s On Being program published the essay in its entirety. 

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IAVW) issued a public statement on May 3 urging Americans to respond with restraint and think of all the victims of 911.

“While it is right to remember those who died on 9/11, we should also be equally mindful of all those who have died as a result of our misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of U.S. troops killed has topped 6,000 and estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan range in the hundreds of thousands.” — Jose Vasquez, Executive Director, IVAW

Osama Bin Laden is Dead, What Next?

“Sunday night IVAW learned with the rest of the nation that Osama Bin Laden was killed and his body captured by a team of U.S. Special Forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  In light of our resolution condemning the occupation of Afghanistan adopted in 2009, we have followed this important news closely and want to share our perspective with supporters, elected officials, policymakers, the press, and the public at large.

Like many other Americans, IVAW welcomes the news of this weakening blow to Al-Qaeda and its threat to our nation and the world. Our hearts go out to the thousands of survivors and family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks as they search for closure in this event.

As service members and veterans who have experienced the Global War on Terror firsthand, we respectfully encourage the American people to consider the killing of Bin Laden with a measure of restraint. His death is only a symbolic victory. Although there is no doubt Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, the path chosen by the Bush administration following 9/11 and continued under President Obama’s watch has cost us more than any one terrorist mastermind ever could. While it is right to remember those who died on 9/11, we should also be equally mindful of all those who have died as a result of our misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of U.S. troops killed has topped 6,000 and estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan range in the hundreds of thousands.

The elimination of Bin Laden proves that our nation’s security issues are managed more effectively through political diplomacy and small, targeted attacks than costly mass military action. Our government has spared no expense in carrying out operations with no clear objectives or an end in sight, squandering trillions of dollars in spite of our nation’s economic crisis. Any citizen who is serious about the consequences of our foreign policy, the rule of law, or a true sense of justice needs to ask, has it been worth it? Whether you measure the tremendous costs of these wars in human lives or dollars, our position is that it has not been worth it.

The president claims that, “we can say that justice has been done.’’ But achieving real justice will not happen until the U.S. has removed all occupying forces and returned the right of self-determination to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Obama administration now has an opportunity to bring our troops home and scale back our military commitments overseas. Americans must reflect on the injustice of our own actions through violating international law, committing torture, suspending habeas corpus, and not holding our own leaders accountable.

Clearly our attempts to solve all our problems militarily have not worked. It is our sincere hope that President Obama will not conduct business as usual. While the president and his advisors will seek to capitalize politically on Bin Laden’s killing, it remains to be seen whether our foreign policy will change to reflect these new developments. Having removed Bin Laden from the equation, President Obama has lost a major source of rationalization for our continued occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. We reject any plans to extend our commitments elsewhere and want to see a hastening of the time line for withdrawal.”


Tea Party Crashes: The Most Unpatriotic Act

by Susan Lindauer

I confess that since November I’ve been holding my breath, watching the clock for how long Tea Party newcomers could hold out against the entrenched Republican elite on Capitol Hill. Collapse was inevitable, however I admit to feeling bitterly surprised at how rapidly they have thrown in the towel.

“My disappointment is particularly acute. Rather notoriously, I am distinguished as the second non-Arab American to face indictment under the Patriot Act, after Jose Padilla.” - Susan Lindauer

For the record, most of the Tea Party quit their principles of liberty on February 14, 2011—20 days into the new Congress—when Tea Party leaders abruptly abandoned their opposition to the Patriot Act and voted to extend intrusive domestic surveillance, wire tapping and warrantless searches of American citizens.  In so doing, they exposed the fraud of their soaring campaign promises to defend the liberty of ordinary Americans, and fight government intrusions on freedom. All those wide eyed speeches that flowed with such thrilling devotions, all of it proved to be self-aggrandizing lies.

The Tea Party didn’t even put up a fight. Briefly they rejected a sneak attack to renew three surveillance clauses of the Patriot Act on a suspension vote. That filled my heart with hope. One push from the Republican elite, however and they went down with a loud thud.

My disappointment is particularly acute. Rather notoriously, I am distinguished as the second non-Arab American to face indictment on the Patriot Act, after Jose Padilla.

My status was pretty close to an enemy non-combatant. One would presume that I must have joined some terrorist conspiracy? Or engaged in some brutal act of sedition, such as stock piling weapons and munitions to overthrow those crooks in Congress?

You would be wrong. I got indicted for protesting the War in Iraq. My crime was delivering a warm-hearted letter to my second cousin White House Chief of Staff, Andy Card, which correctly outlined the consequences of war. Suspiciously, I had been one of the very few assets covering the Iraqi Embassy at the United Nations for seven years. Thus, I was personally acquainted with the truth about pre-war intelligence, which differs remarkably from the story invented by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.

More dangerously still, my team gave advance warnings about the 9/11 attack and solicited Iraq’s cooperation after 9/11. In August 2001, at the urging of my CIA handler, I phoned Attorney General John Ashcroft’s private staff and the Office of Counter-Terrorism to ask for an “emergency broadcast alert” across all federal agencies, seeking any fragment of intelligence on airplane hijackings. My warning cited the World Trade Center as the identified target. Highly credible independent sources have confirmed that in August, 2001 I described the strike on the World Trade Center as “imminent,” with the potential for “mass casualties, possibly using a miniature thermonuclear device.”

Thanks to the Patriot Act, Americans have zero knowledge of those truths, though the 9/11 community has zoomed close for years. Republican leaders invoked the Patriot Act to take me down 30 days after I approached the offices of Senator John McCain and Trent Lott, requesting to testify about Iraq’s cooperation with the 9/11 investigation and a comprehensive peace framework that would have achieved every U.S. and British objective without firing a shot. Ironically, because of the Patriot Act, my conversations with Senator Trent Lott’s staff got captured on wire taps, proving my story.

You see, contrary to rhetoric on Capitol Hill, the Patriot Act is first and foremost a weapon to bludgeon whistleblowers and political dissidents. Indeed, it has been singularly crafted for that purpose.

“The Patriot Act is first and foremost a weapon to bludgeon whistleblowers and political dissidents. Indeed, it has been singularly crafted for that purpose.” — Susan Lindauer

The American people are not nearly as frightened as they should be. Many Americans expect the Patriot Act to limit its surveillance to overseas communications. Yet while I was under indictment, Maryland State Police invoked the Patriot Act to wire tap activists tied to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an environmental group dedicated to wind power, solar energy and recycling. The DC Anti-War Network was targeted as a “white supremacist group.” Amnesty International and anti-death penalty activists got targeted for alleged “civil rights violations.”

All of these are American activists engaged in lawful disputes of government policy. All of them got victimized by the surveillance techniques approved by Tea Party leaders, because they pursued a policy agenda that contradicted current government policies. The Tea Party swore to defend the freedom of independent thinking in Congressional campaigns. One presumes those promises are now forgotten until the next election.

I cannot forget. I cannot forget how I was subjected to secret charges, secret evidence and secret grand jury testimony that denied my right to face my accusers or their accusations in open court, throughout five years of indictment. I cannot forget my imprisonment on a Texas military base for a year without a trial or evidentiary hearing.

I cannot forget how the FBI, the US Attorneys Office, the Bureau of Prisons and the main Justice office in Washington — independently and collectively verified my story— then falsified testimony to Chief Justice Michael Mukasey, denying our 9/11 warnings and my long-time status as a U.S. intelligence Asset, though my witnesses had aggressively confronted them. Apparently the Patriot Act allows the Justice Department to withhold corroborating evidence and testimony from the Court, if it is deemed “classified.”

I cannot forget threats of forcible drugging and indefinite detention up to 10 years, until I could be “cured” of believing what everybody wanted to deny— because it was damn inconvenient to politicians in Washington anxious to hold onto power.

Some things are unforgivable in a democracy. The Patriot Act would be right at the top of that list. Nobody who has supported that wretched law should ever be allowed to brag of defending liberty again. That goes for the Tea Party. By voting to extend surveillance of American citizens, they have abandoned the principles of freedom that brought about their rise to power. They have shown their true face.

It is a face that we, the people, will remember.  I, for one, have no intention of allowing them to forget.

Susan Lindauer is the author of EXTREME PREJUDICE: The Terrifying Story of the Patriot Act and the Cover Ups of 9/11 and Iraq

Crime light: When pumas of the mind attack it’s not good for one’s health

by Sandy Sand

South Pasadena, Calif. — It was an imaginary attack by a pack of pumas that initiated a response by South Pasadena police to a man who had treed himself earlier this week.

Police were called to the scene at 3:30 a.m. in response to reports that a man was trapped in a tree after thinking he was being pursed by a pack of mountain lions, said South Pasadena police St. Brian Solinksy.

Solinksy said the unidentified 41-year-old Los Angeles man was allegedly drunk and sought protection from imaginary pumas by scrambling 20-feet up into a tree where he got stuck. The fire department was called to assist in the extraction of the man from his predicament, but somehow he had managed to get himself out of the tree when firefighters arrived.

He was arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness and was kept in police custody until he sobered up, Solinksy said.

Hallucinations are a common symptom when a drinker suddenly stops drinking. Hallucinations may develop five to 10 hours after the last drink, or days later, according to the National Institutes of Health. They can last for a few hours up to weeks at a time.

Some are shaking over government’s new sodium guidelines

by K.J. Lansing

Last week the federal government decided that half of Americans must reduce the amount of salt in their diets by 50 percent.

Guidelines set by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, which are revised every five years, are now advising 51-year-olds and older, African-Americans or anyone suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure or chronic kidney disease to limit their daily salt consumption to just over a half-teaspoon, and that isn’t a measurement that comes flowing from a salt shaker; it’s the total amount of salt including all the sodium that’s hidden almost every prepared, canned or frozen food that’s purchased at supermarkets throughout the country.

Now, if you know you suffer from any of the above mentioned diseases, wouldn’t one assume that you are under the care of a doctor? Just as women’s reproductive decisions should be between her and her physician, isn’t it up to the doctor to advise his patients if too high a salt intake is hazardous to their health? You’d think that someone who knows he has these diseases also knows to read labels and put a governor on the salt cellar.

Looking as if they’re being proactive, certain food processors, such as ConAgra, Kraft, General Mills, Heinz, Campbell’s Soup and Progresso have said they are committed to lowering the sodium values in their products, but…according to them…this will be a multi-year process to slowly eliminate the salt, because they don’t want people to notice the difference.

Sounds a whole lot like treating their customers like children, and I’ve got news for them, they’re not fooling anyone!

Progresso used to make fine tasting soups. After opening a can the other day and tasting the watered down slop they were passing off as regular soup, I checked to see if I’d accidentally bought the low-sodium variety.

Nope! Nowhere on the can did it say “low-sodium.”

I poured it back in the pot and kept stirring, reheating and adding salt to make it taste like people-fit food. Never happened. I couldn’t add enough salt; it all went into the garbage pail along with all my Progresso coupons.

They’ll never fool us, just as whomever makes Lorna Doones can tell me their cookies are better without coconut oil. They simply aren’t. I’m only going to live once, and I don’t think a bag of Lorna Doones once or twice a year is going to kill me if it contains a little lard or coconut oil.

The food companies may be saying they’re willing to take the salt out of their products slowly to fool their customers, but it’s also a lot of behind-covering on their part, because the Food and Drug Administration has already put them on notice that if they don’t do it voluntarily, it will shoved down their corporate throats just as they’re trying to shove that tasteless slop down ours.

Just because there are a too many people in this country who have chosen to be overweight and are suffering from the complications therein, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to suffer because they’re too stupid or too lazy to eat right.

I not only want the government out of my bedroom, I want them out of my supermarket and therefore out of my kitchen!

Revolutions Know No Color

By Michael Collins

The legitimate demands of the people everywhere have no color, nor do their revolutions.  These are not the revolutions arising from staged events by the White House, the National Endowment for Democracy, and other meddlers.  We are witnessing what Mark Levine called human nationalism.  The people of Tunisia, now Egypt, are, “taking control of their politics, economy and identity away from foreign interests and local elites alike in a manner that has not been seen in more than half a century.” (Image)

Somehow, we are supposed to believe that the English speaking peoples have a corner on democracy.  The rest of the world is still learning.  When the oppressed of a nation, particularly of the third world, stage an uprising, it is neatly packaged and color coded.  That way it’s easier to follow.  The Western leaders and press assume an avuncular pose and pass judgment on how the various colors pass along the path to self-determination — not too fast, not too rowdy, and certainly not too disruptive to first world markets, especially oil.

These assumptions need to be thrown overboard immediately.

When a people have had enough of mistreatment and government corruption, when they have struggled and starved long enough, when they see their children die shortly after birth and their elders pass well before their time, they’ve had enough.  They can be white, brown, yellow or any combination of colors.  They may be in an industrialized or developing nation or living in one with little development.

It is the universal right of all people to live in peace, freedom, and dignity.

This right knows no bounds of education, class, race, status, or religion.

Aspiration to the universal right has an enduring and compelling narrative throughout history.

When Philippine President [dictator] Ferdinand Marcos was seriously challenged in 1986, the people demanded and got a fair election.  This did not sit well with the Marcos faction.  Snipers shot at voters as they stood in line to cast their ballots.  The demand for universal rights displayed by those citizens became clear when they absolutely refused to move away from the voting lines despite the shootings.

When the 2006 Mexican presidential election turned on what many believed to be election fraud, the opposition party offered a strong statement of protest and an affirmation of the rights of self-determination.  Three assemblies took place in Mexico City with over a million people at each rally protesting massive fraud.

When Iranians protested the outcome of their 2009 presidential election, stick, knife, and gun wielding representatives of the ruling faction besieged them.  Kidnappings and show trialscontinues today. followed.  The movement never backed down and

When the people of Egypt saw the change of government in Tunisia, they rose up in a spontaneous protest targeting three decades of dictatorial rule that produced nothing for them.  Worsening food shortages, growing unemployment, and an absence of the most fundamental rights of safe childbirth and reasonable longevity provided the spark.  Their continuous protests and clear demand that the immediate removal of the self-selected president and his cabinet were finally met with violence.  What else would we expect from a regime that tortures its own people? .

The response in the West was cautious at first, as though the United States and the mature democracies had special rights to broker the end of the Mubarak regime.  This was less obdurate than the response to the Tunisian uprising when the State Department said, We don’t take sides.  With regard to Egypt, we heard the expected calls for nonviolence and tentative endorsement of the claims of the people.  When it was more than apparent which way the wind was blowing, there were calls for Mubarak to hold elections, be more reasonable, etc.

The people in Egypt were and are capably  articulating their demands and staging their rebellion.  They want Mubarak out along with his henchmen who preside over the crony capitalist state that lavished riches on a very few at the expense of the many.  They have their own notions of an orderly transition and, likely, don’t care too much what the White House suggests. They have had enough.  To the dictator, now murderer, Mubarak, they say, just leave and we’ll do the rest.  It is the same position repeated over and over, day after day.

Our leaders need to get a few things straight.

You don’t broker the fundamental rights of the people.  You don’t act as though there are two legitimate sides of a conflict when one side commits torture, oppresses the people, and now, with the veil of faux civility lifted, shoots them down.  You don’t talk about an honorable legacy for such a leader without profoundly offending his victims.  The willingness of that regime to cause citizens to suffer at the hands of state authorized thugs diminishes and negates any good act the leader might have done in the service of others.

There is such a thing as right and wrong.  That choice occurs wherever and whenever people have simply had enough and rise up to assert their rights.

Indulging oppressive leaders simply because they are convenient for the ownership of brand democracy is wrong.  In addition, oppressive leaders are highly inconvenient to those who choose to ally with them.  We’re finding that out every day in Egypt.

U.S. leaders and their servants in the media and academia should take a good look at the crowds in Egypt.  The citizens of the United States are more than aware of the massive inequalities in opportunity and wealth.  They notice when millions are forced into foreclosure by a Wall Street-big bank real estate bubble.  They notice the accumulation of wealth in the midst of a financial crisis by the very people who created the crisis.  They see those around them get sick and die without health care.  They notice as millions lose their jobs with little opportunity on the horizon, left with a severely restricted ability to provide for their most basic needs and those of their families.

Brokering fundamental rights is outdated, here or overseas.  It opposes the best instincts and values of the people of the United States.

The ruling elites throughout the world must respect the universal rights of peace, freedom, and dignity.  The people have had enough.


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