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Which Was Worse? Snowden’s Revelations or Cheney’s?
Jan 27th, 2014 by Admin Mugsy

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The latest big-reveal by self-proclaimed “whistle-blower” Edward Snowden over the weekend was the fact that the U.S. government has been using/abusing its electronic surveillance capabilities… intended to protect Americans from terrorism… for “industrial espionage” purposes, providing Corporate America with high-tech secrets from foreign corporations. Set aside for a moment the distasteful notion that we are abusing a massive government anti-terrorism program to profit mega-corporations, because I have a feeling we’re not the only ones. Instead, consider this: Which was more harmful to National Security? Revelations by Snowden about the misuse of the NSA for corporate profit, or members of the Bush White House endangering national security (and likely the lives of numerous agents & informants) just to punish their political enemies? I’m serious. In any sane world, which should be more deserving of outrage? It’s a thought that struck me while listening to the Sunday talk shows yesterday, wondering, “Is Snowden a foreign spy?”, “Did he get help from the Russians?” “Should he be given clemency in exchange for stopping the leaks? Talking heads breathlessly covered Snowden’s latest interview from Russia with a German reporter, where he revealed… with a smile on his face no less… that the American government has been using the NSA to spy on some of the world’s biggest corporations.

Anyone who read my piece three weeks ago questioning the legitimacy of Snowden’s labeling himself as a “whistle-blower” knows I’m no fan of his. Hey, I’m as glad as anyone that this information about abuses of government power is getting out, and hopefully positive changes will come from it. But Snowden’s a glory-hound that decided to take it upon himself to expose rumored government spying on American citizens (remember, we ALREADY KNEW about warrantless wiretapping since the Bush Administration) and who sought out a high-security job with the specific intent of stealing top secret information without actually knowing if abuses he suspected were taking place were in fact taking place. On top of all that, he is deciding for himself what we do or do not deserve to know. He’s unwilling to face justice the way any legitimate reporter or true “whistle-blower” would because he knows he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. So let’s be clear that what I write today should in no way be misconstrued as in defense of Edward Snowden. My point is that, compared to what The Bush White House… and Dick Cheney in particular… revealed about our National Security apparatus in the name of partisan politics was FAR worse with FAR greater National Security implications, resulting in little-to-no outrage on the right (in fact, ranging from indifference to outright support.)

I first detailed the Valery Plame case following the conviction of Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, “Scooter” Libby, in 2007. Libby was convicted of “Obstruction of Justice” for not only refusing to reveal who instructed him to leak the true identity of “Ambassador Wilson’s wife”, but for deliberately misleading investigators attempting to figure it out on their own. Libby should have gone to jail, but President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence because he felt losing his law license and paying a stiff fine were punishment enough for destroying a high-value intelligence asset whose job it was was to monitor Iran’s nuclear program, obliterating any future value of the secret CIA front-company she worked for (“Brewster/Jennings”) that took decades to establish, and endangering not only her life but the lives of every employee that ever worked for the CIA front and any foreign asset known to have associated with them. All of it, gone (and placed in grave danger) in the blink of an eye.

And why did they do it? To undermine the credibility of the guy that exposed their lie about an “Iraqi nuclear program” as justification for war. (And whether or not the Bush Administration also leaked the name of alQaeda informant “Noor Khan” three months before the November election just to score some cheap political points with the voters, we may never know.)

Now compare that to Edward’s Snowden’s yawn-inducing revelation that the government is (still) spying on American citizens and abusing its power to benefit Big Business (that STILL contributed heavily to the Romney campaign.) Now you tell me, which revelation was more damaging to National Security and deserving of more outrage?

 


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Guest Blogger: A Degree Of Civilization; The American Prison System
Jan 20th, 2014 by Ebon

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The degree of civilization in a society may be judged by entering it’s prisons” ~ Dostoevsky

Pop quiz, kids: Which nation has more of it’s populace imprisoned than any other country on earth?

Nope, it’s not China. It’s not Russia either. Cuba? Good guess but they’re number five. According to Wikipedia (which has it’s problems but is generally fairly reliable), the number one prison population on earth is the USA, both per capita and in sheer numbers. In per capita terms, the US locks up around 743 people per 100k. In absolute terms, the BBC tells me that there are 2,193,798 people in prison in the USA. Obviously, that number rises and falls slightly each day as people get imprisoned and released but still, over 2 million people. Red China, where the government is outright oppressive and dictatorial, has around 1.5 million under lock and key but free and democratic America has two million and change locked down.

Of those, around a quarter are there for drug offenses of various kinds. That’s the population of San Bernadino locked up for drug offenses. According to the Department of Justice, 17% of state and 18% of federal prisoners committed their crimes to obtain money for drugs (Bureau of Justice). According to DrugWarFacts.org, around fifty thousand total are held purely for offenses relating to cannabis. Full disclosure: I haven’t smoked pot in about twenty years but I did when I was a teenager and I’m sure a fair few of you did as well. Were we dumb to smoke pot as teenagers? Yeah, probably. But we were teenagers, making dumb decisions is what teenagers do. Another piece of full disclosure: I think pot should be legalized. Age-restricted but otherwise legal, just like alcohol. I still wouldn’t smoke it because taking any form of mind-altering substance is a very bad idea but it makes no difference to me if my neighbour chooses to smoke a joint rather than have a drink. I also don’t want to turn this into a rant about the virtues of legalising weed (although, if you’ve a mind, Salon has a chilling piece about pot sentences) so let’s move on.

Around 40% of the US prison population are black. According to the Census, black people comprise about 14% of the US population but around 40% of prisoners. What explains that? Well, partly, it’s because black people are more likely to live in poverty and poverty is the most reliable indicator of criminal acts during life but it’s mostly because the average prison sentence handed down to a black guy is 20% longer than the sentence for the same crime committed by a white guy (Wall Street Journal). The 100-1 ratio of crack to cocaine sentences has led to the incarceration of thousands of non-violent drug offenders. Even though that difference has been reduced to 18-1, those prisoners remain in the system. The US prison population was mostly static from 1925 onwards. It started to rise in the late Seventies (as crime always rises during recessions) but then it exploded during the Eighties and onwards (Wikimedia). Why is that?

Two reasons. Firstly, the drug war. Let’s be honest here, the drug war has been lost. It is no more difficult to buy a hit of heroin now than it was in 1975. It hasn’t been a success and it can’t be a success. It can’t be a success due to a basic fact of human nature: Where a demand exists, people will appear to meet that demand. That’s just how things work, a basic law of humanity. So the laws against drugs are commonly broken and, by that breaking, a massive number of people are classified as criminals. Now, proponents of the drug war would argue that the laws against murder are commonly broken so should we abandon them too? That’s a fair question. The difference is that murder harms someone else whereas taking drugs, in and of themselves, harms only the taker. What about the crimes committed to support a drug habit, like theft? What about them? We already have laws against theft and I’m not proposing the legalization of all drugs anyway, just of certain soft drugs like pot.

The other thing that changed was the rise of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This is one of the stupidest movements in human history. The whole reason we have a judge deciding sentencing is so that the sentence can reflect the circumstances of the crime and the perp. Mandatory minimums throw out all that human wisdom in favour of flat sentencing that pays no attention to circumstances. In New York, for example, possessing (note that’s possession, not supply) more than four ounces of any hard drug will get you a minimum of fifteen to life. There are easily found stories of people locked up for life under three-strikes laws for offenses as minor as stealing a slice of pizza or a loaf of bread.

And the US does a lousy job of rehabilitating prisoners as well. We’ve all been shown on tv that prisoners get to complete their education. There are good reasons to educate prisoners. A prisoner who earns their GED inside is half as likely to re-offend. A prisoner who earns their college degree will almost certainly never see the inside of a prison again. You might say it’s unfair that people get sent to prison and get a free education. I would respond that firstly, I’d like to make everyone’s education free and secondly, look at the facts. According to a study conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, every dollar spent on inmate education saves twelve dollars in future crimes (ABC News). Another study by UCLA found that a million dollar investment in incarceration produced 350 jobs while that same million invested in education, produced 600 jobs (ibid.). Prisoners used to be able to apply for Pell grants to cover the cost of their courses but that was eliminated in the mid-Nineties. The result is that there isn’t funding for prisoners to get educated. Prison budgets are constantly being cut and the first thing to go, after the gyms that tv thinks are in every prison, are education programs.

Oh, and your prisons are over capacity as well.

So what happens when the average prisoner gets released? He probably hasn’t had a chance to finish his education. Because of the prejudice against ex-cons (in fairness, not entirely undeserved prejudice), he’s probably not going to be able to get a job. Ex-cons are routinely discriminated against in housing, public assistance and education (Guardian). So what does he do simply to get by? Chances are pretty good he goes back to crime. That’s why the recidivism rate in 2004 was about 67% (Bureau of Justice). In countries that take rehabilitation seriously, like Sweden or Canada, it’s about 35% (Released & Restored).

Some would say that we send people to prison to be punished. But we don’t. The prison is the punishment. With the exception of lifers, we send people to prison in the hopes that prison will, in some rough and ready fashion, turn them into honest people. The lifers, we’re just warehousing them until they die (or, in some cases, executing them) but for the rest, we have to acknowledge that they will eventually be released and, if we want them to become productive members of society, we have to equip them to be productive members of society. That means educating them. It means drug rehab facilities, preferably at the end of their prison stay (works better that way). It means making an effort to ensure that ex-cons can find work. Look, I’m not saying that we can just open the gates and let all prisoners free. That would be stupid and, more importantly, unjust. But it’s also unjust that people whose only offense was puffing a joint years ago should be rotting in jail twenty years later. It’s unjust to impose a life as a member of the underclass on someone who has paid their debt to society.

And that’s not even touching on the subject of private prisons. This is another incredibly stupid idea brought to you by the worship of private enterprise. The states and the Fed already do prisons about as cheaply as it’s possible to do them so the only way private prisons can do it cheaper is to cut corners. Less guards, less nutritious food, less education. And the corporations that run private prisons are going to behave like any other corporation, they’re going to try to maximize their profits. That means they’re going to lobby for more and longer prison sentences. That means that your government, which is already thoroughly corrupted by campaign contributions and lobbying, have every incentive to create more crimes with longer sentences. That means your prison population will continue to grow. And those prisoners are increasingly being used as a profit centre for big businesses too (Global Research). Workers who work for pennies an hour, can’t unionize, can’t refuse to work or quit, who have very few rights and to whom their employers owe nothing. The corporate dream. The rich against the rest, as always.
 


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Why the Chris Christie Bridge Scandal Matters
Jan 13th, 2014 by Admin Mugsy

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Whether NJ Governor Chris Christie actually ordered the closure of three out of the four outgoing lanes of the busiest bridge in the world is almost besides the point now. I’ll assume you already know the story rather than rehash it here. Last Thursday, Christie held a two hour Mea Culpa where he basically told everyone how betrayed he felt by his staff, all of whom assured him there was nothing to the story of how the 4-day closure of the GW Bridge was supposedly an act of political retribution (against whom? Rachel Maddow seems to have come up with a FAR more plausible target than the mayor of Fort Lee). But here’s the big problem with the governor’s “they lied to me” defense: Christie is a former U.S. Attorney. He earned a reputation as a tenacious prosecutor, a reputation he campaigned on when running for governor in 2009. So how is it that a (supposedly) dogged former U.S. attorney was so easily deceived by his own staff. Christie never asked any follow-up questions? “Who decided we needed a ‘traffic study’ of the George Washington Bridge and why now? Just what did they expect to find?” “Why did they keep it going for FOUR DAYS even after Fort Lee’s Mayor Sokolich contacted them about how emergency vehicles were being delayed?” And most basic of all: “Where is this ‘traffic study’? Can I see it?” Christie’s defense that he had no idea what his own staffers were doing right under his nose hardly lends to his credibility if he plans on running for president in 2016. Not only did he not ask his staffers any follow-up questions, he is PROUD of his disinterest, declaring during his press conference that he “didn’t know and didn’t care why [they] did it.” But trust me, a prosecutor will be asking that question even if former prosecutor Christie does not.

Maybe Christie didn’t know what members of his own staff were doing right out of his own office. I don’t know. But the “political punishment” behavior does fit a pattern, playing right into his reputation as a vindictive “bully”, so if he wasn’t involved, it definitely rubbed off on his staff, who appear to have taken great pleasure in making the lives of Fort Lee commuters miserable for nearly a week.

In June of 2011, NJ gov Chris Christie went on “Caucus NJ”, a local public broadcast radio show (simulcast on TV for the big event) and took questions for nearly an hour. One questioner named “Gail” asked Christie if his willingness to cut funding for public schools might have something to do with the fact that he himself is wealthy enough to send his children to private school and is therefore unaffected by those cuts. Christie, clearly not listening to the woman, viciously attacked her for asking “where” he sends his kids to school, which any parent in his position could reasonably perceive as a threat. But “Gail” never asked Christie “where” he sends his kids to school, only asking if he felt it fair of him to do to her children something that clearly would not affect his own. He continued lambasting her for questioning the extravagance of sending his kids to private school… again, something she never brought up. His supporters cheered Christie’s defense of his children (whom, as I note, were never criticized nor threatened), and to this day I don’t think anyone has ever pointed out to him that he clearly misheard her, attacking her for things she never said, never did answer her very legitimate question, nor did he apologize for attacking someone for his own mistake.

During his two-hour round of damage control last week, the governor denied any involvement in the closure of the bridge, stating that doing something so vindictive for political purposes was not in his nature, actually telling reporters, “I’m not a bully”. The Daily Show had a bit of fun with that one:
 

The “tone” of the Christie administration (1:11)

“I’m not a bully.” If you’re thinking of Richard Nixon right about now, you’re not alone. Not just for his, “I’m not a crook” moment, but also in the way the circle seems to be closing in on Christie as investigations into top staffers bring us ever closer to the man himself. But the fact is, Nixon was a crook. And Christie also has his share of “shady” backroom deals: “deferred prosecution agreements” with major corporations made while he was still a prosecutor that dogged him while running for office. And last month, Firedog Lake reported on Christie’s stint as a Washington lobbyist, forging connections with some very deep pockets that became major contributors to his gubernatorial campaign a decade later.

The George Washington Bridge Scandal matters because it shines a white hot spotlight on Christie’s two biggest traits: 1) that he’s a bipartisan Republican that knows how to work with political opponents, and 2) that he’s a “schoolyard bully” that likes to (forgive the pun) throw his weight around. Republicans hated #1 and loved him for #2. Democrats, just the reverse. How will this play out in the days/weeks/months to come? Stay tuned.
 


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A Liberal Look: Snowden No Hero
Jan 6th, 2014 by Admin Mugsy

 

In 1992, the short-lived ABC investigative news program “Primetime Live”, following up on reports by former employees, revealed that national grocery chain “Food Lion” was engaging in “cost cutting measures” that included cleaning old food that had already been tossed in the dumpster (eg: cutting off the discolored spots on broccoli), washing expired meat with bleach and then repackaging it as fresh, and changing the expiration date on meat that had already been on the shelves past their original expiration date. The grocery chain sued ABC News… not for false reporting (though they claimed such) or defamation, but the fact that reporters “lied on their job applications” to gain access behind the scenes. And in 1997, a jury ruled that two of ABC’s journalists had gone “too far”, ruling in favor of “Food Lion”. I remember how incredulous many of us were to learn that jury deliberations took so long (5 days) because one juror, an elderly woman, stubbornly argued that “Food Lion” had done “nothing wrong” and believed the $5.5 million dollar judgement against ABC News wasn’t harsh enough. There was outrage among many in the public… myself included… that ABC should have to pay anything while the grocery chain got off scot-free. They had done us all a great service by exposing “Food Lion’s” practices, and deserved our praise, not slapped with a huge fine that might discourage similar investigations in the future. With that in mind, I now find myself on the opposite side of many of my fellow Liberals because I don’t consider NSA Leaker Edward Snowden to be “a hero” nor a “Whistle Blower”. With a twinge of false modesty, Snowden himself declared, “I’m neither a traitor nor a hero. I’m an American.” No Mr. Snowden, you’re another Wannabee-cop not unlike George Zimmerman. And now there’s a movement to grant Mr. Snowden “clemency” that would allow him to return to the U.S. if he promises to turn over all the data he took and not leak any further information. And I find myself asking, “How is it I can defend ABC for exposing Food Lion’s criminal practices 21 years ago, but not support Edward Snowden today?” Does that make me a hypocrite? It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for weeks now because my #1 Pet Peeve in this world are hypocrites, and the last thing I want to be accused of is being a hypocrite (synonymous with “Republican” in my book.)

Clemency for Snowden?

That’s the big question. Why promise Snowden that you won’t prosecute him (“clemency” and “pardon” mean the same thing, requiring an admission of guilt, unlike “amnesty” which is protection from prosecution) in exchange for his cooperation? I’m reminded… fairly or unfairly… of promising a kidnapper or thief that you won’t prosecute them so long as they return your belongings safe & sound. Does Snowden deserve to be compared to a kidnapper? Well, he IS threatening further harm to his “hostage” (National Security) if we don’t meet his demands. So there’s that.

One of my favorite movies ever is 2005’s “V for Vendetta” about a man, once tortured by a brutal fascist regime that had taken over the government by staging a fake terrorist attack, who exacts revenge by murdering each of the government officials that brutalized him, murdered hundreds of thousands, and assisted their takeover of England. He is branded a “terrorist” by the government, and then executes a terrorist attack to bring down the brutal and criminal dictatorship that was repressing its citizenry. The movie has become an “anti-hero anthem” among critics of the government, often donning “Guy Fawkes” masks identical to the one worn in the movie, to hide their identity (though the movie character did so partly because he had been disfigured in a fire, not because he was seeking anonymity). Again, I find myself asking, “How is what Snowden doing any different?” (Listen to the linked clip above in the context of Snowden and it does seem to make a convincing case.)

First off, let’s get a few facts straight. Snowden sought out jobs that would give him access to Top Secret information with the intent of revealing it. He wasn’t an investigative reporter sent on assignment by his Editor. He’s not “Woodward & Bernstein”, he’s James O’Keefe. He decided he wanted to play rent-a-cop to expose the extent of NSA wiretapping that was already in the news. He’s not “V”, he’s George Zimmerman. He hadn’t been personally victimized as far as he knew or suffered any detriment by the government misdeeds (not crimes) that he suspected them of doing. He didn’t act on any specific information. He’s not Daniel Ellsberg, he’s Edward Snowden. Neither Hero nor Traitor, but definitely not a “Whistle Blower”. He sought out a job with the intent to “expose something” but knew not what. He took FAR more Top Secret info than he could possibly have read (over 20,000 documents by some estimates), has threatened to trade on that information for personal gain (seeking asylum), and is now deciding for himself what we do or do not deserve to know.

Even if you disagree with our government’s wholesale warrantless domestic spying program (that began under Bush’s “Patriot Act” and has only grown under Obama), we’re not a brutal fascist dictatorship that rules by fear. That’s the GOP:

Convention of Fear

The 2004 Republican National Convention

Snowden isn’t “exacting revenge” upon the people who “harmed him” personally. And, unlike “V”, in the end (spoiler alert), “V” was willing to die for what he believed in.

Snowden has been described by some on the Right as a “Liberal Hero”. That bugs the crap out of me. Because this is one Liberal that does not consider him a “hero”. And judging by the replies to radio-host Randi Rhodes’ question whether Snowden is a “hero or a traitor?”, many of my fellow Lefties feel the same way.

Before Edward Snowden, there was Private Bradley (turned Chelsey) Manning who leaked to the public the largest collection of Top Secret Intelligence documents in history. Manning didn’t go looking for material to steal. He actually SAW evidence of crimes while on the job that he knew needed to be exposed (most notably the “Baghdad airstrike” video), released the information, accepted responsibility and then stood trial. Snowden’s case is the exact opposite in every instance.

On Fox “news” Sunday yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul cited former Director of National Intelligence “James Clapper” who lied to Congress last March when he testified that the government does not collect “any type of data on hundreds of millions of Americans.” Turns out that was a total lie, and it is only because of Snowden’s leaks that we now know this not to be true. Unsurprisingly, Paul says he does not defend Snowden’s actions and believes he needs to stand trial. This is another of those rare times where Paul & I agree. Snowden’s revelations HAVE exposed some great misdeeds by our government. I shall not deny that. But do the ends justify the means? The 1st Amendment doesn’t protect “Whistle Blowers” from prosecution and being held responsible for their actions. I think that was the lesson we all tried to explain to “Duck Dynasty” fans two weeks ago defending cast member Phil Robertson who was (as it turned out, temporarily) fired after being caught on a viral video going on a jaw-dropping homophobic rant that offended hundreds of thousands (if not millions). Fans of the show protested that Robertson’s “Right to Free Speech” had been “violated” by the network, and it took Liberals like myself to point out that “free speech” is not “freedom from consequences”. Even Fox “news” Sunday shocked me when the entire panel took the side of “A&E” over defenders of Mr. Robertson (a leading Fox demographic), pointing out that “the government” isn’t suppressing Robertson’s ability to speak, he can still go out and say whatever he wants, just not on his employers TV show (at least not then, but in an amazing show of spinelessness, A&E rehired Robertson following a torrent of redneck outrage.)

So does the fact that some good has come from Snowden’s revelations negate the way in which he came by that information? As in the “Food Lion” case I spoke of earlier, exposing Food Lion didn’t aid those who wish to harm us. Unlike Snowden’s revelations, lives were not put at risk by ABC’s revelations. ABC’s reporters weren’t vigilantes operating on their own seeking personal glory, and when the s#it hit the fan, they accepted responsibility as their network went to trial. So, No, I don’t consider myself a hypocrite for defending REAL “whistle blowers” like ABC News or Private Manning while condemning the actions of Edward Snowden. I hope you agree.
 

Snowden trading on secrets

Note: I added a new video to our “FREE MOVIES” section: “Freedom Fries: And Other Stupidity We’ll Have to Explain to Our Grandchildren”; a look at the linking of “Patriotism” to “Consumerism”. Enjoy!

 


 

Writers Wanted

Got something to say? Mugsy’s Rap Sheet is always looking for article submissions to focus on the stories we may miss each week. To volunteer your own Op/Ed for inclusion here, send us an email with an example of your writing skills & choice of topic, and maybe we’ll put you online!


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