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Wikileaks: Do-Gooder or Scoundrel?

November 29, 2010 1 comment

I have a developing opinion of this Australian guy who runs Wikileaks and who seems to have made it his business to embarrass the United States on a quarterly basis. The journalist part of me is tempted to view him with a certain amount of patience. The American part of me wants to deck the punk.

This last batch of leaks- diplomatic cables that amount to juicy, cocktail-party gossip about half the world’s leaders- are amusing and interesting in a People magazine sort of way, but I see little news there. Julian Assange’s motives behind this latest leak are not clear to me.

But the fellow does seem to have quite the persecution complex. The NY Times, for example, did not get these latest documents directly from Assange. It got them from the British newspaper, The Guardian. Apparently, Assange did not like this article written about him last October in the NY Times, so he decided to leave them out of the document dump.

A friend asked this morning if Assange can be charged with treason. Well, he’s not a U.S. citizen, hasn’t pledged loyalty to this country, and has not openly aided and abetted the “enemy,” though just to be fair, it would be nice if the guy found some embarrassing documents that paint equally unflattering pictures of the bad guys.

Treason is a very carefully worded provision that appears in Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution- “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It is also a capital offense that can be punished by death and less than 20 people have ever been convicted of it in the entire history of the United States.

The guy who is in a very deep pool of trouble is Private Bradley Manning, the Army Intelligence analyst who has leaked a lot of this stuff to Assange. Treason is such a big charge, that it doesn’t appear even Manning will be accused of it. But it appears he will be prosecuted for at least two violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and if convicted will be spending many years in a military prison (Fred Kaplan explains all this in Slate).

And here’s a great take on all this from Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast:

For better or worse, this is the world we now live in. But living in it is one thing; celebrating it is another. When journalists gather information that genuinely changes the way we see some aspect of American foreign policy, or exposes government folly or abuse, they should move heaven and earth to make sure it sees the light of day. But that’s a far cry from publishing documents that sabotage American foreign policy without adding much, if anything, to the public debate.

So Beinart argues for restraint on the part of the media. Some outlets, like the NY Times have cooperated with the government and the State Department in particular, and so explains here.

Since this Assange guy leaks absolutely everything he gets his hands on, irrespective of its importance, substance or consequence- it really is up to the media on how to play it and what NOT to reveal, including the names of people whose lives he regularly puts in danger in his haughtily high-minded pursuit of what he sees as “the truth.”

Even “Pentagon Papers” leaker, Dr. Daniel Ellsburg, who generally sides with Assange’s right to leak his little heart out, says there are some things that should be kept secret.

So, I guess my opinion is still forming about Wikileaks. But it’s only the principle of watching over government for things like waste, fraud and abuse that keeps me from wanting to throttle this smug, paranoid, self-important former criminal hacker.

The convictions were from the early 1990’s, but in the interests of the truth, I thought it was fair game to put out there. You can read more about Assange’s hacking into government networks and bank mainframes, here. He got a plea deal from a judge who said Assange didn’t mean to be malicious, just got carried away with his own curiosity. Otherwise he would have spent ten years in federal prison.

Thanksgiving: Grateful For You

November 24, 2010 2 comments

These are sad times for many people but many of them will, nevertheless, still give thanks on Thursday. Thanks for their families and friends and the food on the table. That’s something those of us who are fortunate should keep in mind.

Among millions of American families there are moms and dads who used to bring home a regular paycheck but only have a few weeks left of unemployment benefits coming in. They are thankful they’re a family and have an address. Some sit beneath a roof and are grateful they have something over their heads this Thanksgiving while banks and regulators figure out if they’re going to take away their home. They’re thankful to be dry and warm. There are soldiers and journalists missing limbs or otherwise terribly scarred by war. They are thankful for life itself.

Many of us have learned lessons from these hard times. Good lessons. Many of us are scaling back and downsizing and are learning to appreciate honest things more than material things. Hard times can bring people together. Helping hands are more common than you ever dare dream.

So for those of us who are privileged enough to sit around a table this Thanksgiving, it is a good thing to appreciate those things we have left. The things we have lost, I suspect, we will either gain back or will come to realize we didn’t need at all.

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This is my 200th column for Garciamedialife. I started this little blog about a year ago. Some 20,000 times over the past year, without any marketing besides Facebook and Twitter, people have taken the time to read the words I have written about our culture, media, politics, sports and just the plain silly things in life.

One time I went viral, picked up by two major web sites and it was kind of cool. And I’ve noticed that my indexing is getting better because this thing is actually showing up in search engines within the first couple of pages on some topics.

My theory about this little labor of love is that if you write it and it’s any damned good- they will come. I’m proudest of Ode to New York. It’s love prose to the grandest city of all. Somehow, someway, a dozen more people read it every single week, even though it was posted over a year ago. People- strangers- just keep finding it. Mostly they get it when querying a search engine for “New York” and its many iterations. It is by 4 times, the most widely read piece I’ve written (other than the one that went viral- LaBron Bores the Nation).

I apologize if I sound a little self-indulgent about all of this. It’s just that I’m grateful. I’m grateful that this stupid little blog born in the midst of my own bout with unemployment, helped me find my voice.

I’m grateful for your time and your interest and your outrage and your kindness. I think mostly, I want to find some truth in things. I sincerely thank you for being along for the journey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dancing with the Stars: So, like, High School

November 23, 2010 2 comments

There’s some kind of life lesson here but I’m still trying to figure out what it is. But I do believe Dancing with the Stars has just edged out Iowa as the first contest in the 2012 Presidential election season.

Four times in a row now, Bristol Palin has finished last in the dance competition in the view of the judges. Three of those times, “fan” voting by phone, texting and particularly via the internet, has kept her alive and moving into the next round. Now she’s in the finals.

The august polling organization run by the Washington Post and ABC News has officially weighed in on how the American public believes Bristol’s populist miracle is happening. Some 54% think Bristol is the beneficiary of large-scale voting by viewers who support her mother- author, cable TV star, commentator, public speaker, and potential Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Only 14% think she’s gotten to the finals on her own dancing merits. The sane people, of course, are the 20% who have no opinion and hung up on the interviewer.

There are a few conservative bloggers/talk show hosts who claim, unashamedly, that, yes they are urging people to vote and vote often, like Chicago. In fact, one of them, says this is all Republican payback for years of Democratic shenanigans at the polls.

Meantime this has become an actual “cause” for the Palin family. Bristol, in a snippet that aired on last night’s show, says “It sucks people still don’t think I deserve to be here. There are a lot of haters out there just waiting for me to fail. This just gives me that much more motivation to prove them wrong.”

And Momma Grizzly, is, predictably, fighting fiercely for her bear cub. Appearing on Sean Hannity’s cable show on Fox News, Sarah put it this way-

For me, it’s, ‘You’re right, honey, you might as well dance and fly and soar and surf and speak about issues that are important to this country.’ We might as well do it, and we’ll take that criticism, because we know that, at the end of the day, truly, being committed to a cause is worth it.

I’m not sure what statement it makes “about issues that are important to this country” when Bristol Palin dances a “jive” in a gorilla suit, but I’m sure it’s significant on some level.

So as for life lessons to be learned from this experience:

1) It’s difficult to get out of a famous parent’s long shadow.
2) It pays to have your mom have over 300,000 friends on Facebook.
3) Who cares what people think as long as you’re having fun dancing, flying, soaring and surfing.
4) This is all great training for the nation’s next hit TV competition- “America’s Prom Queen.”

It’s now official. There is nothing in this world that is immune from the taint of politics. And short of the inexplicable ending of the Mayan calendar in 2012, this is all the next closest sign that the apocalypse is approaching.

Standing Up for the Truth

November 19, 2010 1 comment

Somebody called me a Nazi this week. And they questioned my journalistic integrity. Not just me, actually. Everyone I work with too. This goes way beyond issues that first arose weeks ago when the organization I work for made certain mistakes for which they have taken full responsibility. We are human.

Fox News President, Roger Ailes, later apologized for his “Nazi” references to NPR…to a Jewish organization. He did not apologize to me or any of my colleagues. In his letter of apology, he added that what he really meant to say was that we were “nasty, inflexible bigots.” And he has accused us of being leftists. Leftist Nazi’s, as if such a thing were even idealogically possible.

A momentary dose of truth, if I might. Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Roger Ebert, says it better than I think I ever could. I would respectfully ask you give his article a glance.

Here’s what reality looks like to some. At least those who actually listen to what, in my humble opinion, may be the last, great news organization in the world:

Everywhere I go, as much as I can, I listen to National Public Radio. It’s an oasis of clear-headed intelligence. Carefully, patiently, it presents programming designed to make me feel just a little better equipped to reenter the world of uproar.

And there’s this:

I’ve mentioned before that I cannot get into a taxi in Chicago where NPR is not either playing, or pre-tuned when the radio is turned on. The driver is invariably African or South Asian. I ask, “You like NPR?” I have been told, “I hear more about the rest of the world.” I’ve also been told, “I hear more about America.” More than once I’ve been told, “I want to learn.”

And this:

NPR surely is the voice of America — the voice I hope the world is listening to via the internet. It is the voice of our better nature. We are not all snarling dogs of Left and Right, feasting on shreds torn from the Body Politic. Some of us (maybe most of us, when the mood is right) are kind, curious, sane. We are interested in other peoples, other lifestyles, other choices. We do not demand that the media tell us over and over again the things we already believe. We are open to new ideas.

There’s an honest debate to be had about whether public radio should continue to receive taxpayer dollars. It will come to the fore early next year in the Congress of the United States. Since there are hundreds of communities around the country who would have no local radio at all were it not for NPR member-stations, I personally, don’t think it’s such a great idea to cut off public funding. I mean, really, if for nothing else, who else on the radio is going to activate the Emergency Broadcast System the next time swarms of tornadoes sweep across the heartland?

But that debate aside…what is not honest, is for people who never listen to us- to question our journalistic ethics and integrity. I have not spent 35 years of my life as a journalist at places like CBS and CNN and ABC, to end up at a place that doesn’t work 24 hours a day to bring all sides of a story, over the air, on the radio and into your ears.

It’s what I do. It’s what we do- here at NPR.

Trust me, one way or the other, we will survive.

What Happened at Fedex Field

November 16, 2010 1 comment


It’s not about the Redskins. We know they’re a fair to middling team. It’s about the Eagles. As long as Michael Vick is healthy, they have constructed an offense that cannot be defended, period. It wasn’t as lopsided, but they did the same thing to the Indianapolis Colts the week before.

And they’re going to pick apart the NY Giants next week too. The only caveat there is that the Giants do have a reputation this year of physically injuring many a quarterback and key player this season. But short of that, they’re history too.

What has happened is that you have one of the most gifted athletes in the history of the sport who fixed the one flaw in his game.; his lack of discipline. Under control, and methodically considering each of his 4 or 5 options on every play- with his speed, his arm, his legs and now his brain- he is like a machine. Vick is like some sort of cyborg that is undefeatable and nearly indestructible.

And he has many tools. The fastest wide receivers in football. A set of running backs, either one of which can break off a long run. To protect against 60 and 70 yard bombs that he throws with the flick of a wrist, defensive backs were lining up 50 yards from the line of scrimmage last night. That means you can’t use them if there’s a running play and it leaves 20 and 30 yard patterns out there for the asking. Pitch and catch.

If you have the audacity to catch up with him, he’s almost unsackable. A 5-yard loss turns into a 20 yard gain.

The Eagles could have scored 80 points against the Redskins last night. If they score less than 40 a game the rest of the season, it will be a shock.

There was a moment last night, when the ESPN commentators mentioned that the NFL has a problem on its hands. I think they were referring to the fact that with this offense and this quarterback, the way the very game is played has been changed. This is Babe Ruth hitting 60 homers when the next closest guy was hitting 15.

Poor Skins owner, Daniel Snyder. He thought he had set up the perfect evening for a Redskins resurgence. Sign McNabb to the long-term deal, erase the memories of Detroit and the 2-minute benching, stoke up the crowd and ride the emotion to a key win in the division.

He had no idea his soft, mediocre, little team, with as much heart as it has- and they did fight back bravely if impotently- was about to take on the Green and White speed machine/tank from Philadelphia. As long as this Vick cyborg remains upright, no one else is going to beat them either.

TSA Under Fire: What Took So Long?

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The growing discontent over full body scanners and intrusive pat-downs is evidence that the government has gone a step too far.  Frankly, I thought they had already gone overboard and have seriously wondered why people accepted the indignities they’ve been suffering for most of the past decade.

I’ve always thought the answer to airline safety was more Air Marshalls and psychological profiling.  Not racial profiling.  Psychological profiling.  This is where you monitor people unobtrusively for nervous or erratic behavior followed by simple questioning.  This taking-your-shoes-off routine has always been lame; reactive instead of proactive.  All because one guy (Richard Reid) tried to set his sneakers ablaze. 

What we’re seeing is the identical response, only this time to the would-be Christmas underwear bomber who accidently set his genitals ablaze.  I remember the jokes that were flying around shortly after that incident.  If massive, nationwide shoe-removal followed Richard Reid….yikes…what would happen now that someone tried to hide explosives in their underwear?

Welcome to the knee-jerk response.  Full body scanners are the virtual equivalent of the strip searches we all thought, jokingly, might follow the Christmas Underwear Bomber incident. Well, it’s actually happened.  They really are looking at our private parts now.  And if you refuse the scanner, now they’re touching them too with front-of-the-hand inspections that go all over the place.

With the massive Thanksgiving travel season upon us this has turned into a real nightmare for the TSA.  A Facebook-inspired nationwide protest is gearing up for November 24th in which passengers are being asked to refuse full-body scans.  Pilot unions are up in arms and their members are already being urged to refuse the scanners.

Ostensibly, one of the reasons for the repulsion to these incredibly expensive and intrusive machines is the small amounts of radiation that are emitted during each use.  But that’s not really why people are upset.  I think it’s a combination of things.  I think people are finally resenting being treated like potential terrorists when all they want to do is fly to a business meeting or to grandma’s house.  And now the “touchy” area of literally, physically or virtually inspecting our bodies.  It’s just become too much.

People used to be compliant.  They put up with ridiculous strategies like outlawing the transport of certain quantities of shampoo.  They accepted standing barefoot or in their stocking feet while TSA agents x-rayed their killer lap-tops. They did it for the greater good.  But it would seem the public has finally reached the point of being willing to put up with a little risk in exchange for basic human dignity. 

The exact quote from Benjamin Franklin, written sometime before February 17th, 1775 as part of his notes for a proposition to the Pennsylvania General Assembly was this:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

People are finally beginning to tire of living in fear.

Lashing Out Against Lashing Out

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I think it’s safe to say the predominant theme in American culture and politics these days can be distilled into one word: Anger.  Anger takes shape in many forms, but the single most popular seems to be “lashing out.”   

I noticed it today, when I read numerous headlines about Sarah Palin “lashing out at the Wall Street Journal.”  A WSJ reporter claimed Palin was not factual in recent criticisms of Federal Reserve policy when she prefaced her remarks by pointing out that everybody knows how much food prices are soaring these days.  The WSJ reporter pointed out food prices are actually quite low and increasing at the lowest rates in decades.  Palin “lashed out” at the reporter citing a recent article in his own newspaper that reported food prices were soon going to start spiking.

Anyway, it struck me that this phrase, “lashing out,” has been used in connection to Ms. Palin a lot.   So I googled it and got 278,000 results in .24 seconds.  All this “lashing out,” by the way, goes a lot of ways.  A lot of people are lashing out at Sarah Palin or lashing out at Sarah Palin’s critics almost as much as she is lashing out at others.  

All of which proves reporters and headline writers need to seriously invest in buying Thesauruses.  Surely, there have to be a few synonyms out there somewhere.   

On we go to the Lash-Out Fest:

 9/3/2008     Palin Breaks Silence Lashes Out at Obama

1/9/2009      Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Media Again

1/9/2009      Sarah Palin Lashes Out at ‘Very Scary” Media Coverage

1/10/2009    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Bloggers, Mainstream Media

4/3/2009      Sarah Palin’s Camp Lashes Out at Levi Johnston for Sex Talk on Tyra

6/67/2009    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Kerry

11/17/2009  Sarah Palin Lashes Out at McCain Staffers, Media in Oprah Interview

2/2/2010      Rahm Emanuel’s “Retarded” Comment: Sarah Palin Lashes Out

2/17/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at ‘Family Guy’ Down Syndrome Joke

3/13/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Liberals, D.C. and Media

3/27/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at “Lamestream Media’s Lies”

5/25/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Journalist Joe McGinniss for Moving Next Door

6/17/2010    Palin Camp Lashes Out at Levi Johnston’s Sister

7/25/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Media, McCain Campaign and Journalist

7/30/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at President Obama’s Appearance on the The View

10/31/2010  Sarah Palin Lashes Out at ‘Corrupt’ Alaska Reporters

11/1/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Politico

11/1/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at “Corrupt” Reporters

11/3/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at ‘Clueless” Ed Gillespie

11/9/2010    Sarah Palin Lashes Out at Stimulus

11/10/2010  Palin Lashes out at Bernanke, Urging Him to Cease and Desist 

And now the Lash-backs:

 8/29/08       Team Obama Lashes Out at Palin

9/2/2008      Santorum Lashes Out About About Palin Coverage

9/3/2008      John McCain Lashes Out at Media Over Palin Attacks

9/5/2009      Levi Johnston Lashes Out at Sarah Palin

9/11/2008    Matt Damon Lashes Out at Sarah Palin

9/14/2008    Lindsay Lohan Lashes Out at Sarah Palin

10/10/2008  Rush Limbaugh Lashes Out at Anti-Palin Pundit

10/17/2008  Biden Lashes Out at Palin’s Pro-America Comment

12/11/2008  Powell Lashes Out at Palin

11/24/2009  After Apologizing to Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart Lashes Out at Sarah Palin

8/25/2010    Lisa Murkowski Lashes Out Over Sarah Palin’s Endorsement of Joe Miller

10/27/2010 Charlie Crist Lashes Out at Extremists Sarah Plain, Marco Rubio

11/3/2010    Levi Johnston Lashes Out at Palin; Not Qualified for Presidency

11/9/2010    GOP Rep. Spencer Bachus Lashes Out at Tea Party, Sarah Palin

Yes, conservatives are angry.  Liberals are angry.  Moderates are angry.  To paraphrase Rodney King:  “Can’t we all just stop lashing out at one another?”