Monthly Archives: November 2010

WikiLeaks: “Does the American Public Care?”

I opined yesterday that the massive — and potentially illegal — data dump by WikiLeaks would cause a shitstorm in the land of the TV Talking Heads and with government officials Inside the Beltway.

That happened as expected. But I wonder if the American public cares about the behind-the-scenes glimpse that the release of the confidential cables provides about our foreign policy and relationships with other nations and world leaders.

We should. Because this situation points to some big questions about national security, our government’s ability to conduct foreign policy with certainly some expectation of confidentiality, and the future of individual and organizational privacy in a digital age where just about everything is online.

And for me, it once again highlights the tension between the government’s ability to function — hopefully in the best interests of the nation — and the role of a free press in a democracy.

Here’s from an article in USA Today, “Role of free press weighed in wake of State Dept. leaks“:

At the heart of the heated reaction Monday to WikiLeaks’ latest giant government document drop were fundamental questions about the role of a free press in a democracy: Would the publication of secret State Department information serve the public good? Or would it merely endanger diplomats, jeopardize international relations and complicate the war on terror?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s answer was clear: “There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people and nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations,” she told reporters.

Without specifically mentioning the explosive release in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, which detailed government deception during the Vietnam War, Clinton said there have been “examples in history in which official conduct has been made public in the name of exposing wrongdoings or misdeeds” by government officials and agencies.

“This is not one of those cases,” she said sternly.

And many agree with her position here — including a number of the TV Talking Heads who view themselves as journalists but are really just entertainers. Just sayin’.

So here’s the point — again from the USA Today article:

Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said publication of the e-mails could lead to a government crackdown on information the public has a right to know. “The chilling effect will be huge,” she warned. She said the news outlets have carefully and responsibly reported the information available and there’s “no smoking gun” anyway. She said she’s disturbed that most people won’t bother to read the stories. “The biggest question,” she said, is “does the American public care?”

Every time a situation like this happens — and in the digital age it will happen more and more — it raises issues for journalists that focus on trust, responsibility and ethics. And there really aren’t easy answers as responsible journalists have to wrestle with the disclosure of information that could be harmful to governments and individuals and the legitimate right of people in a democracy to know what the hell is going on. And when you throw into the mix an organization like WikiLeaks that has the ability to make the information public independent of news organizations, then you have really added a new dimension to this entire dilemma and debate.

As I said yesterday, I believe in a free, strong and aggressive press — anchored in responsible journalism and ethics. And if we reach the point where the press — OK, news media — is only going to print or broadcast what government officials want us to know, then this country is in deep doo-doo.

That’s something the American public should care about.


WikiLeaks and the Pentagon Papers

I expect there will be a media shitstorm today about the secret government information obtained by WikiLeaks and made public Sunday on its website and via various newspapers and other venues, including The New York Times.

Do the thousands of confidential diplomatic cables and other documents reveal anything beyond an inside glimpse involving policy and relations — and concerns — about Pakistan, North and South Korea, Iran, the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia and so on?

Does the disclosure of the information compromise our nation’s national security and put the lives of Americans and others at risk?

I’ll let others opine on those questions. Clearly, most people, including me, don’t have the background or perspective on the issues to make an informed decision. That’s why we rely on a vigorous, aggressive and independent news media. Rarely will government officials collectively stand up and reveal anything by dropping their pants in public. Ah, gee. Just like the Founding Fathers planned it with the First Amendment.

But the disclosure of the information focuses again on the continuing tension between our government’s need for confidentiality in matters of national security — and the role of the news media — once called the press — in a free society.

And every time a situation like this emerges, it calls into question issues such as trust, transparency and journalism ethics and responsibility.

Here’s from an article in the NYT explaining the decision to print the information:

The question of dealing with classified information is rarely easy, and never to be taken lightly. Editors try to balance the value of the material to public understanding against potential dangers to the national interest. As a general rule we withhold secret information that would expose confidential sources to reprisals or that would reveal operational intelligence that might be useful to adversaries in war. We excise material that might lead terrorists to unsecured weapons material, compromise intelligence-gathering programs aimed at hostile countries, or disclose information about the capabilities of American weapons that could be helpful to an enemy.

On the other hand, we are less likely to censor candid remarks simply because they might cause a diplomatic controversy or embarrass officials.

In this digital age, it is going to be more and more difficult for government officials — and private citizens — to keep information secret and confidential, whether it involves national security or personal privacy.

My personal views on these issues were shaped 40 years ago when the New York Times and Washington Post printed stories described as the Pentagon Papers. From Wikipedia:

The Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, was a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States’ political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of the New York Times in 1971.[1] A 1996 article in the New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”.

As someone who kinda came of age in a journalism school in the 60s during the Vietnam fiasco, I believe in a free press. And I’m not always very trusting of our government’s ability — regardless of which political party happens to be in charge at any given time — to share information and be candid with the American public.

And I remember very well the words of Hugo Black when he basically stood up for the press and press freedoms in his Supreme Court decision on the Pentagon Papers case. Again, from Wikipedia:

Justice Black is often regarded as a leading defender of First Amendment rights such as the freedom of speech and of the press.[63] He refused to accept the doctrine that the freedom of speech could be curtailed on national security grounds. Thus, in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971), he voted to allow newspapers to publish the Pentagon Papers despite the Nixon Administration’s contention that publication would have security implications. In his concurring opinion, Black stated,

In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. […] The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.
—New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 714 (1971).[64]

As the TV Talking Heads and other pundits begin to slice and dice the disclosure of the information provided to WikiLeaks and subsequently to news organizations, let’s remember the words of Justice Black.

They are every bit as important now as they were 40 years ago.



What Would Woody and Bo Think?

Oh, mama. I managed to watch the entire (well, except for a brief nap) OSU-Michigan game on TV yesterday. And is it just me or are these annual blowouts by the Buckeyes becoming every bit as boring as the Steelers-Browns games? 

No rivalry if one team can’t win. Just sayin’.

Wonder what Woody and Bo would think?

If you managed to live through the 60s and early 70s — or if you are interested in the lives of two American icons who cast shadows way beyond the football stadiums during a time of great change, protest and social unrest in the USA, here’s a book for you: War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest, by Michael Rosenberg.

The book paints fascinating portraits of the careers of Woody and Bo: both intense rivals and at the same time good friends, although for years they never talked to each other except before the start of the OSU-Michigan game.

There’s Woody the old coach who never said Michigan — rather that team up north — and who basically spent 12 months a year every year planning how to beat Michigan.

There’s Bo — linked to Woody as student, player and assistant coach — who took a nothing football program at Michigan and turned it into one of the most successful.

And their stories are told against the backdrop of America during the protests and controversy that engulfed the country during the war in Vietnam. Yes folks. There was a time in this country when people had bigger fish to fry than lining up at Best Buy to dash for a discounted wide screen TV. Oops. I digress.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the book, as posted on the Barnes and Noble website:

As Schembechler and his staff settled into Ann Arbor, Woody Hayes and Ohio State wrapped up the 1968 national championship by beating Southern California in the Rose Bowl. It was the fourth time Hayes had won at least a share of the national championship-among modern-day coaches, only Alabama’s Bear Bryant had comparable credentials. Hayes celebrated by staying up until 6 a.m. editing the game film, then catching a flight to his favorite vacation spot: Vietnam.

OK. Back to Saturday’s game. Here’s from USA Today:

In the 107 editions of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, things have never been this bad for the Wolverines.

No wonder coach Rich Rodriguez is mad.

“I’m ticked, he said, moments after his Wolverines got blown out 37-7 on Saturday — an unprecedented seventh straight loss to the Buckeyes.

“What do you want me to do? Hold hands with all the Buckeye fans and sing ‘Kumbaya’?”

Ah, wonder what Woody and Bo would think?


Afghanistan: Why Don’t We Care About This?

OK. I had an enjoyable Thanksgiving: belly full of bird and booze. And I guess since I’m up at 3 a.m. I should be doing something righteous for the economy — like working my way into the queue for the mad dash into the stores on Black Friday.

Instead, I’m sitting here — a pajama-clad citizen journalist — fretting about the war in Afghanisan. Admittedly, I’m losing it. And is this war something that anyone in this country cares about or even thinks about these days?

We should. The adventure in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history. And there ain’t no light at the end of the tunnel — despite the heroic efforts of our men and women in the military.

Here’s from an interesting and insightful NYT Op-Ed by Robert Wright, “Worse Than Vietnam“:

You have to give the people at Al Qaeda this much: They plan ahead. And they stick with their goals. If bombing the U.S.S. Cole failed to get American troops mired in Afghanistan, maybe 9/11 would do the trick?

You might say. Last week at the NATO summit President Obama pushed the light at the end of the tunnel further down the tracks. By the end of 2014, he now tells us, American combat operations in Afghanistan will cease.

It’s not as if we need those four years to set any records. At just over nine years of age, this war is already the longest in American history. And this Saturday we’ll eclipse the Soviet Union’s misadventure in Afghanistan; the Soviets brought their own personal Vietnam to an end after nine years and seven weeks.

Is Afghanistan, as some people say, America’s second Vietnam? Actually, a point-by-point comparison of the two wars suggests that it’s worse than that.

The Soviets, like every other country in history that has invaded Afghanistan, eventually got its lunch eaten. Shouldn’t we be worried — or at least care — that we are now standing in line at the same delicatessen?

By the way, I gained this perspective on Afghanistan by reading Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, a writer and producer with CBS News. Read the book and you’ll understand why no country — including the Soviet Union — goes into Afghanistan and comes out a winner.

That’s reality.

And don’t rent the movie by the same name and starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. The reality facing our military — men, women and their families — isn’t as funny as that movie made it out to be.

By the way, as promised here a few posts ago, I managed to irritate and agitate everyone during Thanksgiving dinner with my endorsement of Sarah Palin and my lament that Bristol got the shaft on Dancing With the Stars.

Probably would have been better off and saved considerable emotional angst and personal attacks that questioned my sanity by talking about the war in Afghanistan.

Nobody cares about that.

Thanksgiving and Holiday Traditions

I’ll admit it doesn’t seem much like Thanksgiving. Maybe that’s because Mary and I spent most of the late summer and early fall in Budapest and other places in Europe, visiting Jessica and Gyorgyi.

Maybe it’s because the weather here in NE Ohio — well, up until yesterday — has been unseasonably mild. Hey, are you really approaching Thanksgiving here when you can still take a long walk in the national park wearing shorts and a T-shirt?

Maybe it’s because my family and friends for the most part are scattered now throughout a number of states and even in different countries. I miss some of the traditions from year’s past. For instance, here’s from a post I wrote on a previous Thanksgiving:

And I was thinking about traditions. For years I would meet my friends Walter and Jerry and Matt and a host of others and run Thanksgiving mornings in the Cuyahoga Valley — rain or shine, cold or mild, snow and sleet. Then we would meet at Walter’s van and have a beer or two or three before heading home for the main event. Those days are over now. Too bad.

But it’s interesting to me about how similar that experience was to the years immediately following graduation from high school in Pittsburgh — Thanksgiving 1965, 1966 and 1967. Every Thanksgiving morning I would meet my high school friends — some returning home from college,  many home from the army, some married, many working in the steel mills — at Riverview Park close to my home on Pittsburgh’s North Side. We would play touch football and then retire to the park benches and pass around quarts of Iron City in brown paper bags, under-age drinkers all. And every year we would be joined by those who had graduated before us — and then fewer and fewer each year — until we stopped. Too bad.

I hope young people still do those kind of things. It makes for some great memories on cold winter mornings years in the future if nothing else. Although I guess it is tempting to sit at home these days and post comments on Facebook. Trust me, it is not the same.

Anyway, I enjoy Thanksgiving. And I have plenty to be thankful for. Not forgetting that is one tradition that I plan to maintain — and not just as I belly up to the table with family  and friends today but always.

For the thousands one or two of you who read these blog posts regularly or even occasionally, best wishes for an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

And if one of your traditions is to participate in the American equivalent of the Running of the Bulls on Black Friday, remember the advice of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

Happy Thanksgiving.



Pat-Downs and Government Officials: This Turkey Won’t Fly

Well, that controversy is behind us. Bristol Palin finished third in last night’s Dancing With the Stars finale. And no. I don’t believe that diminishes in any way Sarah’s chances to make a run for the White House in 2012. Or not.

And full disclosure: I’ve never liked the movie Dirty Dancing — even though I’ve been forced to watch it dozens of times over the years. Fix was probably in for Jennifer Grey. Just sayin’.

Anyway, on to other matters, with the grab-ass at our nation’s airports taking center stage today — the busiest travel day of the year. I’m not sure that I agree with those who plan to protest the violation of our Fourth Amendment rights by opting out of the full-body scan in favor of the aggressive and invasive pat-down. (See WaPo article, “Protesters’ body scanner opt-out day could bring nationwide delays at airports.“)

Something tells me that this protest will do nothing more than create further delays and hassles for the thousands (millions?) of travelers who will find it difficult enough to snake their way through security with the hope of getting to their destination. And that kind of protest is not going to make the homeland defenders budge from this “lack-of-common-sense” security policy — even though it is a turkey that won’t fly in the long run. The TSA chief and others have already begun the predictable Inside the Beltway policy waffle.

But here’s something that might work — immediately. Make all of the government officials who are exempt from security checks go through the queue with Mom and Pop Public this holiday weekend.

Here’s from a post on Michelle Malkin’s blog, “The no-grope list: Look who gets a junk-touching exemption“:

You’ve heard of the “no-fly” list.

Now get a load of the no-grope list — a roster of the privileged federal officials and politicians who don’t have to be subjected to TSA’s grabby hands.

Lucky them, huh?

Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.

Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

The heightened new security procedures by the Transportation Security Administration, which involve either a scan by a full-body detector or an intimate personal pat-down, have spurred passenger outrage in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday airport crush.

But while passengers have no choice but to submit to either the detector or what some complain is an intrusive pat-down, senior government officials can opt out if they fly accompanied by government security guards approved by the TSA.

Well, we’ll see. Good luck and safe travels to everyone who is traveling this holiday weekend.

And Sarah, don’t let Bristol throw away those dancing shoes. If as I opined previously, “Don’t Touch My Junk”  becomes the equivalent of “Don’t Tread on Me” — you might be leading the quick step to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Will Bristol Dance at Sarah’s Inaugural?

Let’s face it, since nobody can figure out how to create jobs for the millions of Americas who are looking for work at the beginning of this holiday season, there are only three stories dominating the news.

  • The grab-ass that is taking place at the nation’s airports as the homeland defenders explore the limits of the Fourth Amendment.
  • Will Sarah Palin make a run for the White House in 2012? And if she decides to go for it, can she win?
  • Can Bristol defy the odds and the judges and take home the title on Dancing With the Stars?

Of the three, I expect most people are in a frenzy over Bristol. I wonder if the vote following last night’s broadcast can be considered the first primary of the 2012 election? We’ll see. Full disclosure: Try as I might, I could only stay awake for the first half of the show. And short of American Idol, I consider Dancing With the Stars the best and most effective remedy for insomnia available these days. Sigh.

OK. So what gives with Sarah?

As I’ve opined previously, I believe Sarah Palin is qualified to be president. And as best I can tell, she is the only one of the potential Republican candidates who has any balls when it comes to some of the bigger issues. Would I vote for her? Don’t know yet. But at least now I can with a clear conscience irritate everyone during Thanksgiving dinner. Woot.

Could Sarah win? Well, here’s Frank Rich in his NYT column, “Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha“:

But logic doesn’t apply to Palin. What might bring down other politicians only seems to make her stronger: the malapropisms and gaffes, the cut-and-run half-term governorship, family scandals, shameless lying and rapacious self-merchandising. In an angry time when America’s experts and elites all seem to have failed, her amateurism and liabilities are badges of honor. She has turned fallibility into a formula for success.

Republican leaders who want to stop her, and they are legion, are utterly baffled about how to do so. Democrats, who gloat that she’s the Republicans’ problem, may be humoring themselves. When Palin told Barbara Walters last week that she believed she could beat Barack Obama in 2012, it wasn’t an idle boast. Should Michael Bloomberg decide to spend billions on a quixotic run as a third-party spoiler, all bets on Obama are off.

Bristol, hang on to those dancing shoes — no matter what happens on Dancing With the Stars.