Archive for December 19, 2010

Dear Keith

In case you missed it, the other day, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann flew the coop on Twitter after numerous people called him out for giving a pass to Michael Moore’s inappropriate comments about the rape charges against Julian Assange.  He informed the Twitter world that he didn’t like being under attack and announced that he would quit Twittering, the online equivalent of taking your marbles and going home.

Not a great way to treat your viewing public to say the least but for a moment, tis the season, let’s be charitable and cut the guy some slack–it has got to be exhausting to have your very own well-watched show and sometimes we all do dumb things in the heat of the moment.  So Keith, take a break, rest up and maybe ask yourself this–in fact, let me re-phrase it–I’m asking you, call it my holiday wish–please ask yourself whether you are perhaps the victim of your own show.

Week after week, most of the people who you invite on your show are men.  Most of them are white.  They look a lot like you.  They sound a lot like you.  The impression one gets is that white dudes are the most important voices to listen to.  It sends a message and not a good one.

But the truth is, if you stop and really listen to what was said to you on Twitter, sometimes white dude myopia gets it very wrong.  In fact that happens a lot and it needs to be called out.  And when it is, covering your ears, or in this case your computer monitor is not the right response.

In fact it is kind of scary because let’s just consider this–Over the last few weeks, a concerted effort has been made to knock Wikileaks off the internet and cut off their funding. The U.S. military is cutting off access to the New York Times and other news outlets because they have participated in the release of the Wikileaks documents.  These actions point to the very real vulnerability we face regarding our access to the internet and information. Right now Comcast, a major internet service provider and media outlet is trying to buy the NBCs.  And what happens if they don’t like what you say?  All they have to do is pull the plug and take their marbles and go elsewhere.  So please, enough of this juvenile behavior.  Realize the possibility that you got it very wrong and open yourself to listening and learning.

If there is anything we should learn from Wikileaks, it is that the communications business has changed.  Corporate media can no longer say this is the frame and walk away without expectation of being challenged. It’s not a one-way street anymore, the traffic now flows both ways and  goodnight and good luck won’t cut it anymore.

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Unpacking Wikileaks–A Few Observations

When I saw that Wikileaks’ Julian Assange was scheduled to do a live chat via The Guardian a few days ago, I had this fantasy that this would be a bit like the scene in The Sound of Music where the Von Trapp family escapes while they are supposed to be receiving an award.*  And maybe it was–with reports that he has been in England and that British law enforcement know where he is–and yet funny thing, The Guardian site glitched out due to overload when the chat was supposed to happen and they then posted not so live answers to viewers questions  instead.  Assange never appeared live and as I write this, still no word of arrest.

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But the question of whether Assange should be arrested bears some examination.

The U.S. government is doing its best to paint him as an electronic terrorist. A large part of this latest release of documents has certainly been an embarrassing collection of diplomacy-speak accusations about various players on the international stage that has all the sophistication of third grade playground cooties banter.  Not flattering to be sure but if anything, it should  give us pause to consider the nature of what passes as ‘intelligence’.

Then however, there are those pesky cables documenting things like a scandal involving the private contracting firm DynCorp which paid for young “dancing boys” to entertain Afghan policemen that they were training in northern Afghanistan.  It really shouldn’t take us long to decide that the criminal in this case is Dyncorp, not Assange and like Abu Ghraib, this is a story that should be exposed.

Be that as it may, whether or not what Wikileaks is doing is a good thing or a bad thing, it is definitely not acceptable to be dismissive of the rape charges that have been brought against Assange.  Is it possible that they are trumped up?  Of course.  But as Reclusive Leftist points out, they should not be brushed aside by those who champion Assange merely because of the importance of his work.

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Perhaps one of the strangest parts of this story is that Wikileaks was being hosted on Amazon.  Who knew Amazon offered webhosting.  And how ironic it is that Amazon is perfectly willing to sell books by George Bush, Sarah Palin and Glen Beck, all of whom do not hesitate to play fast and loose with the truth, but when someone uses their services to tell the truth, that sends Amazon running for cover.  As Amy Davidson observes on The New Yorker website,

WikiLeaks may be a brilliant sort of classroom—full of books that, unfortunately, one can no longer find by way of Amazon.

Human Rights First is asking Amazon to explain why they removed Wikileaks from their servers.  In addition, PayPal has cut off Wikilieaks from receiving donations via their service and in a major weird, disturbing email,

Talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger your job prospects, a State Department official warned students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs this week.

An email from SIPA’s Office of Career Services went out Tuesday afternoon with a caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.

“[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter,” the Office of Career Services advised students. “Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.”

As one observant student pointed out,

“They seem to be unable to make the distinction between having an opinion and having a contractual obligation to keep a secret,”

That the University sent out such a warning is deeply disturbing and sounds uncomfortably like, ‘nothing to see here, move along, move along’, go about your business, it’s dangerous to know or think about this.

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The Wikileaks documents should definitely give us pause to consider several issues.  First there is the question of what should and shouldn’t be state secrets.  When a nation or a company perpetrates crimes against humanity, such as the Dyncorp exploitation of children, it shouldn’t be a secret and those who keep those secrets are the ones who should be called to account.  As for the diplomatic backstabbing, who really cares and if, as my children were taught in grade school, people used there words appropriately, no one would have their feathers ruffled.

Another thing that is indeed quite worrisome is the denial of service by Amazon and PayPal.  With so many people using services such as Gmail or Yahoo, collecting funds via Pay Pal, getting our internet service from corporate giants like Comcast and the like, we need to consider that our access to these services can quickly be cut off, with little recourse.  We’ve known that for quite some time, and this is a grim reminder that freedom of information can be disappeared faster than you can say, “blue screen of death.”

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*The other metaphor that came to mind was the old television series about Carmen Sandiego.  Enjoy:

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What We Should Really Be Scared Of

Donna Smith makes the excellent point that it isn’t WikiLeaks that is killing America, it is lack of healthcare:

Today, in cites and states across the United States, 123 people died because they lacked enough money to buy healthcare services.  That brings the annual death toll for 2010 to 41,082.

WikiLeaks had nothing to do with the deaths of the 123 people who died today or any of the 41,082 who died so far this year.

The 123 who died today did so with the full knowledge of all who allowed their deaths.  The 123 who died today might have lived if they had access to appropriate healthcare.  The 123 who died got no mention on any news program or website – liberal, conservative or otherwise.  So much for the value of 123 human lives.

And all that TSA groping and x-raying didn’t save them either.

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