Monthly Archives: March 2014

To the Koch Bros: Maybe you’d prefer China

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to the NYTimes, we know a little more today about the doings of the Koch brothers — the secretive billionaires who are using the Citizens United ruling to spend unprecedented amounts of money to affect U.S. politics and policy. A major theme appears to be advancing their corporate interests by discrediting government, which attempts to regulate the fossil-fuel businesses that the Kochs profit from.

According to the Times:

Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.

It occurs to me that there are countries where those very industries — energy, transportation and manufacturing — are encouraged and liberated from regulation. A paramount example would be China, which has achieved tremendous growth rates by unleashing those sectors.

But what China and the Kochs do not want to talk about are the social costs that de-regulation imposes on society. Here is a photo I took last year in Xian — a large city in China’s industrial heartland. Bear in mind, this was not taken on a cloudy or rainy day. It was just a normal day in China, with air so thick you could not read a cease-and-desist order through it.

A reminder: Spending money ≠ speaking.

To Messrs. Koch, I ask: can we keep our (relatively) clean skies, please?

Xian, China.  Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)

Xian, China.
Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)

 

 

 

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Filed under Environment, New York Times

By Christopher B. Daly 

Like many an apex predator, Snowy Owls are hard to take your eyes off. They are big, powerful, alert, and deadly. They are also gorgeous and — usually — pretty rare. In New England, we get to see them on a pretty regular basis, under certain conditions. If a fair number stream southward out of the Arctic north and if you are near the coast and if it’s winter, you might have a chance of seeing one. When you do see one, the sighting stays with you. Those yellow eyes are haunting, and the bird’s whole posture seems to say: Hey, I’m here, and I don’t give a shit about you. I’m not afraid of you, and I am intent on doing something else, so you go your way and I’ll go mine. 

This winter is going down as a season of record irruption for snowies, as documented in this great mapping project by Project Snowstorm. A hat-tip to NPR for this story.

Photo: Tom Johnson

Photo: Tom Johnson

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Math for journalists (Koch edition): Free spending is not free speech

By Christopher B. Daly 

Kudos to The New Republic for this takedown of a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. The Murdoch newspaper was trying to gin up sympathy for the Koch brothers, the fossil-fuel billionaires who pour big money into the conservative Meme Factory and into political campaigns. The Journal tried to make the case that the Kochs have actually been outspent by organized labor — without noting that there are two Koch brothers and 14.5 million labor union members. When the Kochs are treated as individuals (as the Constitution would indicate), the TNR piece calculates that each Koch brother is exercising the same level of “political speech” as about half a million union members.

Can anyone really argue that amplifying those two voices by the millions of dollars they have to spend makes the country a better place? Does their wealth make their ideas more worth listening to? Does their wealth make them wiser? Does it mean they love their country more than others? Why should they have a megaphone that their neighbors do not have? If they want to speak, let them speak. If they want to publish, let them publish. And let them do so without limitation. But spending money is not protected by the First Amendment (and nor should it be).

As a First Amendment militant, I believe speech should be free. It shouldn’t be paid for.

[Note: the following graphic is merely suggestive. For it to be accurate, it would have to include hundreds of thousands of separate tiny images for union members.]

koch2-article

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Filed under First Amendment, Journalism, Politics

Surveillance state (cont): FISA courts fail to check Executive

by Christopher B. Daly 

“Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
― Thomas Jefferson

So it goes. As Jefferson warned us, the nature of power is to be aggressive, to try always to expand rather than to contract or even to abide. Today brings a fresh revelation about the FISA Courts and the Executive Branch. Thanks to Charlie Savage and Laura Poitras of the New York Times, we now know what some of us have long assumed — that U.S.  intelligence agencies have steadily expanded their powers to spy on Americans and have run through, around, top-secret-stampand over the few legal restraints put on them by Congress. Working with a new batch of documents leaked by Edward Snowden from the NSA, the journalists focus on steps taken in secret by the George W. Bush administration, with the compliance of the secret(ive) FISA Court, to respond to the attacks of 9/11 by expanding the powers of the surveillance agencies. From the Times:

Previously, with narrow exceptions, an intelligence agency was permitted to disseminate information gathered from court-approved wiretaps only after deleting irrelevant private details and masking the names of innocent Americans who came into contact with a terrorism suspect. The Raw Take order significantly changed that system, documents show, allowing counterterrorism analysts at the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. to share unfiltered personal information.

Obviously, there is a challenge here to the Congress: since the executive and judicial branches won’t stop this, the legislative branch must do something to rein in the surveillance state.

I would feel more optimistic about the chances of that happening if it weren’t for the “Spy v. Spy” drama playing out right now between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Briefly, the committee thought it would be a good idea to look into the years of torture carried out by the CIA. The agency would have none of that, so it set up an operation that not only spied on the congressional committee’s staffers but engaged in a bit of cyberwarfare by hacking into the committee’s computers and deleting material. Has there ever been a more rogue operation? [Not only that: the CIA, which shows no respect for the rule of law, then had the chutzpah to refer the matter to the Justice Dept. to prosecute the Senate staffers involved. Now, that shows that someone at the agency at least has a sense of humor. Sheesh.]

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Filed under Journalism, New York Times, Politics, President Obama, surveillance, Uncategorized

Surveillance State (cont): Snowden: Why build a big haystack?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who divulged the secret surveillance that the agency conducts on innocent American civilians, made a good point in his recent “public appearance.” Still stuck in Russia, Snowden imgres3spoke to the SxSW conference, via teleconference, thanks to multiple encrypted relays to disguise his actual location.

The Times chose to put its story in the Business section (which was unfortunate, I think) on the apparent grounds that Snowden’s big pitch was aimed at U.S. tech and social-media companies, telling them that they need to step up their privacy. They already knew that, so I am not sure what the news value was there.

Of greater interest was the theme developed by the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima. She emphasized Snowden’s view that the NSA is so swamped with big data from its indiscriminate surveillance that it is not doing a very good job of tracking individual bad guys (which is, after all, what we want them to do).

‘‘We’ve actually had a tremendous intelligence failure because . . . we’re monitoring everybody’s communications instead of suspects’ communications’’ — a situation, he asserts, that has ‘‘caused us to miss’’ intelligence.

Come to think of it, for all the money that we spend on the intelligence community as a whole, and for all the compromises we make with the Constitution and our liberties, how great is the return? Where are the answers to these questions:

–Did anyone know that Putin would seize Crimea? Did anyone tell President Obama?

–Did anyone predict the Boston Marathon bombing?

–Did anyone predict the uprising that toppled Mubarak in Egypt?

–Can anyone tell us how to get rid of Assad in Syria?

–Did anyone know what was coming in Benghazi?

–What about 9/11? What about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Basically, we need to ask: why do all the big, important things seem to come as such a surprise (to our presidents as well as to the average informed citizen)?

Whenever you don’t find something, doesn’t that tell you that you’re looking in the wrong places?

 

 

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Filed under Journalism, New York Times, Politics, President Obama, surveillance

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: What he learned from journalism

By Christopher B. Daly 

Happy birthday to Gabriel Jose de la Concordia Garcia Marquez!images

The Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist turns 87 today.

Here’s a quotation that puts his career in perspective:

“I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of journalist.”

“I learned a lot from James Joyce and Erskine Caldwell and of course from Hemingway … [but the] tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable, into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk.”

He worked for a newspaper in Bogotá for many years, writing at least three stories a week, as well as movie reviews and several editorial notes each week. Then, when everyone had gone home for the day, he would stay in the newsroom and write his fiction.

“I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Who hears the rainy clatter of a Linotype machine any more?

 September 1942. "Linotype operators in composing room of the New York Times newspaper." These machines cast lines of type (Linotype) from molten lead prior to their assembly by compositors into the printing plates that go on the presses. Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information.

September 1942. “Linotype operators in composing room of the New York Times newspaper.” These machines cast lines of type (Linotype) from molten lead prior to their assembly by compositors into the printing plates that go on the presses. Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information.

 

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Money & Politics: spending is not the same as speaking

By Christopher B. Daly

Today’s report about the influence of money in politics is the inevitable progeny of the 2010 Citizens United ruling. One of the worst parts of that ruling was the deep misconception at the heart of it: that spending money equals political speech. That flies in the face of common sense, human experience, and two centuries of constitutional interpretation. But we seem to be stuck with it, at least for now.

Today’s story in the Times also carries a whiff of “false equivalence,” because for every liberal zillionaire like Tom Steyer, there are probably dozens of conservatives like the Kochs. They are all seeking unaccountable ways to give unlimited amounts of money to shape our politics. It’s wrong, and we will regret it. Let these same people give all the speeches their throats can make. Let them write all the essays, pamphlets, and letters they like. As citizens, each of us is entitled to use our voices to persuade the others. But having a hundred million dollars does not make any citizen more virtuous, more patriotic, or wiser. It just makes you louder.

Spending ≠ speaking.

 

 

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