Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Arthur E. Teele and Big Sugar: a true story ... by gimleteye

That's me on the left. The year is possibly 1994. I'm standing next to the late Congressman William Lehman from Miami-Dade. Bill Lehman died in 2005. Next to Bill is the civil rights activist and Miami path breaker, Thelma Gibson. The sturdy, imposing African American to the right was the star of the photograph. Arthur E. Teele, Jr. (Sorry, I don't recall the name of the woman to Art Teele's left.)

At the time, Art Teele was chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission. He died in 2005, too. A decade ago. A decade after this photo was taken. Twenty years after this photograph more or less, Arthur E. Teele blew his brains out in the lobby of One Herald Square, the home of the Miami Herald that also doesn't exist. He did it for a reason: he believed he was being hounded out of existence by enemies including the powerful Herald.

In the photograph, Art Teele is caught looking off to the side. Bill Lehman is looking down. That happens, especially when photos are staged and there's a lot going on around you. The moment the camera clicks you are inattentive. But as I look at the photo today, I recall Art Teele often looked that way when you were talking with him. Looking somewhere else. Restless.

Art had a powerful mind directed to politics. During an era when very few African American Republicans rose to the top -- Teele had been a Assistant Secretary of Transportation under Reagan -- he stood out. When the photo was taken and Teele was running for mayor of the Miami-Dade County Commission, I was his link to a constituency Art believed key: the Anglo vote in Florida's most politically influential county. It was Art's belief that a strong African American turnout at the polls, connected with Anglo voters, could overcome the Cuban American bloc vote.

Local elections are non-partisan. Still, Art -- a moderate Republican (extinct, too) -- ran a single television ad during the 1996 campaign against Alex Penelas: it was a spot featuring Teele's endorsement by Sierra Club for his willingness to be a friend of the Everglades.

At the time, I was the chair of the local chapter of the Club. During the 1996 campaign I worked many months, weeks and hours at phone banks staffed by unpaid Sierra Club volunteers -- making at least 30,000 phone calls in the course of the campaign, day after day, night after night for Art Teele.

I had come to Art's attention a few years earlier as the most vocal opponent of Miami-Dade insiders who were attempting to lift the Homestead Air Force Base out of the hands of the U.S. military and into their own pockets, through a no-bid 99 year lease the county commission willingly approved. The HABDI pot was on high boil, consuming millions of dollars of county resources and all the political oxygen in county hall. Art came to my attention when he took time to educate me on the history of HABDI, Inc., loosely organized around the then-board of directors of the Latin Builders Association. Miguel DeGrandy, of Greenberg Traurig, was the HABDI point man. The HABDI organizer, Ramon Rasco, later founded the insider financial institution of Miami-Dade County: US Century Bank. (Among others, of course, Marco Rubio's mortgage was with US Century.)

During the 1996 campaign against Penelas -- supported heavily by the LBA -- I spoke frequently with Art. He answered my calls. We met in his office or apartment where he also took the time to explain, in detail, Miami-Dade precinct politics. Until, suddenly, about a month before the fall election Art Teele disappeared from view.

My phone calls weren't returned. He rarely appeared in the campaign office and when he did, it was in a black mood. His campaign manager had vanished, too. As to the gloom at headquarters in the old Everglades Hotel on Biscayne, I didn't share that with the Sierra Club volunteers pouring their hours and energy to get Teele elected.

At around seven PM on October 1, Election Eve, I was hanging around the empty campaign office when my cell phone rang. Art was terse. "I'm sure you have some questions for me." He could be formal, like that, or profane. "Come up." At the time, Teele had an apartment in the hotel. My heart was pounding as I waited for the elevator. I was angry. Furious. Ready to unburden all the frustration of the past month.

My anxiety wasn't just about the mayor's election. A presidential election was in process -- only a month away -- , and many issues that Florida environmentalists held critical were in play. President Bill Clinton had been in Miami frequently, raising cash as fast as he could from the powerful insiders who were intent to steamroller Teele and, in Miami, urgently seeking Clinton's support for the Homestead Air Force Base scheme.

Environmentalists, lead by Paul Tudor Jones and the Save Our Everglades Committee, had placed three constitutional amendments on the November ballot, calling for Big Sugar to pay a tax to clean up its pollution of the Everglades. Big Sugar had organized a counter attack, including African American churches, enlisting Rev. Jesse Jackson, to oppose the environmental initiative; calling it punitive on black people.

The threadbare hotel suite was dimly lit. Art motioned me to sit across from him. Two comfortably upholstered chairs bracketing an empty coffee table. He didn't wait. No pleasantries. Jumped right in, his eyes locked on mine, not moving to catch what was in the background or off to the side. So, you haven't seen me much lately. I replied along the lines, what the hell, Art.

So three weeks ago I lost my campaign manager, he said.

It wasn't a question. He waited for me to respond. Art was good at that. He didn't have to talk all the time the way some politicians do. He could be perfectly still and silent, and while you calculated your response you had the feeling he was already steps ahead.

Art's campaign manager had been a young man named Julio Rebull, Jr. He was from a well-regarded Cuban American family, politically connected, and one of the very few Cuban Americans in Art's corner. Suddenly, a month before the campaign, Julio was gone. Nowhere to be seen. Never returned a phone call. Not a word. Art was left to manage his own campaign. Literally.

"After we ran that Sierra Club ad, Julio got a phone call from the Fanjuls," Art told me. The Fanjuls being Florida Crystals, the dominant political players in Florida, Florida's own Koch Brothers. The Sierra Club ad that the Teele campaign was upbeat, positive with not a single hint of controversy. It was about the magnificent treasure -- the Everglades -- that Art Teele valued.

"They told him, because of that TV spot he had to drop out of the campaign or he would never work in Miami again."

There was a flood in the silence that ran between us at that moment. In an instant he said, I am going downstairs to give my concession speech and I want you to stand right beside me.

He rose wearily, put on his suit jacket, straightened his tie and lead me out of the room and to the elevator. We didn't exchange another word. The elevator doors opened, I trailed behind him across the lobby floor to a reception area filled with people, television cameras, lights. He walked through the crowd like he owned it. I couldn't keep up and never made it all the way to the stage, blocked by the heaving supporters, well-wishers, nay-sayers, but no lobbyists.

Once up on the stage, he was flanked by friends and family. He looked out impatiently, shading his eyes. He was searching for me and he found me. With his hand he summoned me. I slid my way through and clambered up on the stage, looking for a place to stand. Art reached out and pulled me to his right side. If you care to find the television footage, you will see him pulling me next to him as though we were the only two people in the frame. Then, he gave his concession to the cameras and to the crowd.

It was an intimate moment because what we shared -- the awareness of powerful, dark forces presiding over our democracy -- we couldn't talk about, or, we could talk about but the press wouldn't report it.

I never really knew Art Teele after that moment. I never returned to the Everglades Hotel, filled as it was with darkness.

Scarcely a week later, on the same October evening President Clinton made his final campaign swing through Miami at the Biltmore Hotel, African Americans bused in by Big Sugar were loudly protesting outside. I patiently waited my turn to slip into the ballroom, inside, to hand deliver a letter to the president's advisor, Mac McCarty, written by environmental attorneys stating our grounds to sue the federal government if the Homestead Air Force Base deed transfer proceeded.

After his loss, Art Teele tried to reclaim his power base in the city of Miami. As a city commissioner, it didn't go well. It was a decade of struggle for Art I gleaned from press reports -- soberly pursuing the lurid and sensational.

I like the photo. I just rediscovered it yesterday. To Art's detractors, I have always had a simple response: sometimes, the paranoid aren't crazy. Sometimes evidence is on their side.

Miami Dade County Sewer Department's Enemy No. 1. By Geniusofdespair

Public Enemy Number 1

The Miami Herald's Doug Hanks says flushable butt wipes cause "Epic Clogs." The Sewer Department calls them the "Growing Wipes Threat". It is Countrywide, the photo below is from Portland. The Miami Herald has a barfable photo of their own of OUR sewer clog -- way more disgusting than mine.

Sewer Pipe: Let that breakfast soar through you....
Don't use the sewer cloggers please. It is costing money.

The Water and Sewer Department says:

These products (baby wipes, tampons, etc. included) do not breakdown within the sewer system and can result in costly clogs, as well as sewer backups in your home. Please be mindful of what is flushed down the toilet, the unseen damage can result in millions of dollars in repair work or replacement, not to mention possibly affecting service delivery.

Homestead News: CRA Spends $35,000 to Sing. By Geniusofdespair

Hudstead CRA in late April/early May gave the Mexican American Council $35,000 to teach Mariachi music.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Homophobes are Alive and Well and Sending Emails in Miami. By Geniusofdespair

I left out the photo of the naked woman with the Brazilian wax. This was sent out over Memorial Day Weekend NOT BY ME!!

The email in question was found in a friend's official email. Not wanting to forward it to me, the person took a picture of three of the screens.  I actually know one of the people who forwarded it (it was a forward of a forward). Shame on you all. Dickheads to be sure.

State Senator Joe Negron and Florida's shadow government: Polluted politics contaminate the legislature, tying back to Big Sugar ... by gimleteye

As pollution spews from Lake Okeechobee as a consequence of Big Sugar's domination of the Florida legislature, attention has started to focus on one of the industry's biggest supporters and enablers: Florida state senator Joe Negron.
Negron's muted response to the algae blooms in the St. Lucie and his unwillingness to hold his Republican colleagues accountable for tough, strict measures to stop industrial pollution of the Lake, has a precedent.

Negron could soon be the elected by his senate colleagues to president, following in the footsteps of one of Jeb Bush's top lieutenants, Ken Pruitt. Pruitt is not only property tax appraiser in St. Lucie County, he is a lobbyist who has harvested hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from Big Sugar.

Let's hope political opposition mounts to challenge Joe Negron and Ken Pruitt at the polls and that the media show some curiousity about Florida's shadow government.

Joe Negron's net worth quadrupled, annual income doubled since winning first elected office in 2000
George Andreassi
Treasure Coast Newspapers
10:37 PM, May 23, 2015

STUART — State Sen. Joe Negron quadrupled his personal fortune to about $800,000 since 2000, when he first won elected office.

Negron’s annual income, mainly his pay as an attorney, more than doubled to about $300,000 during the past 14 years, a Treasure Coast Newspapers investigation found.

And if Negron — the Stuart Republican whose district spans the Treasure Coast — wins his bid for the Florida Senate presidency later this year, his personal finances are likely to improve even more, judging by the performance of his mentor, former Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. Now the St. Lucie County property appraiser, Pruitt’s annual income has more than doubled and net worth more than tripled since he resigned from the state senate in 2009.


Some government watchdogs and political activists on the Treasure Coast said the growing affluence of powerful state lawmakers such as Negron eventually causes them to lose touch with ordinary voters and taxpayers. They also said they believe there is synergy between Negron’s legal and political careers.

“In my opinion, they go hand in hand,”said Bill Ramos, D-Jensen Beach, who lost to Negron in the 2009 special election to complete Pruitt’s unexpired term in the state Senate. “He proved himself a smart investment to the special interests that invested in him, so the doors of professional opportunity, and higher political office, were opened to him.

“He has become less qualified to represent middle-class voters with every political victory,” Ramos said. “His words say ‘middle class,’ but his actions and votes say ‘special interests.’ ”

For his part, though, Negron portrays himself as a man of the people who worked his way up from the bottom through hard work and honest ambition.

“I am honored to be an attorney in this community, representing businesses to prevent and resolve disputes and, when necessary, to seek justice in our court system,” Negron said. “As both a House member and senator, I have a track record of representing the interests of all my constituents on the Treasure Coast, without regard to their individual finances.”

“As a teenager, I proudly worked at the Green Thumb Nursery in Hobe Sound for $2.20 an hour,” Negron said. “I unloaded grocery trucks at 4 a.m. and stocked shelves at the Port Salerno Winn-Dixie to put myself through college.”

Negron’s annual income rose about 113 percent since 2000, when he first won a seat in the state House of Representatives in District 82, state records show. Meanwhile, the median household income in Florida rose about 23 percent to $47,886 since 2000, U.S. census data shows.

“Compare Negron’s skyrocketing income over the last few years ... against the financial hardship most Treasure Coast families face,” said Reid Friedson, a government watchdog from Fort Pierce. “His priorities remain clear. Joe Negron has consistently chosen big business over workers, the environment and constitutional rights.”

Negron is not the only state senator whose net worth is rising, according to a Feb. 24 report by, an investigative news site covering state politics. The total net worth of Florida’s 40 state senators increased by 18 percent between 2011 and 2013, according to the report.

The base pay of state senators and representatives for the 2014-2015 budget year is $29,697, state records show.

Negron and his supporters said his industriousness led to professional advancement, which brings greater financial rewards. His educational credentials include a law degree from Emory University in Atlanta and a master’s in public administration from Harvard University.

“At first glance, a net worth of $800,000 and annual income of $300,000 ... is not excessive,” said Chuck Winn, a Martin County conservative activist. “No doubt the contacts any legislator makes will benefit their business interests. Joe Negron is not dumb enough to get involved in questionable transactions.”

State Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, whose seat once was held by Negron, said he is a hard worker who has won the respect of Treasure Coast voters and fellow lawmakers.

“I am confident that he will continue to put people over politics and work for principled solutions as the senate president,” Magar said.


Negron started his legal career in 1986 with a Stuart-based law firm headed by F. Shields McManus, who has since risen to a judgeship in the 19th Circuit Court. Negron moved on to the Steger & Steger law firm and later the Crary, Buchanan law firm, both in Stuart, before starting his own sole-practitioner law firm in 2003.

Negron’s income and net worth took off in 2005 after he joined a large national law firm, Akerman Senterfitt, and later the Gunster Yoakley law firm, which is among the most politically active in Florida. Both firms have lucrative businesses lobbying the state government in Tallahassee.

Gunster’s onetime managing partner, George Lemieux, was chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist appointed Lemieux, R-Fort Lauderdale, to the U.S. Senate in 2009 to complete the unexpired term of Mel Martinez, R-Orlando. The Gunster firm earned between $850,000 and $1,949,992 lobbying the state legislative and executive branches in 2014, state records show.

Negron is one of 10 state lawmakers employed by a firm whose activities include lobbying the state government, according to a report by Integrity Florida, a state government watchdog. Two of the others work for Akerman Senterfitt, Negron’s prior employer.


Some watchdogs have expressed concern Gunster’s lobbying clients may benefit from Negron’s role as state senator, which has included a stint as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. But Negron has denied any connection between his legal practice and his work in the Senate.

Peter Butzin, volunteer state chairman of the Common Cause Florida government-watchdog group, has expressed concern about whether Negron’s employment as an attorney with Gunster could pose a conflict with his official position as a state senator. Butzin said he is unconcerned with Negron’s rising legal income.

“I am more interested in learning more about his clients and whether his income was earned from billings,” Butzin said. “I would be bothered if such income were unearned.”

It is common for state lawmakers to benefit professionally from their elevated status as an elected official, Butzin said.

“Does a politician land a prominent position in a prestigious law firm simply because he or she has outstanding legal skills? Perhaps,” Butzin said. “But it’s much more likely that the partners in the law firm recognize the benefits associated with having such a person on their letterhead.”


Negron said he typically spend 10-12 days per year in court but hasn’t appeared in court on behalf of a client since January.

“I currently practice business litigation with the Gunster firm, which is entirely separate from my legislative service,” Negron said. “I do not represent and have not represented Gunster clients before state agencies, and have taken the appropriate legal steps to separate myself from those matters.”

For some Democratic activists who have long criticized Negron’s conservative politics, his growing income from powerful law firms is another reason to distrust his motives.

“Who they are lobbying for will tell you whether Negron is focused on the public interest or private profit,” Friedson said. “The Gunster and Akerman law firms lobby mostly for big-business insiders, not the public interest. Who lobbies for the common man and woman and our environment? Not these firms.”


1983: Stetson University, BA
1986: Emory University Law School, JD
2009: Harvard University, MPA

1986-1989/1990: McManus, Stewart, Ferraro law firm, Stuart
1989/1990-1996: Steger & Steger law firm, Stuart
1996-2002: Crary, Buchanan, law firm, Stuart
2002-present: Joe Negron, PA, Stuart
2004: Gaunt, Pratt, Radford & Methe law firm, West Palm Beach
2004-2010: Akerman, Sentefitt law firm, West Palm Beach
2010-present: Gunster Yoakley law firm, West Palm Beach


Florida Senate presidents from the Treasure Coast
2006-2008: Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie
2010-2012: Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne

Monday, May 25, 2015

In New York. By Geniusofdespair

Relatives tend to die around holidays. Imagine being at a military cemetery on Memorial Day Weekend. That is where I have been.

They are having a softball tournament somewhere near here so the hotel is loaded with boys between the ages of 8 and 14. Parents are busy drinking as the boys run wild and, worse, scream. The halls are littered with pizza boxes and other debris. I think the inconvenience to regular guests at the Islandia Marriott is worth a few million points Marriott.

I asked them to turn off Fox News on one of their Lobby TV's. My Marriott file must be noted with "major pain in the ass".

My brother gave me a test. The outcome was "I am a fascist". One of my relatives said I looked shorter as she glided by at the funeral. Yes, it has been a good weekend, one I hope to forget.

Oklahoma: Please do the nation a favor and stop voting for James Inhofe ... by gimleteye

It's Memorial Day, I know, and the nation ought to be reflecting on the sacrifices made by our soldiers to secure our freedoms. So why am I thinking about Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Inhofe?

Partly, because last night I watched a Vice News segment on Uganda where top officials are on a crusade against homosexuality that is as ferocious as the early stages of Nazi hatred of Jews. It turns out that the Ugandan jihadists count among their closest friends and advisors, members of the conservative GOP in the United States and in particular, James Inhofe, who made at least 135 visits to Africa.

In other words, the far right -- that couldn't get its way against homosexuality in the United States -- has in Uganda of all places to spew hatreds that fail the test of American democracy.

Inhofe is also the U.S. senator chosen by Republican leadership to head the anti-global warming, denial faction of the US Senate. He is chairman of the the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, thanks to voters who returned the Senate to Republican control in 2014. In another Vice News episode, Inhofe is featured as a principle obstacle to a reasoned response by the US Congress to climate change.

With recent earthquakes, tornadoes and the worst flooding in recorded history, the religious right ought to consider that God and Jesus are not generally displeased with America but specifically displeased with Oklahoma and James Inhofe.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mariana Jones ... by gimleteye

Among the last of the generation of Everglades defenders who lived, worked, and knew the splendor of the Everglades as it existed in the 1940's and 1950's died yesterday. We honor those who have passed, like Mariana Jones and her late husband Johnny Jones, through our determination and passion to protect and restore what remains of Florida's natural heritage.

Not everyone may be an environmentalist or even be concerned about what happens "out there" beyond the urban boundary. But every single person in South Florida should rebel against the deformation of democracy that goes on, every day, in order to put the rights of polluting corporations ahead of the rights of people.

It is not just about panthers or manatees: when you fight to uphold liberty and freedom against those who dominate legislatures for their personal wealth and benefit, you are fighting for your health, for fairness and equity for all people, and for a hopeful future. We will never give up.

The bottom line: the state of the environment reflects us and our own state. When the waters of this state are falling apart, when toxic algae blooms cover up the shadow government imposed by big polluters -- like Big Sugar -- we are diminished, made smaller, less significant and less powerful than is our right under the Constitution.

It is just like the bumper sticker says: "If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention".

The Everglades and wild Florida has lost a champion today.
By Michael Conner

Mariana Jones, wife of the late Johnny Jones--a past president of the Florida Wildlife Federation and arguably the most influential and tireless lobbyist for The Everglades, Big Cypress and the Kissimmee River--passed away today in West Palm Beach.

Mariana shared in Johnny's fight for our beloved woods and waters, and I encourage anyone who has even a passing interest in preserving Florida wild places to pause today and research what this tireless couple achieved in their years of activism.

Mariana preferred to stay out of the spotlight, allowing Johnny, affectionately known as The Bulldog, to work his magic with politicians and the media.

Over the years I have been aware of Johnny's and Mariana's efforts, having fished and hunted in the 'Glades and Big Cypress, and having attended Everglades public meetings in the mid 70s through the late 80s. The name Jones was front and center, and the environmental and the hunting and fishing community has heaped much deserved praise on this couple over the years.

I deeply regret not getting to know, or having the chance to personally thank Mariana, grandmother of my girlfriend and fellow River Warrior Michelle Roberts this past year.

So today I will do just that.

Thank you Mariana, for yours and Johnny's dedication to, and passion for, the Everglades and all of wild Florida. You set the bar high, and laid the foundation for those like me, those who continue your fight to preserve what we have left. Rest in peace with the knowledge that your fight will rage on and your work was not in vain.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ron Goldfarb: "It's Time To Bring Snowdon Home" ... by gimleteye

Ron Goldfarb, a resident of Key Biscayne and Washington, DC, writes for Politico: "It's Time To Bring Edward Snowdon Home".

After the Snowdon affair, EOM voted him to be the Time Magazine "Man of the Year". Now that time has passed and passions cooled a little, Ron Goldfarb offers a sober, rational path for Snowden's return.

I agree with Ron, especially: "It should not be a crime to report a crime". Altogether, whistleblower protections need to be strengthened in the U.S., including harsher criminal sentences when offenders are exposed within the ranks of government.

If Edward Snowden is a traitor, what do we call the architects of the war in Iraq who exposed the United States to $3 trillion in taxpayer costs and American blood? The war on terror is proving exceptionally difficult to dial back now that a constituency for intelligence gathering has acquired wealth and the prerogatives of power.

With a public, televised trial and a fair reckoning by the courts -- still presumably insulated from politics -- Edward Snowdon could provide another significant boon to the American people who have reason to question what happened to American exceptionalism.

It’s Time to Bring Edward Snowden Home
The government is entitled to an accounting. He is entitled to make his case for clemency.

“There is a danger to letting the government in,” Rand Paul warned today from the Senate floor during his filibuster-like attempt to prevent the looming Patriot Act renewal. Just prior to that comment, Paul name-checked the man without whom his speech would likely never have taken place: Edward Snowden.

During his speech against the Patriot Act, Paul leaned heavily on the information that Snowden brought to light. That’s because Snowden has transformed the debate in this country—and in the world—over surveillance. Given that fact, it’s more than a little strange that the most famous whistleblower in recent U.S. history shouldn’t be here to speak up as we consider the results of his handiwork. Which is why it is time to bring Edward Snowden home to America and let him make the case for his freedom in front of a jury of his peers.

As the Patriot Act nears its expiration date at the end of this month, Snowden’s fingerprints are all over the legislation under debate, including whether to end the bulk collection of telephone meta-data altogether after a federal appeals court ruled it illegal. Congress is battling over whether to extend the Act, allow it to disappear or to rein in NSA's bulk collection programs by passing legislation (interestingly called the Freedom Act) that reforms current surveillance practices. It’s unlikely those reforms would be under debate without Snowden’s disclosures.

When he comes back, Snowden’s trial and sentence should be televised for the public to witness. The government is entitled to an accounting. He is entitled to make his case for clemency. Whatever crimes he committed, he has enlightened the world for the better, and he deserves a trial that pits the good his revelations have done against the alleged damage he has done to national security.

Negotiations are reportedly ongoing for Snowden’s return. He has said that he is prepared to come home if he can have a fair and open trial. That is his constitutional right and it would be in the public interest. One commentator called Snowden “a conscientious objector to the war on privacy”; others view him as the latest in a line of civil disobedience that runs from Exodus to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, Snowden also has many detractors who consider him a thief, and worse—a traitor.

The courts can settle this matter, but only if they are allowed to consider the legality of the secrets Snowden disclosed. USC-Berkeley Journalism Dean Edward Wasserman and Harvard Law School Professor Yochai Benkler believe there should be a public interest defense to protect whistleblowers in cases like Snowden’s. It is hypocritical that sources are punished while their press contacts win prizes for using their information. And it should not be a crime to expose a crime.


The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City recently ruled unanimously that the government’s telephonic metadata gathering surveillance practices that Edward Snowden revealed were unlawful. That decision by the most prestigious appellate court in the federal system is consistent with an earlier decision in the federal district court in Washington, DC, Klayman v. Obama. Another case is pending in the 9th Circuit.

In the 2nd Circuit case the court ruled that collecting private telephonic metadata was an "unprecedented contraction of privacy expectations of all Americans," which is exactly the sort of language Snowden has used when defending his actions. If it turns out that Snowden was right about the unlawfulness of America’s security state, shouldn’t that be taken into account when a judge and jury decide his punishment?

There is a recent precedent in the conviction and sentencing of retired General David Petraeus. Clearly there are major differences between Petraeus’s and Snowden’s crimes. The scope of material that Snowden appropriated dwarfs the classified information that the general mishandled. But Snowden—and the General—violated their security clearances. Snowden did so in order to fundamentally change America’s security state. Petraeus was just trying to please his biographer/mistress.

The scale of their law-breaking wasn’t exactly equal. But if there were good reasons for judging the honored general with compassionate understanding, some similar measure of justice is owed the reviled Snowden, whose daring acts were motivated not by vanity or promiscuity, human frailties, but by public spirited concerns about the constitutionality of government programs—concerns that turned out to be correct.

Whatever one thinks about the relative virtues and sins of Petraeus and Snowden, the once-celebrated military hero acted out of "vanity and lust," the New York Times editorialized, and he lied to the FBI about his wrongdoing (a federal crime when I was a prosecutor). Compare that with Snowden, who disclosed his information to trusted press contacts, did not hide his acts and was not motivated by personal interests. Hunting him down like he was Tokyo Rose, while the general is let off with a fine and probation suggests we are not all equal before the law.

People disagree about how best to strike the proper balance between national security and constitutional rights. That’s exactly why a televised trial would do this country good and allow the public to participate in this important debate. Georgetown law professor David Cole has written, "Snowden’s disclosures portray an insatiable agency that has sought to collect as much information as it possibly can, most of it relying on secret interpretations of law." Those laws, and the procedures of the security state, deserve a trial of their own.


After 9/11, the country was understandably in shock, angry, and it called upon its intelligence establishment to give our national defense the highest priority. National security officials decided to collect what it dubbed the “haystack” of information in its search for all the dangerous needles. That metaphor was apt: our pursuit of treacherous evil-doers made us pursue every lead in order to assure the concerned citizenry that such a tragedy on our soil would not be repeated.

The question being asked a decade later, in the aftermath of Edward Snowden's disclosures, is whether gathering haystack of data is an efficient way to identify threats. If we collect everything, Snowden told a Princeton audience in May 2015, we understand nothing. And we trample the privacy and constitutional rights of innocent citizens in the process.

Hay stackers still theorize that we can’t know what we don’t know, and therefore traditional court orders authorizing searches of individual records are unworkable until after the government has already searched its massive databases and identified specific "needles.” Anti-haystackers argue that we won’t know what we do know if we gather so much data that needles get overlooked, as it has been claimed happened with the 9/11 and Boston Marathon disasters. Ironically, too much data actually compromised the effectiveness of our investigations.

As US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said forty years ago, “When everything is classified, then nothing is classified. And the system becomes one to be disregarded by the cynical or the careless, and to be manipulated by those intent on self-protection or self-promotion.”

Our tripartite government is based on executive actions being subject to judicial review and congressional oversight. Sadly, in national security cases, the federal courts have abdicated their independent roles and invariably defer to executive claims of state secrets. Congressional oversight also has been faulty in recent times. The public relies on its legislative representatives under our government’s separation of powers to review and control executive excesses. But there is an inherent dilemma: Congress must rely on the very agencies it oversees for the information needed to perform its overseeing.

The 9/11 Commission concluded that prevailing congressional oversight of national security was ineffective. Another prestigious report concluded that Congress’ watchdog role was overly partisan and dysfunctional. We have evolved, one expert historian concluded, from eras of trust, to uneasy partnership, to distrust, to partisanship, to acquiescence. Senator Bob Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and chaired a post-9/11 joint congressional inquiry into intelligence activities, concluded that there is too much politics, excessive secrecy, over-classification, lack of agency cooperation, need for more congressional expertise, and that heightened attention to constitutional rights of citizens is required.

When the government hides its faults, it remains for the press to expose them. But the sources the press relies on have been treated harshly when they “blow their whistles” on government misconduct. Former newspaper editor and State Department spokesman Hodding Carter reminds us that the press’ chief client is the public, rather than the “temporary custodians of the state.” But much of what the press knows about national security is from government sources. The national security establishment tells only what it wants told, and whistleblowers who speak to the press do so at great risk, as the Snowden case and others since 9/11 make clear.

A fair an open trial of Snowden would certainly heighten the public’s attention on this dilemma. Interestingly, according to an ACLU survey (the organization represents Snowden, it should be noted), Snowden’s principles and reforms he advocates have greater support than does Snowden, the individual. People don’t like snitches, to use the loaded word for what civil libertarians call whistleblowers. A trial that sorted fact from fiction would force Americans to reconcile their principles with their views on Snowden.

People believe, I have noticed in private conversations, that Snowden dumped the information he stole onto public screens, like Julian Assange did. No so, he provided the information he took to trusted journalists to curate and only publish information they agreed demonstrated unconstitutional procedures. One of his press voices, the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, says Snowden has been his most reliable source, that he gave him no instructions about what to release, only to act out of civic duty and ensure no danger is done, and that only constitutional problems should be exposed.

If the government and Snowden come to an agreed settlement, it ought to include a fair compromise. My recommendation as a civil liberties oriented former prosecutor is that Snowden agree to plead guilty to misappropriation of government records as General Petraeus did, and that his sentence be a tempered one, as was the case for Petraeus. Arguably Snowden’s motives were more patriotic than were the General’s and he ought to be able to demonstrate that at his sentencing hearing, which I once again recommend be televised for public educative purposes.

Heroes are imperfectly great, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote, and villains are never perfectly villainous. So it has been with Petraeus and Snowden. Snowden is guilty of misuse and unauthorized removal of classified government records, as was General Petraeus. Like the General, he also deserves a balanced sentence.

Ronald Goldfarb is a veteran Washington, DC attorney, author, and literary agent. He served in the Justice Department in the Robert F. Kennedy administration. His book, After Snowden: Privacy, Secrecy, and Security in the Information Age, will be published on May 19 by St. Martin’s Press, Thomas Dunne Books imprint.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

ISIS is "everywhere" in Palmyra, meanwhile in Alaska ... by gimleteye

This week's news from the polar south: "Scientists have expressed alarm at the rate of ice loss at the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, which had shown no signs of change until 2009, when it started suffering rapid destabilisation. Now new research has revealed that glaciers along the peninsula have been melting at accelerating rates, causing the mass of ice there to reduce. The loss of ice in the region is so large that it has caused the gravitation field of the Earth to change, according to some measurements conducted by scientists."

Thanks to my FB friend, Doug Lee, for pointing out what is happening near the northern polar extreme, in Alaska. View it in context of Karl Rove -- Republican strategist to Jeb Bush and George W. Bush -- and his brilliant 2004 assertion to NY Times reporter Ron Suskind: "... that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality… We're an empire now,” Rove told Suskind, “and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." (“Without a Doubt”, NY Times, October 17, 2004)

And today, Jeb Bush calls climate science believers, "arrogant"? Wow. Jeb must not be familiar with poet Paul Valéry's dictum: "Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them."

So have a happy Memorial Day weekend, all, but first a quick glimpse what is happening in Alaska. The Alaska DOT calls this, "a very unusual situation", and "a first". Luckily we are far away! LOL.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe 1964. By Geniusofdespair

And you thought only men were rockers....