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As I write this, I sit at the counter of the bookstore at Busboys & Poets at 5th & K IN DC.  For those who do not know it, B&P is a chain of restaurants owned by Iraqi-American Andy Shallal, named for Langston Hughes, who was both a busboy and a poet.  Andy is very left in his politics.  The original store at 14th and V has a bookstore run by Teaching for Change.  Those in the other three stores, now gearing up, are un directly.  I work weekends in both.

i mention this because hanging all the stores is a banner that says FREE BRADLEY MANNING.  That seems appropriate in light of the news of the past few days, intensified with Snowden deciding to come forward and reveal his identity.

Below the fold I want to pul together several sets of thoughts, starting with those previously posted as comments on the posts of others, then adding perhaps a few additional thoughts.

I will note only this -  tomorrow I sign a contract to teach at North County High School in Glen Burnie MD.  It is less than ten miles from Fort Meade.  Many of the students I teach will have one or more parents who work at NSA.  

The first thing I want to share was titled "What is truth?"  and appeared on the thread for
Armando's Vermont does the time warp: A conference on civility in political discourse.  This has to do with challenging assertions, calling out untruths, etc.  Given how heated the discourse over what Snowden did is becoming, it is a starting point.  The issues I make of criticism are I think equally applicable to the actions of the government - that we need to be able to criticize.

unfortunately the maxim of Daniel Patrick Moynihan that you may be entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts has long since been eliminated as a consideration in civic discourse

if you challenge the factual basis of some assertions instead of a meaningful examination you will get reliance upon doctrine or referrals to chosen "heroes" whose words are themselves not necessarily factually based.

Combine this with the rhetorical technique that if you challenge someone they immediately demand you provide something better  (a common problem in educational discussion with the likes of the so-called 'reformers") and you have immediately abandoned what should be an essential part of honest discourse - that we honestly analyze the problem.  

That I do not have an alternative to your hare-brained scheme does not make your hair-brained scheme any less hare-brained (with  all due apologies to the brains of hares, which often show far greater depth of reasoning than some who refuse to accept criticism of their faith-based (meant in more than a purely religious and dogmatic sense) assertions.

Believe me, this problem is being compounded by what is happening in public education, where some school boards are insisting on their right to impose interpretations and restrictions that undercut getting to the truth  - anthropogenic climate change is now becoming as much of a no-no as is evolution, and how dare you teach that the capitalist freemarket system if it existed as they pretend would not only be even more than a disaster than what we have, but is in direct contradiction to some of the more cogent comments of Adam Smith.  

I run the risk of facing this.  I taught for a long time in the same school in the same school system. I was a known quantity.  People had my back when I challenged closed patterns of thinking.

Assuming I sign my contract tomorrow, I will be teaching in a building where I am largely unknown, as an untenured teacher in a system that has few people with knowledge of me as a teacher or experience in dealing with me.  In my former school I could be way outside normal limits.   I have to wonder what might happen when as a newbie someone complains because I have challenged the close-minded and inaccurate things they have been teaching children at home or in church.  

I have been more fortunate on this than most teachers.

If we cannot take on controversial issues, if we cannot teach our students how to evaluate the assertions of others and ascertain when statements are false, how are we preparing them to make appropriate decisions in life, whether as consumers or voters or even as parents?

"What is truth?"   Some people will refuse to listen to anything that contradicts their pre-established beliefs.  Others recognize that allowing such questioning threatens their positions and their control, and will fight you tooth and nail, using any method available to silence you.

A false statement is a false statement.  It is a lie if it is made by someone who knows or who should responsibly know that it is false.  Refusal to examine contrary evidence does not lessen that culpability of being a liar.  

There are legal principles pertaining to this in the case of defamation.  In theory, truth is supposed to always be a defense against a charge of defamation, even if that truth is embarrassing or uncomfortable.

I want to see a better America.

For that to happen, people have to be willing to challenge lazy thinking, to call out falsities.

That USED to be the role of at least SOME in the media.

That there are now so few media voices that do so indicates how far we have fallen as a society, and is in part responsible for why we have
- increasing economic inequity
- people who violate laws and get away with it because they are not held up to the appropriate standard by the media ... that includes major government figures of both parties
- been apparently unwilling as a society to address what we are doing to our environment with wrong-headed energy policies that destroy it both short term (mountaintop removal) and long-term (rising temperatures)

Oh, there is so much more I could add.  I could turn this into a detailed screed.

Let it simply rest here as one comment among many on the thread, probably to be read by only a few people.

So be it.

I think I will do something positive that accomplishes a good - I will clean the cat pans.

The next two are on the thread of Deep Harm's NSA whistleblower reveals himself as Booz Allen Hamilton employee, Edward Snowden.

The first was written in response to someone who kept insisting that the only thing that mattered was that Snowden broke the law

breaking the law is often the highest moral action

for example, the Giep family hiding Otto Frank and his family in Amsterdam

Harriet Tubman smuggling slaves out of Dorchester County MD

Martin Luther King Jr. and many who broke the laws of the segregated South

that there is a law does not make it right or moral

if that is your sole determining factor, then I wonder what you are doing here

finally, there is this:  
vast majority of material classified doesn't need

to be

when government classifies after the fact that which is already public that is a sham

among the things that have been secrets were the Plumbers Unit under Richard Nixon.

So were the experiments giving people LSD without their knowledge or approval

the reason there needs to be oversight and transparency is to prevent abuses

you have three members of the Senate Intelligence Community who thought this was wrong

You had James Comey and Robert Mueller prepared to resign rather than let the program continue as it was being done with Cheney and Gonzalez in the White House

these people knew details and objected

we are having expansion of the national security state without the appropriate debate by the people's representatives

as far as the technical details -  so far I have heard nothing I did not expect, and I have been out of the computer and software business for two decades - oh, and yes, even without a security clearance, I consulted at both NSA and CIA and know many people who still work at both agencies

I did not hear this kind of screaming when a high Bush Administration official bragged to a reporter for a conservative publication that they were tracking bin Laden by his satellite phone - which bin Laden promptly stopped using.  That did real damage to the US, but you did not hear this kind of screaming.

The problem is that in all of these agencies there are people with consciences

there are also people without consciences who would not hesitate to abuse the information to which they have access

would you trust Dick Nixon with this power?  How about Dick Cheney?  If not, why the hell should you trust Barack Obama?

I have now read the material on Snowden and what he has to say.

I have read Deep Harm's updates where he points out the close connection between Booz, Allen and the national security apparatus

Far too much of our national security is in the hands of contractors.  WE have seen this in
many forms, including operational as well as logistic aspects of military endeavors overseas.  It has been true for years about the intelligence agencies of the US _  of which officially there are 13.

Far too much is classified.

Far too many people (hundreds of thousands) have access to varous parts of the huge amounts of classified material.

If people like James Clapper think that the technical capabilities of our intelligence organizations are unknown to national entities that may be in opposition to us, he is too deluded to be in his current position -  the amount of hacking into various computer systems about which we publicly hear is but a fraction of what is actually occurring.  And given the lack of security that has been demonstrated time and again - whether it includes a nun in her 80s getting through multiple layers of security before being stopped just outside a building with nuclear material, whether it is the ability of a low-ranking analyst named Bradley Manning to dump hundreds of thousands of pages of supposedly classified material, or whether it is Edward Snowden with a GED doing what he has done, I DO NOT Know why we continue to be surprised when this stuff gets out.

We thought we had a secret with nuclear weapons, only Stalin had agents that enabled him to rapidly catch up with us.

We have failed until too late to catch high-ranking and/or well-informed people in the FBI (James Hansen) or the CIA (Aldrich Ames, Edward Lee Howard, Philip Agee).

Too often our government wants to punish people here for what is being published or openly discussed overseas.  

There ARE people of conscience in some of these agencies, who at a minimum become troubled by what they see.

There are unfortunately also too many people whose mindset is anti-democratic:  they do not believe the people have the right to now, nor do politicians have the right to question what they do and how they do it.

Technology has increased the power available to monitor, disrupt, control.

Much of that technology is controlled by people who are NOT in the military, or in the intelligence organizations.

Should not we consider that if a 29 year old had the kind of access we have just seen what more sophisticated thinkers might do with the power at hand?

Could it be that we have already put into place the technology and the mechanisms that would make East Germany's STASI seem like Keystone Cops from the era of silent movies?

We now have a senator on the Intelligence Committee saying that NO terrorist acts have been stopped by this program.

We have an administration that is telling us to trust them - although we are not allowed to know about what.

I think this country is in real jeopardy.  If those in the military-industrial-intelligence complex are allowed to use what has happened to shut down investigative journalism and the ability of the Congress to do its job, then the last semblance of democracy will disappear.

Years ago, when as a software person I had a lot of contact with government agencies, I was at a conference on ADA -  the mathematically provable programming language commissioned by the Department of Defense.  On stage when I asked my question were two very distinguished people, one the former chief computer scientist for a major computer manufacturer, the other a former undersecretary of defense for technology.

My question was simple -  if a computer is connected in any way outside of a sealed room, is it possible to guarantee that it is secure.

The answer from both was, it is not.

It never has been.

All we can doo is make it more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

While I am not a Geek, I do know the NSA strongly objected to having security systems publicly sold that they could not crack.

I know that American industry has long cooperated with government agencies, sometimes without even the Board responsible to the shareholders knowing.

All of this is in conflict with the idea of a government of we the people.

I do  not know the answer.

I only know that Edward Snowden has provided an opportunity, as did Bradley Manning, as has Anonymous at times, as did Occupy, to stop the headlong rush into something where we will have only those "rights" those controlling the levers of power choose to grant us.

We have an opportunity.

We may not have too many more.

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