Four Sideshow Bobs

“Washington Post fact-checker introduces ‘Bottomless Pinocchio’ rating to call Trump on repeated false claims” Or, the weird desperate petulance of a man in denial about the limits of his profession. “Fact-checking” refers or should refer to behind-the-scenes editor research, ensuring quotes are real, data points are accurate, to keep the journalist honest. To use “fact-checking” to describe analyzing the veracity of politicians’ public claims just admits … Continue reading Four Sideshow Bobs

Self-tracking tools and data discipline

“Digital self-tracking tools are the latest wave of disciplinary technologies, imprisoning their users in a cage of data.” A pregnant-woman-to-be wonders how incessantly digitally tracking her pregnancy will amass data to be used against her future child. Is the Apple Watch truly a guardian, caring for our well-being — or is it a warden, watching and waiting for us to make a misstep? “Self-tracking” seems … Continue reading Self-tracking tools and data discipline

Poem: Tributary

I have lusted after rivers etching Picassos into hillsides, mapping a handvein future we won’t understand until it’s history. I’ve been lured downwind and downslope, fumbling across moss rocks and pebblebrook to be enveloped in a tributary’s yawn. I’ve made withdrawals from riverbanks that I can never repay, save for deposits of flat stones I’ve taught loved ones to skip softly. and when it was … Continue reading Poem: Tributary

Poem: Mantras

i’m eating a donut in the shower and reciting your poetry like a spell, hoping desperately to conjure your amused apparition halfway through your chapbook i can see your edges, a chalk outline that fled its inceptive scene your stanzas mark time on a calendar less gregorian than lunisolar, tracking the full moons since we fell in love— and look how far the dippers have … Continue reading Poem: Mantras

The best show not on TV

TV critics are open to the idea that a web series could be the best show around. They’ve just picked the wrong one. According to Metacritic, critics’ favorite new show this fall is Amazon Video’s Transparent (admittedly a brilliant title), a show about Mort Pfefferman’s announcement to his adult children that he’s actually Maura, a woman. I must be missing something, but I don’t see … Continue reading The best show not on TV

Exclusive interview with PayPal 14 lawyer Omar Figueroa

“corporate America uses the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as their private security firm” In 2010, thousands of people launched distributed denial of service attacks against the websites of PayPal and other financial companies in retaliation for those companies’ extra legal blockade of WikiLeaks upon the publication of war logs and diplomatic cables revealed by Chelsea Manning. PayPal said that its … Continue reading Exclusive interview with PayPal 14 lawyer Omar Figueroa

Obama’s police reforms will strengthen the police

As Reuters reports, President Obama is planning to spend $263 million on police reforms, including 50,000 body cameras for police officers, which would cover less than 10 percent of the total working in cities and suburbs, in “response to the civil rights upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri,” and “is setting up a task force to study how to improve modern-day policing.” The White House has also … Continue reading Obama’s police reforms will strengthen the police

New York Times plays up Ferguson’s Good Cop

(Analyzing the NYT’s framing could be a full–time job.) On Thursday, the New York Times published “In Ferguson, Officer Defused Eruptions as Crowds Grew Tense,” a profile of St. Louis County Police’s Good Cop, Lt. Jerry Lohr. Lohr, with the Times‘ help, is here to counter what you’ve been hearing for months about the Ferguson cops and their abuse of the black community rising up … Continue reading New York Times plays up Ferguson’s Good Cop

Blog Postmortem: learning from the billionaire journalism model

At least Matt Taibbi is writing again. He’s back with Rolling Stone, where he published ‘The $9 Billion Witness,’ an excellent account of Alayne Fleishman, the whistleblower JPMorgan Chase and the DOJ tried to silence: This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was … Continue reading Blog Postmortem: learning from the billionaire journalism model

Obama expands — not just extends — US war on Afghanistan

It’s worth noting that Obama’s “decision” authorizing US troops’ role in Afghanistan in 2015 is not merely an extension of war he promised to end this year; it’s also an expansion, as US forces are now given new powers, allowed to kill new targets and use new weapons:

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

As Marcy Wheeler writes,

Virtually simultaneously with the decision to permit American forces to be more involved with the Afghan government, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reversed Hamid Karzai’s ban on night raids — and also renamed them “night operations.”

The Times has more on that here:

Nazifullah Salarzai, Mr. Ghani’s spokesman, said that the American and NATO missions in 2015 would be governed by the security agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States and with NATO.

Neither agreement precludes the possibility of joint night raids.

Some Afghans are worried about resumption of the raids.

The Taliban will be going into other people’s houses, and the Americans will be behind them again, and there will be losses again of women and children when Taliban shoot from people’s houses, and in reaction the foreigners will bomb or kill them,” said Haji Abdullah Jan, a local shura leader in the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province. “I am not in favor of night raids because we have experienced such huge losses from them during those past years.

Nevertheless, headlines have largely said that Obama merely “extended” the US’s role, implicitly focusing on the limited, less surprising, less interesting aspect of Obama’s hypocrisy. Continue reading “Obama expands — not just extends — US war on Afghanistan”

The disappearing classified order

Friday night, the New York Times published a major story online under the then-all-caps headline, “IN SECRET, OBAMA EXTENDS U.S. ROLE IN AFGHAN COMBAT.” Upon publication, at 9:33pm EST, Mark Mazzetti’s and Eric Schmitt’s article began,

President Obama signed a secret order in recent weeks authorizing a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

It’s especially relevant that the order was signed in secret, because the decision directly contradicts Obama’s 2012 campaign rhetoric about withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 — in fact, Obama specifically made it a campaign issue that he promised to withdraw troops by this year’s end, whereas Mitt Romney had no timetable.

On Twitter, journalist Gregory Johnson noted another, implicit reason for the story’s importance: “Unmentioned, but I assume this also allows Guantanamo to stay open another year,” with Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith explaining, “It precludes Taliban detainees from arguing ‘end of hostilities’ as a basis for release for another year.”

The next morning, however, I noticed the print edition carried the much different headline, “IN A SHIFT, OBAMA EXTENDS U.S. ROLE IN AFGHAN COMBAT.” Continue reading “The disappearing classified order”

New York Times blames Iran for US sanctions

Maintaining the continued threat of Iran’s nuclear program is consistently useful to the US government’s foreign policy rhetoric. For decades it has been used to justify sending billions of dollars every year to Israel for “self-defense” and to maintain the US’s own billion-dollar nuclear stockpile. It has been used to justify US sanctions on Iran, Israel’s assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists (implicitly), and various strategic proxy wars.

The New York Timestimeline, just ahead of upcoming finalizing talks with Iran, covering “whether Iran is racing toward nuclear weapon capabilities” is therefore quite useful in upholding this theme. The Times says Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program is “one of the most contentious issues challenging the West, including the United States and Israel, which has been involved in a shadow war with the country,” using the singular “has” and thus shielding the United States from that clause, despite the US’s decades of “crippling” sanctions, to use its own term. Sanctions both deprive ordinary citizens of food and medicine and serve as a trapping prelude to war: the logic goes that if sanctions don’t work, meaning if you don’t bend to our will, we’ll have to take it up a notch. Continue reading “New York Times blames Iran for US sanctions”

Entrapment and how systemic abuse perpetuates itself

I have a new article up over at Truthout, “Not So Paranoid,” regarding the New York Times‘ reporting on the US government’s increased and increasing use of undercover agents in nearly every agency. This privacy-infringing practice is immune from accountability, and it only serves to justify its own expansion, since it entraps people who wouldn’t be committing crimes otherwise. Read the full piece here. Continue reading Entrapment and how systemic abuse perpetuates itself

Brief Questioning of Hideous Men

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel on Reforms to the Nuclear Enterprise in the Pentagon Briefing Room SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL Q: “Where’s the accountability for the failure to I guess improve and take the steps that were needed over this time? How many billions of dollars?” Q: “How did the air crews manage with just one wrench?” Q: “Everybody’s asking: What … Continue reading Brief Questioning of Hideous Men

Syria: intervention update

The New York Times reports on what US bombs have done to regular civilians in Syria since airstrikes began this summer:

many people are angry at the Americans. Food and fuel prices in Raqqa have soared, power blackouts have prevailed, and order is now threatened by a vacuum of any authority.

For all their violence and intolerance toward disbelievers, the fighters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, at least functioned as a government, providing basic services and some semblance of stability.

“People don’t want some outside power to attack,” Khalid Farhan, a Raqqa resident, said during a recent trip to Turkey.

Syrian civilians now see not that ISIS was a noble organization but that by contrast, American airstrikes have left them completely destabilized. Continue reading “Syria: intervention update”

The Paper of No Records (updated with NYT response)

Update below

In its bold ‘Response to President Xi Jinping‘ of China, the New York Times editorial board takes a stand:

The Times has no intention of altering its coverage to meet the demands of any government — be it that [sic] of China, the United States or any other nation. Nor would any credible news organization. The Times has a long history of taking on the American government, from the publication of the Pentagon Papers to investigations of secret government eavesdropping.

But despite the Times‘ claims to the contrary, this, like most rules, must come with an American Exception. This is a brazen whitewashing of the very type of stories the New York Times is known for withholding to meet the demands of the United States government: secret government eavesdropping. As has been well documented, the Times sat on James Risen’s and Eric Lichtblau’s revelation that the Bush administration was illegally wiretapping American citizens without warrants for more than a year, publishing ‘Bush Lets U.S. Spy On Callers Without Courts’ on December 16, 2005. Continue reading “The Paper of No Records (updated with NYT response)”

Hello to Language: on the words Godard inspired

Fandor’s Michael Atkinson lays out the ways in which even normally perceptive critics have been stupefied by Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, Goodbye to Language, forgetting that narratively unconventional doesn’t mean incomprehensible and walking on critical eggshells as they warn viewers that they might have to do a little brain-work instead of watching passively. Lou Lumenick, who writes of Godard’s “private language only film critics and Upper West Side audiences pretend to understand at this point,” is the least subtle of these, but writing for the New York Post, he’s also the easiest fish in the barrel to shoot. Atkinson thankfully aims his sights a little higher.

The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott, no slouch generally, windily maintains that Godard “seems to divide the world into skeptics and worshipers, with not much middle ground,” hardly bothering to make a case as to what a middle ground would look like, or why the “skeptics” (as if Godard is a conspiracy theorist) are simply moviegoers that do not or will not consider anything out of the structural mainstream.

Then:

The routinely astute Andrew O’Hehir, at Salon, even seemed at a loss, writing what he said might be a “reader-proof” review of what might be a “viewer-proof” movie—gingerly saying that you “have to cast aside preconceptions about movies being entertaining, or at least about what you think that means, in order to enjoy Goodbye to Language, and that’s not possible for everybody.”

I could add to the critique. Atkinson says Eric Kohn “gets” Godard but his review also calls it “baffling,” “esoteric,” and “dense.” The always thoughtful Bilge Ebiri opens a positive review, “I’ve now seen Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film twice, and I think I might be one more viewing away from finally being able to say what the hell it’s about.”

It’s actually not very difficult to enjoy, and it’s not as purely cerebral as even its advocates make it seem, by which I mean it’s also viscerally fun and fascinating and challenging and worthwhile. Continue reading “Hello to Language: on the words Godard inspired”

Libyan lessons learned

“What Happened to the Humanitarians Who Wanted to Save Libyans With Bombs and Drones?” asks The Intercept.

I’m writing mostly to answer this question because it isn’t explicitly said in the article: what happened to advocates of the western war on Libya was that they were rewarded with further inclusion in media circles as members of the serious establishment who believe that the US has humanitarian intentions, bombs can save lives, and war can bring peace. The co-author of the piece, in fact, is one of them. Continue reading “Libyan lessons learned”

Selection day

Early reports tell me that these fuckers trade portions of power back and forth to give alternating factions of Americans the recurring delusion that they retain the capacity for meaningful change while funneling their money ever upward into the pockets and offshore accounts of bankers, multinationals, and increasingly private security forces, but check back every few years for a more expensive update. Back to you. Continue reading Selection day

The PayPal 14 case has effectively ended, but they still need your help (updated)

Update, 11/3/14: Journalist Douglas Lucas was in the San Jose, CA, courtroom last week, and he reports that each of the defendants with felonies on their records had those dismissed, and each worked out a timeframe to pay the remainder of their owed restitution.

Though many declined, each defendant was given the opportunity to make a statement in court. Ethan Miles, who previously chose jail time over having a felony on his record, said in part:

It is because of my desire for transparency that I participated in the Internet activity that brings me here today. I believe that for a healthy democracy to exist, the public must be informed.

The full report at the Cryptosphere contains photos, more commentary on the day’s events, and more information about each defendant.

Original Story

They’ll each pay what restitution money they have and will be placed on payment plans for the remainder

The PayPal 14 are activists charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for launching Distributed Denial of Service attacks against the websites of PayPal and other financial companies in retaliation for those companies’ extra-legal blockade of WikiLeaks upon the publication of secret documents exposing US atrocities, revealed by US Army private Chelsea Manning. Back in 2010, a PayPal representative said that on November 27, 2010, the US State Department sent the online commerce service a letter informing them that WikiLeaks was engaging in “illegal” activities, and PayPal consequently blocked funds to the publisher. Believing this was clear censorship, the PayPal 14 struck back. Continue reading “The PayPal 14 case has effectively ended, but they still need your help (updated)”

The war on drugs is doing just fine

Ryan Devereaux writes ‘Surprise: U.S. Drug War in Afghanistan Not Going Well.’ He details a new report from the U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, claiming that “despite spending over $7 billion to combat opium poppy cultivation and to develop the Afghan government’s counternarcotics capacity, opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013.” These so-called “failures” have been “consistently documented for years.”

One reason that poppy levels have been growing for so long is that U.S. Marines have actively protected their cultivation. According to Geraldo Rivera’s framing, Marines “tolerate cultivation” of opium in Afghanistan as recently as 2010 for “security reasons,” because if it was destroyed, the population would turn against the U.S. Continue reading “The war on drugs is doing just fine”

Obama knew he was destabilizing Syria, and he did it anyway

In the Intercept, Dan Froomkin writes that ‘Obama Knew Arming Rebels [in Syria] Was Useless, But Did it Anyway.’ His argument is based on a “New York Times story about how President Obama asked the CIA a while back whether arming rebel forces – pretty much the agency’s signature strategy — had ever worked in the past.” It’s important to note that “worked” here, though never spelled out, essentially means “toppled the side that wasn’t U.S.-compliant in favor of one that’d bow to us in return for arming opposition forces.”

Froomkin largely chalks up Obama’s decision to “political pressure,” linking to this Fox News post, ‘Republicans urge Obama to enforce Syria ‘red line,’ oppose deploying troops.’ Even when the Democratic president arms the rebels, it’s the Republicans’ fault. By perpetuating the liberal trope that Democrats are peaceful in principle but spineless in the face of gridlock, Froomkin lets them off the hook and plays into their own political finger-pointing. Democrats couldn’t have justified it better themselves. Continue reading “Obama knew he was destabilizing Syria, and he did it anyway”

Pathologizing Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier’s street photography is worthy of a Museum of Modern Art installation — whether she’d have wanted it displayed there is another question. Maier was a nanny for decades, all the while creating fantastic photographs, shooting from her waist-level Roliflex as she escorted children around Chicago. Collector John Maloof stumbled upon a trove of her stunningly reflective, beautifully composed negatives of city characters at an auction after her death, and subsequently applauded himself for Finding Vivian Maier in a documentary that hit U.S. theaters in March.

It was a treat to see Maier’s black and white perspective on the big screen — her candid shots are evocative, varied, and fresh, reminiscent of Leon Levinstein or Robert Frank, and still breathing more than fifty years later. She had a keen eye for poignant moments and lively characters, but she also took penetrating self-portraits and more abstract street shots.

But it quickly became clear that Maloof was more interested in painting Maier as an oddball than in understanding her ostensible contradictions, and worse, in pathologizing her double life to cast aspersions on her motives. “Why would a nanny be taking all these pictures?” he asks, as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive. He might have asked about Wallace Stevens, ‘Why would an insurance agent be writing all these poems?’ Maloof implies a romanticized ideal of the artist without any real-world evidence that giving up her day job would’ve made Maier a better photographer. As it was, Maier supervised children for so many years and still managed to take hundreds of thousands of top-notch stills. Continue reading “Pathologizing Vivian Maier”

Mourning Phase

Beck has learned to say goodbye, he’s endured i-so-la-tion, someone or he himself remains unforgiven. He may have dropped the “u” for the title, but in his Morning Phase, Beck is grieving. He’s also slowly resigning himself to the consistency of change, and his new album is gorgeous and sad and comforting all at once.

Morning, sunrise, and “waking light” all herald CHANGE in big — if fuzzy — letters. Something is new. She is gone. The bed is bigger and colder and your arms feel weirdly long when you don’t need them to wrap someone else closer. Continue reading “Mourning Phase”

Empathy for empire

Molly Crabapple, a political artist whose artwork I frequently admire and appreciate and some of which decorates my walls, recently admonished what she terms the “Western left” for failing to properly and tangibly support the Syrian revolutionaries fighting their government. She coats this condemnation in deep concern for the Syrian people, but the barely latent thesis shines through: Crabapple is arguing for military intervention.

If it wasn’t clear, Crabapple elucidates when responding to questions about her piece from Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola.

Very often on the left there’s this way where we simplify things, where we’re like, ‘America has fucked up in the Middle East, America murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq.’ And then we look at something like Syria where a nonviolent opposition was met with extreme violence and then after trying to arm themselves they were asking for military aid and we’re like “America’s fucked up in the Middle East, America’s murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq. Let’s not even look at these people. Let’s pretend they don’t even exist.” And I think that there’s a legitimate debate about military aid and intervention.

Author and Western leftist David Mizner responded deftly to the original piece with ’For 3rd Anniversary of War in Syria, Molly Crabapple Turns Into a Liberal Hawk.’ He explains how Crabapple is refuting claims her subjects aren’t making to highlight her own empathy — those she condemns are not cheering the status quo, they are simply trying to prevent further horror. Continue reading “Empathy for empire”

On the import of Debra Van Poolen’s artistic witness

Those of us who covered Chelsea Manning’s court martial at Ft. Meade relied on the drawings of artists in attendance to illustrate our coverage of witnesses testifying, dramatic proceedings, and vital courtroom moments. Debra van Poolen, one such artist, wrote about her experience here. I’ve thanked Debra in a piece explaining the value of her and others’ images, first published here at WARP Place. Relatedly, see artist Clark Stoeckley’s book-length graphic account of the trial here.


We are, increasingly, a visual people, overloaded with imagery at every turn. Thus the army’s (and administration’s) strategy to turn what should have been a trial available to the public for witness, conversation, and debate into a covert one made sense. No cameras, no cell phones, no computers in the courtroom. Metal detectors scanned our every inch for a hidden lens or wire. Uniformed muscles with weapons lined the walls, escorting us out to stretch our limbs and rest our eyes, watching, retrieving us. In the media room, a relaxed appearance betrayed an even more sinister crackdown on any attempt to publicize the show trial of U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning.

By and large, the mainstream media ignored the trial. We few reporters followed proceedings on a delayed video feed, that—just next door to the NSA, capable of spying on Americans’ every communication—was conveniently, annoyingly liable to cut out at any minute, for several at a time. So adverse was the Army to the public witnessing the immense, inexorable courage of a 5’2” soldier who stood head and shoulders above her fear-stricken fellow servicemen that when a few seconds of video did seep onto the world wide web, Ft. Meade soldiers with handguns were assigned to patrol the media room, their hot breath on our necks as we tried to transcribe extensive motions in real time. Continue reading “On the import of Debra Van Poolen’s artistic witness”

Alex Gibney’s response to my ‘We Steal Secrets’ review

On May 24, 2013, I reviewed Alex Gibney’s WikiLeaks/Bradley Manning film ‘We Steal Secrets,’ focusing on its portrayal of Pfc. Bradley Manning. Read that review here. Alex Gibney wrote me a letter in response, reprinted in full below:

Dear Nathan:

I read your recent review of “We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks.”

I have great respect for the work that you have done and continue to do on behalf of Bradley Manning.  With that in mind, let me express my disagreement with a number of your assertions about my film.  I do not expect you to share my views, but I would hope that you hear them. Continue reading “Alex Gibney’s response to my ‘We Steal Secrets’ review”

What ‘We Steal Secrets’ leaves out

This review was first posted here on May 24, 2013

Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets” chronicles WikiLeaks’ front-page, world-shocking 2010 leaks from inception to publication to aftermath, framing WikiLeaks’ work as a meteoric rise giving way to a self-incurred implosion.

While I find fault with this view, and even its premise that WikiLeaks has failed and died (the site continues to publish Stratfor emails and Kissinger files, it just won an important Icelandic victory to resume accepting donations through Visa interlocutors, and the Freedom of the Press foundation continues to funnel anonymous contributions its way), I’d rather let others dissect its portrayal of Assange and WikiLeaks and instead focus on how it characterizes Bradley Manning. (Read WikiLeaks’ annotated copy of the film’s script here.)

Earlier this year, we took issue with some of director Alex Gibney’s comments associating whistleblowing with alienation, pathologizing Manning’s leaks and undermining his political values. Producer Sam Black emailed to assure us that, in fact, Bradley Manning is “a hero in the film. He is the moral and emotional center of a complex story about what should and should not be secret.”

Though the movie does laudably transition away from its opening focus on Julian Assange by reminding viewers that Manning is the courageous whistleblower who deserves at least as much public attention, Manning’s story only makes it into about a quarter of the two-hour film, which quotes journalists, former WikiLeaks members, high-ranking government officials, and fellow soldiers.

The time that is spent on Manning leaves much to be desired, and what it leaves out is as much to blame as what it includes. Ultimately, the resulting portrait of Bradley Manning is one of pity more than empathy, one that makes us feel bad for Manning rather than take a serious interest in his beliefs and his plight. Continue reading “What ‘We Steal Secrets’ leaves out”