Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who is involved in a Kafkaesque ordeal, made the following statement on December 16, 2010:
It’s rather amazing how this interviewer doesn’t want to understand the situation. Maybe she would get it if she had been accused of a terrible crime by the corporate news media, and her name had been smeared across the Internet despite the fact that the prosecutor never actually brought any charges or produced evidence of any crime. Maybe then she would get it. The interviewer also can’t seem to wrap her head around the fact that Assange is likely being smeared by those countries and corporations that are being embarrassed by his devastating leaks of authentic documents.
This is nothing short of Kafkaesque.
Scanning the headlines today, I saw in my peripheral vision one announcing the latest list of inductees into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. I’ve heard stories about the selection process, but haven’t paid much attention because I guess it’s most like the Wallaces’ (and Wallechinsky’s) Book(s) of Lists – based on opinion, not quantifiable metrics.
Just who is Darlene Love anyway? No matter. I don’t really care, but on a whim,I checked to see if my favorite group Rush is in. Nope. Conspicuous in their absence were also Kiss (I’d heard about that before).
I consider Rush to be the most talented trio in the history of rock music. Rumor has it that Jann Wenner doesn’t. Still, as opinionated and usually hermitlike as I am on music, I know I am not alone in my assessment (of Rush), plus I have multiple musicians in the family that agree with me. I’m not a fan of Kiss, but how are they any less influential than some of the others? Ah…Jann Wenner. True or not, both their absences make the Hall a joke because look at the list of past inductees.
In: Steely Dan ????? (Oh, the words I could not use in public to describe what I think of that!); David Bowie?;
James Taylor? Come on!
Not in: Boston(??!); Yes (???!!); B-52’s – Hello? Not Boston? Not Yes?
In: John Paul and George (no Ringo) are in it as individuals and as the Beatles; Metallica; Aerosmith; AC/DC – all no brainers
Not in: Kansas; Journey; Styx; Emerson, Lake and Palmer
In: Stevie Wonder – are you serious?; John Mellencamp ??; Buffalo Springfield ?; ABBA ???; Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel;
“It’s unfortunate,” says Scot McFadyen, …“We were hoping a lot more people in the [nominating] room had seen our documentary, and maybe that would have given them a different perspective on the band. But there are just some people that are holding out.”
As disappointing as Rush’s latest snub was, McFadyen wasn’t necessarily surprised. “They’ve never been a critics’ band. The industry people that are involved with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rush has never been cool enough for them.”
I think Wenner and the Hall should adopt the slogan of another media entity that also isn’t: “Fair and balanced”
Last year, one list of snubs included Alice Cooper, who made the cut this time around. So who is missing in the Hall from your list?
The question at hand is, who decides what you find on the web? I recently read Regulating the Information Gatekeepers about search engines. This article focused mainly on commercial implications of search engines changing their rules, and the ongoing arms race between companies that sell the service of tweaking web pages and links and click farms to optimize search engine ranking positions, and the search engines trying to filter out such bare toadying in favor of actual useful pages.
On my MrTitanium.com site, I ignore all those search engine games and just provide solid content and current items for sale. In 2002, MrTitanium was usually in the first dozen results when Googling for “titanium jewelry”. In 2003, Google decided that the number of links to a page was the primary sign of its usefulness. Within days, link farms popped up, and my site dropped from view. I waited it out, and in 2004, Google changed the rules again, and MrTitanium reappeared in the top 30. Top five for “titanium earrings”.
But the real question is, should someone be regulating these gatekeepers of information? Who decides whether a search for “antidepressants” should feature vendors, medical texts, or Scientology anti-psychiatry essays?
There are two ways to censor information: Try to block and suppress it, or try to bury it. The forces of disinformation and counterknowledge are prolific and tireless. A search engine could (intentionally or inadvertently) favor certain well represented but misleading positions (such as Truthers or anti-vaxxers) over proven science, and give all comers the impression of validity and authority to “bad” ideas.
But the question of regulation is a dangerous one. The best access to information is open. But if a well meaning legislature decides that there needs to be an oversight board, this board could evolve into information police and be taken over by populist electors who choose to suppress good information.
On the other hand, the unregulated and essentially monopolistic search industry began with great ideals, and so far has been doing a good job at a hard task. But it, too, could become malignant if there is no oversight.
Another facet is, whose jurisdiction would this fall under? If the U.S. congress passes laws that Google doesn’t like, they simply move offshore. There are designs for, and even prototypes of, data centers that float beyond any countries jurisdiction, powered by waves and sun, and connected via fibers and satellites. If the U.N. starts regulating, then whose rules apply? North Korea? Iran? China? And who could enforce it?
The information revolution is just beginning: We do live in interesting times.
I found this speech of JFK’s to be tremendously powerful, and the applicability to today’s situation should be obvious. Kennedy was speaking to the American Newspaper Publisher’s Association on April 27th, 1961. The whole speech is worth reading, but I wanted to highlight a few key excerpts, especially in the context of Wikileaks’ release of war documents from the Afghanistan theater. Kennedy simultaneously pleads for a more well-informed public, while arguing that the press ought to be mindful of national security issues in choosing which stories to publish. You can almost imagine him talking about the danger posed by terrorists in the present day, rather than the danger of Communism in the Cold-war 1960s:
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.
At Common Dreams, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange explains why he published the confidential U.S. military documents regarding Afghanistan:
These files are the most comprehensive description of a war to be published during the course of a war — in other words, at a time when they still have a chance of doing some good. They cover more than 90,000 different incidents, together with precise geographical locations. They cover the small and the large. A single body of information, they eclipse all that has been previously said about Afghanistan. They will change our perspective on not only the war in Afghanistan, but on all modern wars . . . This material shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of war. The archive will change public opinion and it will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence. . .
We all only live once. So we are obligated to make good use of the time that we have, and to do something that is meaningful and satisfying. This is something that I find meaningful and satisfying. That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work.
Here is the location of the Wikileaks Afghanistan documents. Glenn Greenwald applauds the leak, and condemns the U.S. governments failure to be forthright about the waste of lives and money regarding the U.S. adventure in Afghanistan:
WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world. Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret. But that’s what our National Security State does reflexively: it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing. WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall . . .
At Democracy Now, Amy Goodman converses with Daniel Elsberg about the Obama Administration’s crackdown on those who seek to distribute information (accurately) putting the military action in Afghanistan in a bad light.
Pentagon investigators are reportedly still searching for Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who helped release a classified US military video showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians. The US military recently arrested Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who may have passed on the video to Wikileaks. Manning’s arrest and the hunt for Assange have put the spotlight on the Obama administration’s campaign against whistleblowers and leakers of classified information.
Manning has made his motives clear. Sunshine is the best disinfectant:
Manning has claimed he sent Wikileaks the video along with 260,000 classified US government records. Manning, who was based in Iraq, reportedly had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East. During an internet conversation prior to his arrest, Manning explained his actions by writing, quote, “I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
It’s too bad that Barack Obama, Oslo’s “Peace President” doesn’t listen to his own campaign speeches and act on them. In this same Democracy Now video, Daniel Elsberg calls the leakers “patriots,” and I concur. Someone needs to stand up and stop the indiscriminate series of Afghanistan murders that officially go by the name of “war.” By the way, if the U.S. military is doing so damned much good over in Afghanistan at a cost of several billion U.S. dollars per week, where are the photos of all of those good things?
It is more clear than ever that the U.S. is knowingly doing despicable acts in our names in Afghanistan and working feverishly to keep them secret.
What kind of danger are the leakers facing? Daniel Elsberg comments:
[Bradley Manning is] in danger of more than arrest. Arrest is probably the major thing, even though it’s not clear what he would be arrested on. But he—I have to say that as of now, under this president, he’s under danger of kidnapping, rendition, enhanced interrogation, even death. The fact is that this president is the first in our history, in any Western country that I know of, who has claimed the right to send military forces not just to apprehend, but to kill suspected, even American citizens. Bradley Manning is probably more safe now being in custody than he would have been if he himself were eluding arrest. Assange, I would say, is in some danger. And even if it’s very small, it should be zero. It’s outrageous and humiliating to me as an American citizen to have to acknowledge that someone like that is in danger from our own government right now . . .
Given the journalistic collapse of much of the commercial media, and especially given the disturbing absence of investigative journalism, it is increasingly up to bloggers and other citizen journalists to expose the wrong-doing of public entities. But what can you do if government agencies won’t hand over their public records? You force them to hand them over by making use of the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or by making use of your state’s public records act. After all, the information possessed by government entities doesn’t belong to the government; it belongs to you and me.
This principle that records should always be open and available to the public has been articulated by almost every prominent politician. Consider this quote:
Fundamental to our way of life is the belief that when information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and—eventually-incapable of determining their own destinies.
Who said this? Richard M. Nixon.
How does one learn how to make use of the various public records acts? One could go to the kind of seminar I recently attended. David Cuillier gave such a talk in St. Louis. Cuillier is the Chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. He provides ongoing news and tips about FOI here and here. During his talk Cuillier offered quite a few resources for those wanting to force the production of such records. Most of those resources are contained in a pamphlet, titled “Unlocking the Power of Public Records.” Cuillier specifically invited those attending to freely publish this immensely helpful resource on the Internet. Thus, I am making it available here.
Cuillier indicated that ¾ of journalists are generally not doing the work to force the production of information that could be valuable to their stories. He offered a long list of important stories based on public records. For instance, the Seattle Times reported that in 2003, 159 coaches were reprimanded or fired for sexual misconduct in one state, yet 98 of them were rehired in comparable positions. He also mentioned an immensely important story regarding toxins in drinking water written by Charles Duhigg at the NYT. Consider this excerpt:
In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
None of this could have been done without extensive use of public records. I’ll mention a few of the most important resources discussed by Cuillier. The site of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) offers “great information” that is searchable. It also offers “tip-sheets,” which are handouts from the IRE conferences (“these alone are worth the cost of membership in IRE”). He also recommends the SPJ website, which is loaded with resources. PIPL is a “private site offering valuable information assisting the investigation of people (Cuillier is correct—I PIPL’ed myself and it did offer quite a bit of information).
An unusual site Cullier mentioned is Government Attic. Cuillier describes this as a site created by an “eccentric guy who puts lots of FOIA records online.” Yet another site getting accolades from Cuillier is “OGIS,” “a great federal agency that helps requesters.”
Open Government Guide offers links to guide you through the open records laws of each of the states. This resource is extremely impressive. Those from Missouri (my state) might also want to consider the Missouri Municipal League, which offer guidelines to Missouri municipalities (but these can also be helpful to those seeking information from municipalities.
Cuillier explained that getting police department records is much more difficult today than it was several decades ago. Several veteran reporters in the room concurred. Cuillier explained “This is dangerous—we need to take back government from the secret police departments that are growing.”
For much more information, view the attached pamphlet and visit the many websites linked above. Beware that there are many hurdles erected by many government entities (e.g., exorbitant copy fees for the records), but there are also many strategies for overcoming these hurdles.