Sunday, August 11, 2013

Snowden: Patriot or Traitor?

I admit it. I'm very conflicted about Snowden. This does not happen to me very often, as I have pretty strong feelings and reasoned arguments for why I do or do not support policies and beliefs. The question of where to draw the line between security and infringement upon privacy and freedom in the digital age is an important one. We need to have a(n) (inter)national conversation about what his revelations mean.

I am disheartened that many think this conversation is moot. Many see this infringement upon privacy and freedom as inevitable, something we can do nothing about, and agreeable considering the very real threats we do face in a glocalized world where we have nuclear and other weapons unaccounted and accounted for in the hands of people who clearly do not have good intentions.

I see the slippery slope argument, and the idea of the NSA spying on citizens is abhorrent to me. There is no way we can ever know how the government is going about mining data and what criteria they use as justification for "probable cause," if any at all. The law has not caught up to the capabilities for surveillance in the information age. I am not so certain that it is completely futile to try to draw these legal lines, for the law to progress on this account. I am not very hopeful either.

I do not think Snowden committed treason as a whistleblower, but I am unsure what he did do to negotiate asylum. He did something. The misinformation we get from the mainstream media makes it nearly impossible to form a reasoned opinion. The thought of what he might have done for asylum frightens me a bit. I wish I could believe in the justice system enough to say that what he did should be negotiated in court and judged by an impartial jury. But, I do not believe in the impartiality of our judicial system. Every side of this makes me completely uneasy. It is all very ugly.

I am not quick to hail him as a patriot. I do not have enough information to make a judgement one way or the other. It is unlikely that the public will know the truth about who he is and what he did or did not do. I am not naive enough to believe that we do not need surveillance considering the proliferation of (nuclear and other) arms in the world. I am also unsure how the line many imagine the NSA to have crossed in digital surveillance differs from surveillance prior to the digital age. Did not the CIA, NSA, FBI et. al. use questionable tactics in the past to obtain information? How do these tactics differ significantly from what they are doing now? I do not know. If you have thoughts on how this crosses a line they haven't crossed before, I am all ears. I am also not naive to believe that the government uses this program to go after the "bad guys," exclusively. The potential to frame anyone as "a bad guy" looms in the application of this program.

One of my friends commented that this story has him thinking about leaving the country. But, the truth is that there is virtually nowhere on this planet where the question of security versus freedom does not apply. There are a few "uncontacted tribes" left on this planet but only because there are people fighting every day for the outside world to leave them be. I have a feeling the loggers will eventually reach the uncontacted tribes in the Amazon between Brazil and Peru and sooner rather than later. There are places where most people are unaware of the politics and power that affect their everyday lives. But, these processes necessarily affect them in their glocal politico-economies. I am using glocal intentionally in that economies are indeed local but nearly all are connected to global political and economic processes.

I give Snowden credit. He has hit a nerve about where the world goes from here. This issue is much bigger than whether he is a patriot or traitor. It is about global politics, economies, war, and peace and life in a glocalized world in the information age. Perhaps I am making Snowden's revelations more complicated than they are. But, I do not think so.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Coming in from the Cold in the Height of the Summer

It is the height of the summer, and I find myself coming in from the cold tonight.  

Yesterday, the state of Florida executed John Fergusen, a man deemed clinically and legally insane who has a long history of paranoid delusions and schizophrenia.  Apparently, our constitution, its amendments, particularly the eighth, and its own legal precedents meant nothing to the Supreme Court.  You can read more about the legal precedence for not executing the mentally insane or incompetent in Andrew Cohen's article in the Atlantic yesterday here:

I was so disturbed by the fact that not one Justice dissented that I could hardly sleep.  I'm not sure how the lawyers and justices whose (in)action(s) resulted in the death of a mentally ill human being can sleep at night.  I felt hot all over, and had a big bowl of frozen yogurt to cool me down.  I was too hot to write.  I cooled some today, but I didn't want to chill for too long.

There are many reasons I am opposed to capital punishment.  It is ineffective as a deterrent for crime, it is more expensive than imprisoning someone for life, it is applied unequally based on race and social class, it is used as a political tool for the election of prosecutors and judges, and it is questionable whether it brings peace to the victims of families.  In many cases, the evidence is not clear (see for example, Troy Davis and Leo Jones).  Convictions are typically reached because defendants have incompetent and/or overworked and underpaid defense attorneys and are the victims of morally questionable and overzealous prosecutors who care only about winning and not about getting it right.  In some cases, the evidence is clear regarding who is guilty but the penalty is questionable because there are racial dynamics that affect the penalty phase of trials.  You can read more about these and other death penalty facts here:

More importantly, I am morally opposed to the death penalty.  I am morally opposed because it is hypocritical to murder someone for the crime of murder.  I am also morally opposed because of the untold human cost of taking the life of another person, even a person who is unquestionably guilty.  John Fergusen murdered several people.  There is no doubt.  There is also no doubt he was insane.  He had friends and family members, none of whom did anything to deserve the grief that comes with knowing the exact moment the state kills their loved one and the lasting effects that process has on the rest of their life.  He had lawyers and investigators who fought for his life to no avail because they are also opposed to state sanctioned killing. I cannot imagine the toll it takes to lose a case like that.

I also think of all of the people who have to carry out their actions in order for the death penalty to be administered--the corrections officers who have to walk the condemned to his final cell and the "death room," the "killing floor," the cook who has to cook the condemned's last meal, the people who administer the deadly cocktail, the health care professionals who monitor the "death process," the people in the viewing room during the execution.  I cringe at the thought of carrying out any of these actions.  What kind of world do we live in that people want to be involved in this process?  Are these the acts of a civil democratic society?  Is this justice for the victims' family?  I cannot be the only judge in answering these questions, of course, but I need to raise the questions.  And, so I do.

I am thankful for my friends Juan Melendez and Rosa, two people who are working tirelessly to overturn death sentences and the death penalty itself even against overwhelming support for this policy.

Today, I mourn the murder of a murderer, but at least I'm coming in from the cold.

Would you let the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, no, no, no, no!  No, dread, no!
Would you make the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, dread, no!
Would you make the system get inside your head again?
No, dread, no!
Well, the biggest man you ever did see was, was just a baby.

In this life (in this life), in this life (in this life, oh sweet life)
Coming in from the cold.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Brainzzzzzzz Nom Nom Nom

I would like to offer a positive interpretation of zombie-themed literature, film, and television shows. You could say that they are apocalyptic and symbolic of a postmodern world where people become the walking dead, unaware of their surroundings and guided by their basest desire for death and destruction, consuming the brains of the living. And, they are. They are also quite post-race, post-gender, post-social class... Usually those differences matter very little in zombie films. And, zombie films remind us that humans' most important attribute that makes them humans and distinguishes them from most other animals (some animals have complex brains too) is their brains, their minds, which they maintain through connection to other people, not other zombies.