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Snowden’s Wikileaks Statement

3 Jul

I don’t necessarily want to discuss or debate my opinions regarding Edward Snowden and his slow leak of allegedly damning information about snooping and spying by various United States government entities. I think the reality of what the government does, and what Snowden has revealed, is far more complex in both scope, execution, and purpose than any of us realize; including Mr. Snowden himself. Instead, I want to discuss a statement he released Tuesday with the help of global transparency hypocrites Wikileaks

In the last week or so, it has been revealed that Snowden deliberately sought employment with an NSA contractor in order to gather what he considers to be damning information about American spying. He had unique access in his role as a systems administrator or infrastructure analyst – in any event, a sort of superuser of the computer systems that American intelligence agencies use to spy on people. Not content with merely revealing NSA secrets concerning the collection of telephone metadata and storage of recorded content, Snowden has become a celebrity of sorts, cheered by myriad repressive regimes hostile to the US, thanks to his revelations about some of the ways in which the US spies on foreign nationals, governments, and entities. 

A vehicle from the Ecuadoran Embassy at Moscow’s Airport

This isn’t a post to discuss the propriety of Snowden’s leak, or even necessarily to mock his amateur hour escape from Hong Kong, as he now finds himself unable to travel, stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s Shermeteyevo Airport. This is about his statement, which begins thusly,

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

Snowden is engaging in propaganda or has deluded himself into thinking that the government would sanction violence against him. I think he’s got a high enough profile that there’s unlikely to be any threat to his safety – merely to his freedom. He has, after all, been charged with a crime. I doubt he expected a parade. 

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

Right. No wheeling and dealing – just handed over to face charges will do nicely. Ecuador – which is harboring accused sex offender Julian Assange in its UK Embassy – is all, “Snowden who?” After seeking asylum in Putin’s Russia, Snowden withdrew that application after Putin said Snowden could stay, as long as he stopped harming the US. In reality, Snowden would be Putin’s big bargaining chip in any future negotiation with Washington over anything important to the Kremlin. 

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

Your passport – and Snowden’s – clearly states that it remains property of the government at all times, and the State Department retains the right to revoke anyone’s passport, especially when they’ve been charged with a federal crime. I’m hard-pressed to believe that Snowden is so naive as to think that Washington would continue to let him have freedom of movement when he’s a wanted fugitive. 

For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

Interesting construct, there. Notice the use of the plural voice after “United States of America”. Something united is singular. Setting style aside, the US does indeed grant asylum to people who fear persecution at home due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Snowden is none of these things and has a tremendous amount of chutzpah to equate himself with someone escaping military dictatorship in Burma, nationalist harassment in Bhutan, or sectarian violence and chaos in Iraq. Snowden is just another lawbreaker. 

Snowden conflates citizenship with possession of a travel document. No one has rendered him a stateless person – he remains a citizen of the United States until such time as he formally renounces it. He has merely lost his right to use a travel document because he is a wanted fugitive. Without papers, the only country to which he can now travel is the United States, unless some third party provides him with a temporary travel document such as a laissez passer, which the United Nations issues to some of its personnel. Russia could feasibly treat him as a refugee and issue an identity card for Snowden to use to travel to a third country, but it has not formally granted him entry to Russian territory. Snowden’s best chance to remain “free” is for some third world despot to grant him some form of asylum leading to immediate citizenship and a passport. Reports are that Snowden has applied for asylum to 20 countries, and so far has been met with rejection. He withdrew his request for asylum in Russia, because of Putin’s conditions

In the end, Snowden is not a persecuted person. He is a common fugitive accused felon and is not entitled to the rights and privileges associated with “asylum”.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many. 

Edward Joseph Snowden

Monday 1st July 2013

Snowden has a background as a CIA agent who operated in Europe. Yet for someone supposedly knowledgable about spycraft and the surveillance capabilities of the US government, this seems so amateur hour. He’s now got Wikileaks writing press releases for him, and he effectively proclaims himself to be a martyr for a larger cause. I don’t think the Obama Administration is afraid of Snowden or Manning.  Everyone knows the US spies on other countries. Everyone knows we engage in complicated diplomatic issues on an hourly basis all over the world. 

There is certainly a debate and discussion to be had about the surveillance state and the way in which it is overseen and operated. I find somewhat persuasive the arguments commending Snowden for giving us more information about the scope and methods of the surveillance. But I do not think that Snowden’s “leaks” about American spying on foreign persons or governments is at all helpful, and find that to be particularly galling. He’s the contemporary version of the Cambridge Five – laptops replace the one-time pad – but instead of giving information to another country (although they probably got all of it anyway), he’s leaking what he can through the media. 

I don’t think Snowden is a hero or a villain, but I do think he should stop whining and face the consequences for what he’s done. 

He’s not subject to persecution – just prosecution under the law. 

Open Letter to the Erie County Legislature

23 May

Greetings.

I am a constituent of Mr. Rath’s but am writing to you to inquire about a resolution sponsored by Mssrs. Lorigo, Rath, and Hardwick, which will oppose Governor Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the “Wilson-Pakula” law, which enables party bosses to endorse other parties’ candidates.

I submit that eliminating Wilson-Pakula is hardly enough to reduce the power of money and patronage in politics, and our entire system of electoral fusion should be abolished, full stop. Electoral fusion and Wilson-Pakula are not used for good; they are used for political advantage and power. The Independence Party is essentially controlled by one marginally intelligent character from Long Island, and exists to enrich and employ him and his close followers. Its name is constructed so as to confuse low-information voters who think they’re registering as unenrolled.

The Conservative Party is controlled locally by Mr. Lorigo’s father, and has shown itself to be exquisitely flexible – when convenient – with respect to the “principles” on which it purports to base its endorsements.

In my town of Clarence, the Conservative endorsement for Supervisor was allegedly withheld not on any ideological grounds, but partly due to personal animus, and partly due to private business interests. That’s the stuff of petty banana republics.

Political decisions and government leadership should be based on merit, not on personal vendettas or misinformation. The system of electoral fusion should be well known to the legislature, as the Independence Party was intimately involved in the so-called “coup” which took place in early 2010 whereby the Republican caucus joined with several breakaway Democrats to create an ersatz “majority”.

That was one of the most embarrassingly tumultuous periods for the Legislature and cheapened it and its mission, such as it is. If the Conservative and Independence Parties want to participate in New York or Erie County politics, Mr. Lorigo and Ms. Dixon have established that members of those parties can run and win.

But if anyone’s goal – at any point – is to establish a cleaner, more honest, and less corrupt political environment, then eliminating Wilson-Pakula is a great first step. Banning fusion altogether is an ultimate goal.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Alan Bedenko

Baseball Season

8 May

Now, Carl Paladino has won elected office and can no longer just throw stones. Now? He has to produce tangible results. 

The Buffalo schools are a huge problem, and I wish the new board – including Mr. Paladino – well in their efforts to bring about positive changes. We’ll see if the baseball bat approach works, I reckon. 

It will also be interesting to watch Mr. Paladino’s interaction with the superintendent’s office, but also with the Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Community Relations. 

Bee Stings

20 Mar

In the Buffalo News’ Tuesday article regarding Mark Poloncarz’s hard work and competence, it was revealed that Conservative County Legislator Joe Lorigo didn’t like a letter that Poloncarz sent to him in response to an op/ed piece Lorigo had published in the Bee.

“Some people don’t like it that I’m willing to stand up for what I believe and sit there and say, ‘I think you’re wrong and here’s why,’ ” Poloncarz said. “They’re used to the back-slapper elected official who will say anything to anyone to get a vote and keep them happy.”

He knows that can rub people the wrong way, but he sees it as standing up for what he sees as right. He’ll put it in writing, too.

Last April, after Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, a West Seneca Conservative, criticized Poloncarz’s four-year plan in a column that appeared in the West Seneca Bee, Poloncarz sent out a four-page letter picking apart the piece and accusing Lorigo of leveling “factually inaccurate partisan attacks towards my administration in a cheap attempt to score political points.”

The letter was copied to the entire County Legislature, the county control board and the county comptroller.

“It was completely over the top,” said Lorigo, a frequent critic of the Poloncarz administration. “He doesn’t know how to respond rationally. I think the best leaders, whether it be county executive, mayor or president, are people that can effectively communicate their point of view without being so partisan.”

Note that Poloncarz didn’t publish his rebuttal in the Bee, or in any other paper – he just sent Lorigo a letter explaining to him – in detail – how he was wrong. Telling someone who is wrong that they are wrong is neither irrational nor partisan

Joseph Lorigo’s 4/19/12 West Seneca Bee column by Alan Bedenko

Mark Poloncarz’s Letter to Legislator Joe Lorigo

 

More like this, please. 

Smart, but Fee-Fees

19 Mar

Shorter Buffalo News “influential people” profile of County Executive Mark Poloncarz: he’s excellent at his job and a hard worker, but some anonyms and tea party legislators don’t find him to be warm and fuzzy enough for their own needs. 

I mean, seriously. If Joe Lorigo writes some pablum for the Bee, good on Mark for fisking it. 

Smoke

14 Mar

This past weekend, New York City Council Chairwoman Christine Quinn announced her candidacy for mayor. If she wins, she would be the city’s first female mayor, and first out gay mayor. 

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Managing the Water Authority

11 Feb

When it comes to attorney Chris O’Brien’s application to join the board of the Erie County Water Authority, one has to remember that Mr. O’Brien stands to gain absolutely naught from this appointment. He won’t get new clients or cases through his association with the ECWA, he won’t gain or lose any political clout – he’s a generous contributor, and asks nothing in return, and the position isn’t one with a high enough profile that it might enable him to market his personal political brand in some way. 

Staffing a public authority involves political considerations? Fetch me my fainting couch. I guess the installation of Jack O’Donnell in 2010 and the pending application of Chris O’Brien reveal that, in the end, elections matter. 

By way of full disclosure, Chris is a personal friend of mine, and there’s no upside here for him. All he’s doing is applying to someday appear on an Al Vaughters expose of the way the Water Authority conducts its business; he’s applying for a headache. It’s an administrative board, and he’s been the principal of a law firm for decades. Sometimes, people just want to commit public service in the first degree. That this application is remotely controversial is just dumb. 

Wōdnesdæġ

23 Jan
The Off-Season

“The Off-Season” by Flickr user rssloan via the AV Daily Flickr Group

1. Max Dismissal

Supreme Court Justice Deborah Chimes dismissed Frank Max’s lawsuit challenging Jeremy Zellner’s election as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee. Judge Chimes ruled that Max had waited too long to challenge the June 1, 2012 redistricting that the board of elections undertook. Max’s side argued that the board acted after the 1st, but the court disagreed and determined that the lawsuit should have been filed by October 1st, but was 4 days late. 

Naturally, the dismissal of the case of Max v. Foregone Conclusion will be taken up on appeal. 

2. 2013: Brown vs. Rodriguez? 

Who is Sergio?” signs have been popping up all throughout town, and young Republican veteran Sergio Rodriguez is making the rounds, promising to be the first Republican to become Mayor of Buffalo since Chester Kowal in the mid-60s. Although he has no money, little name recognition, and little to no support among the county Republican committee, Rodriguez is right in suggesting that no incumbent should be unchallenged in a general election. The problem here is that Stefan Mychajliw, fresh off a poorly-managed mini-scandal concerning his chief of staff’s DWI conviction, is likely to face a tough re-election battle against a popular Democrat. His margin of victory could be so narrow that a Rodriguez challenge to Brown might bring out enough people in Buffalo to hurt Mychajliw’s chances. 

On the other hand, when your countywide election strategy includes consciously and actively suppressing the urban vote, then your ideas and candidates suck. Be good enough to win in Amherst and Hamburg and Buffalo. 

3. Social Media & Politics

Our podcast with Brad Riter at Trending Buffalo has changed over the last few weeks into a commentary on local social media usage, among other things. Yesterday’s edition covers social media and politics in western New York. 

http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/TBOneThing01-22-13.mp3

4. Time Machine

Incredible photographs of the Russian Revolution – many of them hand-colored – have been found in a California basement. 

Best and Brightest

17 Jan

Why so quiet?

That was fast. 

Just about a week ago, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw hired a person named Jeff Bochiechio to be his new chief-of-staff. Mychajliw had famously pledged to hire only the “best and brightest” and specifically campaigned on a pledge to not just end, but root out, the “friends and family plan” of county hiring commonly referred to as patronage. 

Jeff Bochiechio may have been the best and brightest person to apply or submit a resume for the position of chief of staff – I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing for an elected official to surround himself with close friends and associates in some positions, because these are the people you know and trust to do a good job for you. Patronage isn’t always horrible. But compare: 

 So, Mr. Mychajliw has held himself to a higher standard, given his campaign pledges about eliminating patronage completely, which is why his former WGRZ colleagues so sharply questioned him on January 10th about this Bochiechio hire

According to Bochiechio’s resume and LinkedIn page, he began his career working for former Republican congressman Tom Reynolds, he was former County Executive Chris Collins chief fundraiser for three years, he says he ran Jane Corwin’s 2008 campaign for state assembly, and had a patronage position in Buffalo with Republicans in the state senate.

In defending his hiring of Boccheicio, Mychajliw points to the fact he’s a lawyer.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw: “My predecessors have hired a public relations person for that position of chief of staff where I have hired a public sector attorney with municipal experience and extensive experience e and state and local finance law and tax law and IDA law.” 

Scott Brown: “You say extensive experience, he worked for less than a year at a local law firm, he’s fresh out of law school where is his extensive experience?” 

Stefan Mychajliw: “In the same respect that Mark Poloncarz was a private sector attorney and served in the office of Erie County comptroller.”

Heh. Nice one, right? Except Mark Poloncarz was sworn in as a lawyer in 1998, and became Comptroller in 2006. That’s 8 years’ worth of experience doing corporate finance law at a big downtown firm; the comptroller should know that 8 is more than 1. Also – public sector attorney? Bochiechio’s LinkedIn page reveals only a brief stint with a private downtown firm. There is no evidence whatsoever of him having been a “public sector attorney”. 

But perhaps Bochiechio had special qualifications? For instance, he was a full-time law student at UB between 2008 – 2011, yet served as the New York State Senate’s “WNY Regional Director – Majority Operations” during his third year of law school.  According to SeeThroughNY, Bochiechio “earned” $49,154 in 2010, and a further $34,112 in 2011. That’s over $83,000 in taxpayer money for what is – if you’re also simultaneously attending law school – essentially a no-show job. 

Today, Bochiechio resigned abruptly as Channel 4 reported that he had pled guilty to DWI in Machias. He was arrested in October for blowing a .13 BAL – almost twice the legal limit. It’s unlikely that he’ll serve time in jail, but he will likely pay a fine, be on some sort of probation, have his license revoked for 6 months, and be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in his car. What kind of vetting took place to hire this young kid, about whom no one would be paying any attention if he was just working in the private sector? 

Scott Brown: “Most of his (Bochiechio’s) background in politics is as a fundraiser, will you used him to raise money for your campaign?” 

Stefan Mychajliw: “Certainly an option, I want to hired the best and brightest for this office and I also want to make sure that I have the best and brightest and most competent people when it comes to running for re-election this year.” 

Bochiechio’s position has a starting salary of $62,000 a year. 

This guy was hired because he’s got political experience running campaigns for Republicans, and because he’s well-connected. There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with that – indeed, it’d have been a smart hire, if he didn’t have the DWI. But when you make a big deal about rooting out patronage, you’re going to come under especial scrutiny about hiring friends, family, and the well-connected. This wasn’t just a hire violative of Mychajliw’s campaign pledge – it was poorly vetted, even for a patronage hack. 

Propaganda 101

13 Dec

There aren’t a lot of Stalinist dictatorships left in the world, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea is the weirdest of all. Led now by a Swiss-educated twentysomething, it is effectively a large jail with its own currency, and the world’s only Communist dynasty. 

This week, North Korea sent a satellite into space. For a country that follows long-discredited communist central planning and considers anyone not in the military or the party to be disposable, launching a rocket seems to be hardly a priority. But for all the tea party dummies, this is communism, and this is communist propaganda. It’s a dying art; one that was once practiced throughout the globe.  Clap in unison, comrades for the “Hot Wind of Kim Jong-Un”, the sun of the nation and the lodestar for unification

If you want to learn a bit more about the reality of the concentration camps within the national prison that is the DPRK, watch this: