Whistle-blower, maybe. Hero, probably not.

I just can’t figure Edward Snowden.  The more little pieces I hear about and read about him, the more I wonder about him and his motivation.  This is why I found Jonathan Capehart’s piece so interesting.  Writing in the Washington Post’s Post Partisan blog, Capehart begins

A sidewalk encounter with a friend drove home my conflicted feelings about Edward Snowden. The national-security leaker was surely a “narcissist,” he said, but Snowden was definitely “a hero.” And the more my friend talked about the reaction to Snowden, especially that of congressional Democrats, the more angry his own reaction appeared to become. Part of me wished I could work up that much passion for this self-professed champion of government transparency. Alas, I can’t.

I feel the same way.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Snowden told the Guardian which broke the story that he wanted to go to a place where the government doesn’t spy on people.  The last time I checked, Hong Kong has a complicated legal relationship to China.  China is not exactly a country that eschews spying on citizens.  In an article about extradition the Guardian says

Hong Kong has not accepted a political defence against extradition since the handover in 1997. In the 1930s it turned down a bid by French authorities for Ho Chi Minh’s return to what was then IndoChina, in a case that went all the way to the privy council. More recently, in 1994, its courts stayed the extradition of the politician Jeffrey Kitigan to Malaysia.

Guy Goodwin-Gill QC, a leading expert on extradition at Blackstone Chambers in London, noted that the international climate had changed, with offences that previously might have qualified – such as hijacking – no longer accepted as political.

“The times are very much one of co-operation across a broad range of activities. You hardly ever find a state refusing extradition for political offences any longer,” he said.

In the case of Snowden, “you certainly see political dimensions: you have members of the US senate or House of Representatives calling him a traitor – so they are building a very good case for another state to treat this as political,” added Goodwin-Gill.

Of course, there are avenues for appeal through the courts in Hong Kong which could drag out the process for years according to some British legal experts.  It remains unclear why he went to part of China when he was professing a wish to be free of surveillance.

I have also heard that he may have misrepresented his salary to the Guardian – that it was much lower than he claimed.  Snowden also claimed that as a contractor with the NSA he had broad authority to do a lot of things that some experts question.  This is from NPR

Edward Snowden’s claim that as systems administrator for a defense contractor in Hawaii he had the authority “to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president,” just isn’t plausible, says a former national security lawyer at the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Carrie Cordero, the former Justice and DNI lawyer, is now director of national securities studies at Georgetown University Law Center. She tells Steve that “the notion that this individual has the authority to go ahead and … ‘wiretap’ people is just ridiculous.”

Without discussing the details of how such surveillance programs work and the safeguards that are in place to protect privacy, Cordero says that Snowden’s claim “does not resemble anything close to what I observed within the intelligence community.”

Snowden may turn out to be a braggart who stretches the truth.  And this may damage his credibility overall.  But the bottom line for me is that he doesn’t seem to have told us anything that a lot of people didn’t know before.  Capehart again

We absolutely should know what our government is up to. And, according to The Post’s Walter Pincus, we’ve known about this for quite some time.

The legendary national-security writer cites a May 2006 USA Today story that revealed “the NSA ‘has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth,’ attributing that information to ‘people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.’” Then there was the March 15, 2012, Wired magazine story on the new $2 billion NSA Data Center in Utah and “its ability to ‘intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.’”

“Was there any follow-up in the mainstream media to [James] Bamford’s disclosure, or anything close to the concerns voiced on Capitol Hill this past week? No,” Pincus writes in Tuesday’s paper.

So where should we go from here?  I agree with Capehart’s conclusions

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a debate about what we now know and its appropriateness now that we know it. Eugene Robinson zeroes in on this in his Tuesday column.

The NSA, it now seems clear, is assembling an unimaginably vast trove of communications data, and the bigger it gets, the more useful it is in enabling analysts to make predictions. It’s one thing if the NSA looks for patterns in the data that suggest a nascent overseas terrorist group or an imminent attack. It’s another thing altogether if the agency observes, say, patterns that suggest the birth of the next tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement.

Is that paranoia? Then reassure me. Let’s talk about the big picture and decide, as citizens, whether we are comfortable with the direction our intelligence agencies are heading. And let’s remember that it was Snowden, not our elected officials, who opened this vital conversation.

Yes, Snowden opened this conversation. But that’s as much credit as I’m willing to give him.

That sounds about right.  Let’s see if Congress talk about this without a lot of finger-pointing and hysteria.  Should the result be changes to the Patriot Act, we can give Snowden a little piece of the credit.

Photograph: AP

What does this mean?!

What does this mean?!

Jonathan Capehart wrote this about it in the Washington Post.

I’ve grown accustomed to the lunacy that emanates from the far right on Capitol Hill. But a tweet last night from Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) promoting his new bumper sticker was a jaw-dropper.

Just when you think things can’t get sicker something new comes along.

Civil Rights and Gay Rights

In case you didn’t see it, Jonathan Capehart had an excellent and thoughtful essay in yesterday’s Washington Post.  Titled “Blacks and gays:  the shared struggle for civil rights”, it laid out the reasons why blacks (and I might add Asians, Hispanics and other minorities) need to support gay rights.  I am going to try to give you the highlights, but you really should read the entire essay.

It opens

You may recall that last month Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and I sparred over same-sex marriageon “Morning Joe.” You may also recall that at the end of the interview, the show’s anchor, Joe Scarborough, asked me, “[W]ould you compare the civil rights struggles of African Americans over 300 years in America to marriage equity?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.”

“It’s an issue of civil rights, as you said. It’s an issue of equality. It’s an issue of equal treatment under the law,” I said. “No one is asking for special rights. No one is asking for any kind of special favors. We’re just looking for the same rights and responsibilities that come with marriage and also the protections that are provided under marriage. In that regard overall we’re talking about a civil rights issue and what African Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are struggling with today.”

That didn’t go over so well with more than a few African Americans. They don’t see the struggles as comparable, equivalent or even related. Last Wednesday, @Brokenb4God tweeted to me, “@CapehartJ still can’t believe u think the choice of being gay is congruent to the struggle of blacks. Ain’t never seen no gay plantations!”

Clearly, she’s from the misguided pray-the-gay-away cabal, so no need to address that. I’ll leave the cheap and provocative “gay plantations” stink bomb alone, too, and get to my main point. What links the two struggles is the quest for equality, dignity and equal protection under the law. In short, gay rights are civil rights. It’s that simple.

Capehart goes through several points of similarity under topic headings:  “Bullying and Murder”, “Denied equal protection:  the right to marry” and finally, “Black leaders.”  He quotes Reverend Al Sharpton and John Lewis.  Lewis quoted Dr. Martin Luther King during the debate in 1996 on the Defense of Marriage Act. 

You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say when people talked about interracial marriages, and I quote, ‘Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.’ Why don’t you want your fellow men and women, your fellow Americans to be happy? Why do you attack them? Why do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams, their longings, their aspirations? We are talking about human beings, people like you, people who want to get married, buy a house, and spend their lives with the one they love. They have done no wrong.

Lewis supported Massachusetts activists during the debate over marriage equality.

In a 2003 opinion piece for the Boston Globe, Lewis wrote, “I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Much of the resistance to the Maryland Marriage Equality law came from black churches who are traditionally unwilling to acknowledge a gay and lesbian presence in their own communities.  One exception is my husband’s church, Union United Methodist in Boston.  Their pioneering was highlighted in this recent article in the Boston Globe

Eziah Karter-Sabir Blake swiped the play debit card through a plastic reader during a game of Monopoly recently. Another multimillion-dollar sale. The buyer, Giftson Joseph, rubbed his hands together, a glimmer creeping in his eyes as he playfully nudged the Rev. Catharine A. Cummings.

The three – one gay, one transgender, one straight – sat around a table at a new youth drop-in center at Union United Methodist Church, a historically black congregation in the South End, the heart of Boston’s gay community.

Simply by being there, the trio was straddling a divisive line between the gay community and the black church, where many gay and lesbian minorities have long felt ignored or unwelcome in the pews.

“It’s a big risk they are taking in the black community,’’ said Joseph, an 18-year-old African-American college student who is gay. “There’s already enough stigma in the church. But this is a church that is accepting of all races and sexual orientations.’’

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In 2000, Union began the process of educating themself about homosexuality and gay rights.

 In 2000, church member Hilda Evans pushed Union United to again change course, and the church agreed to defy United Methodist leaders by declaring itself an open and affirming congregation to gays and straight people alike. It held its first gay service in June 2007 at the height of the state’s same-sex marriage debate.

Other black church leaders and churches in Boston have not followed Union’s lead.  But as the Globe story pointed out

Union United has a long history of bucking tradition. In the 1800s, black worshipers walked out of their segregated Beacon Hill church home after whites grew uncomfortable and complained about their vibrant, African-style of worship. In 1818, members founded the May Street Church, which became a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to the church’s website,

What the Globe does not point out is Union’s civil rights activism during the 1960’s.  You can read about that in the J. Anthony Lukas classic, Common Ground..

It takes a long time for people to see themselves in someone else’s stuggle but we can look at Jonathan Capehart for his articulate arguments about what is right and to places like Union United Methodist Church for leading the way.