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Undernews: August 8, 2013

Undernews: August 8, 2013

Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it


Letter to a spook: But you don't know me

A few easy ways to become a suspected terrorist

Washington Post to retain CIA ties with new owner

Reviving Glass-Steagall

Appeals court invalidates arrest of undocument immigrants

Chances are, your foreign emails are being read by the NSA

Mortgage delinquencies decline

U.S. military thinks being an atheist is a warning sign for suicide

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Map of where Greens hold elected office

Charter schools were born in segregation and still create it

Bezos, like Don Graham, deep into war on public education

The world's growing water problem

Wells running dry in parts of Kansas

Wisconsin cancels US Constitution in its state house

Fleecing Detroit pensioners to bail out banks

What are Bezos' political leanings?

Alarming deaths of dolphins along East.Coast

New book say Marilyn told Jackie that JFK was going to marry her

According to Public Policy Polling,
Paula Deen is more popular among Georgia Republicans than Martin Luther King Jr.

He talks like the head of the American Civil Liberties Union, but he acts like Dick Cheney. - Turkish professor describing Barack Obama

Morning line
Women groups
are making the same mistake with Hillary Clinton as blacks did with Barack Obama. Gender and ethnic equality mean a fair distribution of incompetence and corruption as well as of virtue.

Millions short of water in China

What does Jeff Bezos usually do with the companies he buys?

Drought stricken farmers selling water to frackers...

Homelandistas bring the police state to rodeos and music festivals

Inside the EPA censored fracking study

FBI pressuring Internet providers for illegal access

Ex Post factos

From our overstocked archives
Letter to the Washington Post
The canonization of Katherine Graham
The Post's pressmen's strike

@BorowitzReport -
Amazon Founder Says He Clicked on Washington Post by Mistake

Infrequently asked questions

When in history has a country as powerful as America been as afraid of a force as small as Al Qaeda?

Name one significant thing the American government has done since 9/11 to make it less likely that some in the MId East would want to attack it.

Look at our Lord's disciples. One denied Him; one doubted Him; one betrayed Him. If our Lord couldn't have perfection, how are you going to have it in city government? - Chicago Mayor Richard Daley

Pocket paradigms
Journalism has always been a craft - in rare moments- an art - but never a profession. It depends too much on the perception, skill, empathy and honesty of the practitioner rather than on the acquisition of technical knowledge and skills. The techniques of reporting can be much more easily taught than such human qualities and they can be best learned in an apprentice-like situation rather than in a classroom. - Sam Smith

Letter to a spook: But you don't know me

Sam Smith

I don’t know for sure that you’re out there at all, but from what I read and hear there’s a pretty good chance, so I thought I would pass this along.

You may be tapping my phone, scanning my e-mails and collating my other electronic ephemera, but you don’t know me.

Any writer can tell you this: you don’t reveal character or describe an individual by just dumpster diving for data. Your efforts are not only intrusive, they’re ineffective as well.

An individual is a product of experiences, some of which – though influential – may have been lost to memory, some of which – though searing – may never be mentioned again, and some of which – though exhilarating – may lack the words to describe them.

You are eavesdropping only on my front to the world. If I am down, I try not to bring my friends down with me. If I am mad about some public act, I try not to bore my friends too much about it. If I am mad about some private act, I try for the calm and restraint I do not feel. If I am really happy, I often lack the words to express it well. And if I have been given something, I try for gratitude even though I have no idea what to do with the damn thing.

You do not know my dreams, my fears, my stupid excesses of doubt, or how I alternately rebel against, resent or am resigned to the entropy of aging. You do not know how sad I am about the world that the people you work for will leave my children and their children. You do not know that I do not like vinegar, have never read Joyce’s “Ulysses,” sometimes fall asleep while waiting my turn in a board game, never watch football, or that two of my uncles were killed in wartime service to our country and another never smiled from the day of his return from the front to the day he committed suicide. You do not know that my utopia would have, above all, no need for dentists as well as using “This Land is My Land” as our national anthem.

If you were to really know me, you would need to hear hundreds of stories, visit hundreds of places and meet hundreds of people. Only a few of them are listed on my credit card bills.

But you are not only misinformed. You are also a thief. You are stealing my privacy, my civil liberties, my peace of mind and the incalculable pleasure of not having to worry about what someone else is doing to you. You are also a vandal. You are throwing rocks at the Constitution, scrawling graffiti on our national conscience, wrecking our reputation and scratching the face of America.

And still you do not know me.

I don’t know you either but I suspect you are earnest and were attracted to your dubious trade by its romantic and macho aura, recruited by the excitement of being a spy. Deceived by your employers, however, you have ended up just another technician in the dismantling of the First American Republic.

I believe you sincerely believe the contrary but I wonder about some things. For example, how many courses in American history did you take before embarking on this task? Did you ever read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography? Do you know who Thomas Paine was? What do you think Patrick Henry meant when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death?” Would you have tapped his phone, too?

And what about those who rebelled against the law to win rights for slaves, for women, for workers? Many of them broke the law. Were they bad Americans because they sought to become full Americans?

Do you know what the Palmer raids were? Do know why good Americans stood up to Joseph McCarthy? What did Woodrow Wilson mean when he told a group of new citizens “You have just taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. Of allegiance to whom? Of allegiance to no one, unless it be God. Certainly not of allegiance to those who temporarily represent this great government. You have taken an oath of allegiance to a great ideal, to a great body of principles, to a great hope of the human race.” What are some of those principles? Did Wilson know what he was talking about or should he have been under surveillance, too?

If you have a hard time with these questions, maybe you’re in the wrong business. You’re judging people without knowing the rules of the game. You’re determining who is a good American without knowing what that means. You’re mistaking loyalty to the ambitions of a particular set of politicians at a particular moment as loyalty to a country, its land and its people.

But even though you are a thief and a vandal, and even though I suspect you don’t know enough about America to judge me fairly, I’ll make a deal with you.

You come out of your hole long enough to meet me someplace over a drink or over dinner. I’ll tell you my stories and you tell me yours. No interrogation, no tape recorder, no probing into each other’s private business. Just two Americans sitting and talking about what it means to them to be an American.

If you don’t take this deal, I’ll think of you not only as thief and vandal but as a coward as well.

If you do take this deal, you’ll probably discover that we’re both pretty good Americans, but that you’ve been wasting your time, and that you may even want to find a new job.

Ex Post, factos
Sam Smith

Whatever happens to the Washington Post under its new owner, it won’t be the paper whose story over the past decades would, from time to time, cross my own.

It began in the 1940s when two young boys went to public elementary school together. One later became a mainstream journalist and was the son of a man who would become managing editor of the Washington Post. The other became a journalistic rebel and editor of this journal.

My relations with the Post were never neat. I admired Post managing editor Alfred Friendly Sr. greatly but visiting his house as a young radio reporter, I was shocked to hear him tell how he had discussed with the White House how to handle the story of Walter Jenkins, the gay White House aided just found sexually engaged at the YMCA. I didn’t think journalists cut deals like that.

And I got along pretty well with Don until the day I told him what I thought about the pressmen’s strike. It was always a little tough after that.

I even dated his sister Lally – mother of the current Post publisher – a couple of times, which is how, I suppose, I got to go to one of the most remarkable events of my life.

Just before I left for my first assignment as a Coast Guard officer, a party was given at a farm in Middleburg, Virginia for Liza Lloyd Mellon. Prior to the ball, I was invited to the farm of Phil and Katherine Graham.

Arriving at the Grahams about an hour before sunset, I found drinks being served on a lawn overlooking dark green hills. There were only a few debutantes around but there were Mr. And Mrs. John Kenneth Galbraith, McGeorge Bundy, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Bobby Kennedy, the William Paleys and Joseph Alsop. In a letter later I noted that “Mrs. Paley looked like the eleventh best dressed woman in the United States trying to make the list of the ten best dressed women in the United States. This was quite unnecessary since she is already on it.”

On a hill near the Mellon’s home were about a score of brightly colored tents of medieval design, sleeping quarters for the male guests. Each tent had a wooden raised floor, 15 cots, and an ashtray for every occupant. Several of the tents had been made into heads with showers and electric outlets for shavers included. Another tent housed two separate catering operations. There was room in this canvas city for 268 male souls. The local Episcopal rectory had been renovated for the women.

The main house contained not only the Mellons but an art gallery whose properties ranged from Renoir to Pissarro to Picasso. A large society orchestra alternated with Count Basie’s band until six a.m. The fastest omelet maker in France, flown in for the evening, was equally indefatigable. A half-hour of fireworks and a brief visit by Jacqueline Kennedy (who seemed more interested in Rousseau, Pissarro and Picasso than in the other names present) gave a redundant gloss to the evening.

Towards six am we wandered towards a large yellow tent to rest. My old grade school buddy, Al Friendly Jr, crawled onto a cot still in his white dinner jacket, pulling the covers up as if he bedded down in this fashion every night, and went to sleep.

By eight I was up for breakfast: a bottle of beer and scrambled eggs. One of the caterers told me he had never seen anything like this, either. As our minute Agincourt came to life and spirits returned, we took off again for the Grahams and a swim in their pond. Upon arriving on the second floor to change into a swimming suit, I found Joseph Alsop crawling on his knees searching for something in the hall. He got up, mumbled, “I can’t seem to find his shoes” and returned to his bedroom.

After a morning in the sun, we went back to the Mellons for lunch. A hefty buffet had been laid out and twin pianos played for the benefit of those still strong enough to dance. As I left at three-thirty, the omelet maker was still hard at work.

By the late 1960s things were alot different. I was editing an alternative paper and Graham, just out of the military, came around to my office to discuss what he was going to do with his life. One of the options was to join the police department. I attempted to discourage him but to no avail. He took the job and ended up in my own precinct and with my own office on his beat. He and his partner would show up occasionally to chat, a bit embarrassing for the editor of a 1960s underground publication. I assumed Graham was filing reports about me with someone. In any case, Officer Don Graham would continue to ignore my advice in his later employment as publisher of the Washington Post.

I might have ended up at the Post myself, because I was offered a job that I turned down – afraid that I would have to resign from the 1960s. Over the years I would have friends and non-friends at the Post. Bill Raspberry and Coleman McCarthy were more than kind to me; others seem to think I was a nut.

One of the columnists for the DC Gazette (forerunner of the Review) was Tom Shales. In one of his columns he wrote, “Of course, the Post is so riddled with flaws and shortcomings, it is hard to know where to start, and I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t. From its snobbishly inadequate under-coverage of the District itself, to the helter-skelter disorganization of national and international news within the paper, the Post is a compendium of journalistic ambiguity and short-shifts to the community one assumes it is supposed to serve.”

Shales would later be hired by the Post, eventually becoming its Pulitzer Prize winning TV critic, but would, for some time, continue writing his Gazette column under the pseudonym of Egbert Sousé . . . until he is discovered and ordered to cease.

I even wrote an occasional op ed piece for the Post, but with the arrival of the Clintons that all ended. An article I wrote in May 1992 suggesting that the Democrats dump Clinton while there was still time was not well received by my liberal colleagues. Earlier that same spring I ran into Don Graham on 15th Street. He asked me whom I was supporting in the Democratic primaries. When I said Jerry Brown, the publisher of the Washington Post grabbed my arm and waved it in the air shouting to the cars and pedestrians, “I’ve found one! I’ve found a real live Brown supporter!”

As I continued to cover the Clinton scandals, I was dropped as a guest by Fox Morning News. A Washington Post reporter told me casually that, yes, she guessed I was on that paper’s blacklist. There was an end of invitations to C-SPAN after two appearances were canceled at the last minute, presumably by someone more powerful than the host who had invited me. My speech during the first protest over Bosnia was the only one deleted from C-SPAN’s coverage of that event – even a folk singer saying that she was the “warmup band for Sam Smith” was left in. I received a long phone call from the host of a local Pacifica talk show berating me for what I written about Clinton, I was banned from the local NPR station and was graced with mocking suggestions by other journalists that I was a conspiracy theorist and becoming paranoiac. They didn’t bother coming up with any proof.

From 1967 to today. I or the Review have been cited 110 times in the Washington Post, but only two of those times were in the past decade. When you fall out of grace with the Post you fall hard.

One other thing. In 2004 I gave up our print edition because of what the Internet was doing to traditional publishing. It only took Don Graham nine more years to catch up with me.

Letter to the Washington Post
Sam Smith, 1989

[Some months back, I was invited to a community meeting called by Donald Graham, publisher of the Washington Post. I was unable to attend, but I wrote Graham a letter, part of which follows--s.s.]:

Dear Don:

I imagine that you could write down today a list of the major concerns that will be brought up at the meeting. These concerns haven't changed much over the years; they need not so much discovery as response. I am of two minds on this matter. On the one hand I have come to accept the wisdom that one should never try to teach a pig to sing -- it doesn't work and it annoys the pig. On the other hand, I have sensed enough wistful desire on your part and enough frustration on the part of members of your staff to cling to the hope that there remains potential of change.

Let me suggest a slightly different way of looking at the problem that might help to free that potential:

The Post controls the opening minutes of each day in the lives of over a million Washingtonians. Barely removed from our sleep, we pick up our cup of coffee to read the Post. Spousal conversation at that point in the diurnal cycle is in no small part determined by the Post. Our children soon catch the spirit. My younger son, for example, has come to believe that asking for the sports pages is an adequate substitute for saying good morning to his parents. And what are we doing as we sit there glazing our fingers with your ink? At one level we believe we are educating ourselves. But at another, and very important level, we are developing an impression of the day and of our city that will affect our mood, our conversation and our actions for the hours to come.

And how does the Post serve us at this critical juncture? What sort of day and city does it prepare us for? Basically it says to the reader: you are about to go out in a city which has a wealth of problems that you can't solve, pleasures which you're not important enough to partake of, and people who, when they are not just being dull, are deceitful, avaricious or mean.

Some years ago I subscribed to the Philadelphia Daily News in order to select a column by Chuck Stone for reprinting. I discovered a curious thing happening to me. I began reading the paper for pleasure. It dawned on me that here was what I was missing in Washington as filtered by the Post: a real city with terrible, wonderful, funny and contentious things happening to real people. The obituarist ran long obituaries of ordinary but interesting people. The columnists fought with each other. The editorials displayed human emotion rather than the bureaucratic consensus of an editorial committee. Most of all, people in Philadelphia, one gathered from the Daily News, were meant to have fun. Further, they had rights that were not to be intruded upon by crime, bureaucratic idiocy or other forms of venality. In short, the paper, written from the reader's perspective, projected a city that was worth facing, enjoying and fighting for.

In contrast, the Post seems at times almost maniacally determined to drain the life out of the city. The ghost of Harry Gabbitt has been thoroughly exorcised and what remains is a bureaucratic memo on the last 24 hours from the perspective of that small minority of people who wield power in this town.

So if I had been able to come to your meeting I would have accused you of being a wet blanket on my mornings and, by consequence, of the rest of the day. To my mind, this is as serious a charge as one can make against a daily newspaper.

I think this is so not because Post writers and editors are inherently dull, indifferent, or lack humor or emotion. Many, I have found, consider themselves more prisoners than collaborators. I think the problem stems from the fashion in which the Post attempts to rule, benignly and with noblesse oblige, from its monopoly position. Its methods, as I understand them, are not strikingly different from those of McDonald's, that is to say they depend in no small part on quality control. This control, aimed at preventing bad things from happening, has the inevitable result of preventing a lot of good things from happening as well. You end up with a product not unlike Muzak, in which both the low and high pitches are removed leaving the listener with the bland middle range.

This may strike you as inevitable, but I would suggest a way out of the dilemma. Give up some control. If you insist on acting like gods, your task will inevitably be futile, contentious and ultimately unrewarding. The community will come periodically and dump magazines on your doorstep or plead earnestly and vainly at your dinners. And nothing will happen. You will remain read and disliked.

Imagine, however, a Post which did not take upon itself the god-like task of blending and compromising all the different views, currents and spirits of the city. A Post that decided instead to be a stage upon which the city acted out its own play. A Post in which columnists did not have to go running to Benjamin Bradlee to defend their right to say something controversial. A Post that found Style in people who earned less than six figures, or in people we could emulate rather than scorn. A Post in which politics was theatre as well as process. A Post in which what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the little felicities of every day were reported as well as the great strokes of the mighty. A Post that did not wait for the downfall of a mayor to report the other voices and other ideas in the city. A Post in which one could expect to find both the joy and danger that awaited when one left the house in the morning.

You could not describe such a Post in a memo because its direction would not come from management or editorial decisions but from the vitality of the city itself. The same million stories that were out there in Front Page days are still out there waiting for the Post to cover them.

It would not be orderly. But there is no objectivity in creating journalistic order out of the anarchy of a city. No fun or wisdom either.

In short, my advice would be to abdicate as priest, broker, mediator and civic Cuisinart. Just be in the news business. It's a fine trade and all too few people practice it these days.


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