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The [Wednesday] Papers

Blockbuster NSA leaks are coming so fast now it's hard to stay on top of them and process them all. Today alone:

* "The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials," the Washington Post reports.

"By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans."

* "An Italian magazine said on Wednesday that a United States spy agency had eavesdropped on Vatican phone calls, possibly including when former Pope Benedict's successor was under discussion," Reuters reports.

"Panorama magazine said that among 46 million phone calls followed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in Italy from December 10, 2012, to January 8, 2013, were conversations in and out of the Vatican.

"In a press release before full publication on Thursday, Panorama said the 'NSA had tapped the pope.'"

* "The National Security Agency advised its officials to cite the 9/11 attacks as justification for its mass surveillance activities, according to a master list of NSA talking points," Al-Jazeera reports.

"The document - obtained by Al Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act request - contains talking points and suggested statements for NSA officials responding to the fallout from media revelations that originated with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"Invoking the events of 9/11 to justify the controversial NSA programs, which have caused major diplomatic fallout around the world, was the top item on the talking points agency officials were encouraged to use.

"Under the sub-heading, 'Sound Bites that Resonate,' the document suggests the statement: 'I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.'"

* Glenn Greenwald writes in response to misleading NSA talking points:

"NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander asserted yesterday that two 'Boundless Informant' slides we published - one in Le Monde and the other in El Mundo - were misunderstood and misinterpreted.

"The NSA then dispatched various officials to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to make the same claim, and were (needless to say) given anonymity by those papers to spout off without accountability.

"Several U.S. journalists (also needless to say) instantly treated the NSA's claims as gospel even though they (a) are accompanied by no evidence, (b) come in the middle of a major scandal for the agency at home and abroad and (c) are from officials with a history of lying to Congress and the media.

"That is the deeply authoritarian and government-subservient strain of American political and media culture personified: if a U.S. national security official says something, then it shall mindlessly be deemed tantamount to truth, with no evidence required and without regard to how much those officials have misled in the past.

"EFF's Trevor Timm last night summarized this bizarre mentality as follows: 'Oh, NSA says a story about them is wrong? Well, that settles that! Thankfully, they never lie, obfuscate, mislead, misdirect, or misinform!'

"Over the last five months, Laura Poitras and I have published dozens and dozens of articles reporting on NSA documents around the world: with newspapers and a team of editors and other reporters in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, India, France and Spain. Not a single one of those articles bears even a trivial correction, let alone a substantive one, because we have been meticulous in the reporting, worked on every article with teams of highly experienced editors and reporters, and, most importantly, have published the evidence in the form of NSA documents that prove the reporting true."

Click through to read the rest.

(Indeed, the global nature of the reporting - in response to the global nature of the subject matter - is remarkable, if not revolutionary.)

I was struck thinking about the work of Greenwald and his colleagues, as well as the motivations and actions of Edward Snowden, while reading this portion of Chicago filmmaker Joe Angio's director's statement about his new work, Revenge of the Mekons:

I'm drawn to artists who work on the fringes, whose work is not tailored to or compromised by prevailing trends or the dictates of "the market."

Melvin Van Peebles, the revolutionary filmmaker and Renaissance man who was the subject of my previous film, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), certainly fits this bill.

So, too, do the Mekons, a band that continues to confound over the course of its unlikely and unpredictable 37-year career.

Yet it was only during the early stages of pre-production on Revenge of the Mekons that the affinity of these two films became apparent.

As I often do when I'm devouring the music of a particular artist, I consulted the indispensable Trouser Press Record Review Guide to read about the records I was listening to.

I'd read the entry on the Mekons, written by Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot, countless times, but this time a passage jumped out at me:

"The Mekons have continued to put out records of bewildering variety, erratic musical quality and enormous heart. These function almost without exception as a critique of power and the abuse of power - whether in government, the record industry or, less frequently, the bedroom."

That's when it hit me: This statement could just as easily have been describing Melvin Van Peebles!

These function almost without exception as a critique of power and the abuse of power.

That's journalism's primary function. It's not about being close to power, it's about critiquing it.

Nelson Algren agreed. In an excerpt from City on the Make that I'm quite fond of quoting, Algren wrote:

"The hard necessity of bringing the judge on the bench down into the dock has been the peculiar responsibility of the writer in all ages of man. In Chicago, in our own curious span, we have seesawed between blind assault and blind counter-assault, hanging men in one decade for beliefs which, in another, we honor others.

"And that there has hardly been an American writer of stature who has not come up through The Chicago Palatinate, was an observation which, when somebody first made it, was still true. God help the poor joker who comes up through Old Seesaw Chicago today.

"For we are now in a gavel-and-fingernail era. Punitive cats have the upper hand. The struggle is not to bring the judge into the dock, but to see who can get closest to him on the bench. For upon the bench is where the power is, and elbows are flying. Between TV poseurs, key-club operators and retarded Kilgallens in charge of columns, any writer whose thought is simply to report the sights and sounds of the city must be some kind of nut."

(Also, as I've also noted before, Chicago is as much a media critique as anything else; they both reached for the gun.)

I was similarly struck when posting interviews with Laura Gottesdiener, who is in town today, talking about her book A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home. This, too, is about the nature of power - and a failure of journalists to grasp the reality buried in the rhetoric.

*

December 19, 2012: Vitale: There Are No Plans To Turn Ames Into A Military Academy.

October 29, 2013: Marine Military Academy Relocating to Logan Square's Ames Middle School.

Rahm Emanuel just keeps giving us the ol' razzle dazzle.

*

"During the uproar over school closings, CPS officials repeatedly promised that students would end up at better schools and poured millions into 'welcoming schools' to improve them," Sarah Karp reports for Catalyst.

"Now, with the revelation that only 60 percent of displaced students enrolled in their designated welcoming school, the academic performance at the schools where they landed becomes an important X-factor, made even more critical by the fact that the Consortium on Chicago School Research has found that closings are only beneficial if students end up in the top-performing schools.

"Most of the shuttered schools - 80 percent - were rated Level 3, the lowest rating CPS now hands out. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data found that, in one sense, there's good news: Overall, just over half of students who went to their welcoming school ended up at schools that were rated Level 1 or 2.

"But the analysis also revealed troubling news: Only one-fifth of all students made it to the highest-performing schools, and a significant number landed at bottom-tier schools."

*

For Halloween, Barbara Byrd-Bennett is staying in and stealing candy from every kid who comes to her door.

*

"The next United States ambassador to New Zealand has been named as Mark D. Gilbert - a former professional baseball player, banking executive and Democratic Party fundraiser," the New Zealand Herald reports.

"According to the State Department, Mr. Gilbert played major leagues baseball with the Chicago White Sox in 1985.

"He is currently a director at Barclays Wealth, formerly Lehman Brothers, in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was senior vice president of Goldman Sachs in Miami from 1989 to 1996 and before that worked for Drexel Burnham Lambert, as an investment banker.

"Mr. Gilbert was on the Obama for America National Finance Committee, Mr. Obama's first presidential campaign and his re-election campaign."

See also: Obama's Ambassadors.

*

"President Barack Obama is briefed each day on a wide range of domestic and international issues, yet when it comes to major controversies, his administration's response is often the same: the president didn't know," Jennifer Epstein reports for Politico.

Rahm Emanuel says it isn't so, and thankfully, he's never lied, obfuscated, misled, misdirected, or misinformed. CNN's elbows are flying.

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Shot in the dark.



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Posted on October 30, 2013


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - FCC [Hearts] Sinclair.
POLITICS - Police Stood By In Charlottesville.
SPORTS - Why Colin Kaepernick Matters.

BOOKS - Windy City Blues.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Fish Unboxing.


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