Friday, December 20, 2013

The 2013 Tony Awards


The 2013 Tony Awards 

from the December, 2013 edition of The SCENE
  
The 12th (!) annual Tony Awards column for excellence in local media is dedicated to the late Anita Simm. Anita passed away in June at the age of 91. She and her late sister Marcile lived for many years on Parkway Ave. in Oshkosh; we were neighbors and great friends. Part of the friendship was a mutual interest in being well informed about local, state, national, and international issues. If “news junkie” ever enters the dictionary, Anita’s picture should accompany it to illustrate what such a person looks like.

Some years ago I asked Anita what she thought of the quality of mainstream, corporate news media. “Why is it so awful?” she asked with a quizzical look. Then as now, I wish I had a good answer. 
So in honor of Anita, here are the 2013 Tonys. Drum roll please: 

Best Feature News Story: “Finding a Dentist When on Medicaid Like Pulling Teeth,” in the May 2013 Oshkosh SCENE. A great news feature should give voice to an issue too long neglected, marginalized, or misunderstood. Kudos to story writer Cheryl Hentz and Oshkosh SCENE editor Justin Mitchell for helping readers understand the shameful state of dental care for Wisconsin’s poor. As stated in Mitchell’s Editor’s Note: “I hope you can see with me, or at least question – what kind of system reduces its people to requiring overnight ‘camping’ . . . to stand in line for many hours in hopes of receiving one visit from a dentist? Stated differently: How dysfunctional is our state dental care system that so many Wisconsinites have no access to dental care, except to hope for care from a volunteer dentist or to join a growing number of Wisconsinites who make up an estimated 32,000 hospital emergency room visits for dental related issues.” 

Best Use Of Social Media: Lorenzo Annis’ “Take Back Your City Oshkosh” Facebook page. Concerned with what many perceive as a disturbing increase in drug activity and crime in Oshkosh, Mr. Annis created the Facebook page as a forum to air out the issues. In a short period of time, the page generated over 2,000 likes, which is no small accomplishment for social media with political overtones. Some people (myself included) heard the name “Take Back Your City Oshkosh” and immediately had visions of racist wingnuts urging Oshkosh police to institute “stop and frisk” policies or some other repressive madness. But Mr. Annis has been clear that neither the Facebook page nor he personally will be used as a vehicle for hatred or intolerance. His vision of a strong Oshkosh includes healthy, welcoming neighborhoods that celebrate diversity and inclusion. That sentiment deserves thousands more “likes.” 

Best Social Consciousness Raising: Ellis Paul Consulting’s “Diversity Movie and Discussion” nights. Ellis Paul Consulting is two activists: Janine Wright and Tracey Robertson. They believe that “one of the obstacles to diversity is the lack of experience in discussing racial/class/gender ideas in mixed social groups. Our plan is to have regular movie-discussion nights in order to foster deeper and more meaningful relationships and communication in the Oshkosh community.” Creating such relationships might lead to more open communication in our neighborhoods, less bullying by adults and children, a more equitable distribution of community resources, and increased diversity in government agencies. Movie and discussion nights are held at houses of faith across Oshkosh. For a complete schedule, go to www.blackvoicesofoshkosh.com 

Best Blues Revival: Cave Productions and the Oshkosh Native Son Blues Society (ONSBS). Speaking of Janine Wright, she and her husband Artemas are passionate about Blues music. Cave Productions and the Oshkosh Native Son Blues Society are two vehicles they’ve created to bring this historic art form to Oshkosh. In 2012 ONSBS received a grant to help support bringing Blues education into the local schools. In 2013 Cave Productions and ONSBS brought some spectacular acts to the Electric Lounge in Oshkosh including Maurice John Vaughn, Michael Murphy, Mike Wheeler, Nellie Travis, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys and others. These concerts helped support the three very worthwhile goals of the ONSBS: (1) support local blues musicians and venues hosting blues events; (2) educate the community on the diverse Blues genre; (3) enhance Oshkosh culture in order to attract more Blues entertainers.
Best Letter to the Editor: Robin Lutz on the “Sequester Surcharge.” Tea Party endorsed politicians like Senator Ron Johnson tell us repeatedly that government spending is reckless and out of control. Johnson says he does not like forced spending cuts, i.e. the sequester, but that “some mechanism needs to be in place to force action.” So you’d think that Johnson would have applauded the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision, in light of sequester cuts, to charge the Experimental Aircraft Association over $400,000 for air traffic control services during AirVenture, right? Nope. Turns out that we only need sequestration to make cuts in programs Johnson doesn’t like. 
In a letter to the Oshkosh Northwestern, citizen Robin Lutz had the best take on the FAA’s decision to charge EAA for services. She said the fee should be called the “sequester surcharge,” a direct result of policy decisions made by so-called fiscal conservatives like Senator Johnson. I sincerely hope that “Sequester Surcharge” becomes a permanent part of American political discourse. 

Congratulations to all 2013 Tony Award winners! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Media Rants: Fresh Political Portmanteaus

Media Rants

Fresh Political Portmanteaus
By Tony Palmeri
from the November 2013 issue of The SCENE
If you’re a word geek like me, then you must be a fan of the portmanteau. That’s the trick of developing a new word from the blending of two older ones. Simple examples include brunch (breakfast + lunch), Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia), and Anthony Weiner’s favorite, sexting (sex + texting).

In politics, Barack Obama in 2008 lauded RonaldReagan’s presidency as “transformational.” Yet Obama’s signature policy achievement, the portmanteau Obamacare (Obama + healthcare) seems so far to have transformed the Republican Party more than the nation. Reaganomics (Reagan + economics) did the same for the Democrats a generation ago.

The most consequential political portmanteau, in terms of its reference to something destructive to our democracy, is “gerrymander” (Elbridge Gerry + salamander). In 1812 Massachusetts Governor Gerry signed a redistricting bill designed to guarantee legislative victories for his party. Thanks to gerrymandering, today the nation’s worst elected officials behave badly with little fear of being booted out of office; the only thing they have to fear is redistricting reform itself.

The last few months witnessed some wacky political events including: a technically not a filibuster filibuster, a former and current US president waxing delusional about their progressive credentials,  a president elected on a change platform formally endorsing the neoconservative approach to American foreign policy, a governor with presidential ambitions promoting a pointless property tax cut, and a government shutdown featuring the “fiscally conservative” Republicans voting to pay retroactively hundreds of thousands of federal workers they forced into furlough. Mainstream media had trouble finding a language to articulate these absurdities. The following portmanteaus should shed some light.
Panderfit (pandering + hissy fit): In September Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke for more than 20 hours on the Senate floor in an attempt to obstruct Obamacare. Since Cruz’s theatrics did not delay action on a bill, his gabfest technically wasn’t a filibuster, leading some to employ the portmanteau “fauxbuster” to describe it. After listening painfully to much of the remarks, I concluded that “fauxbuster” wasn’t strong enough to capture the true nature of Cruz’s crusade. The blather struck me as extreme pandering to red state Republicans and Tea Party aficionados, using the kind of extended hissy fit style typically found on the Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly programs. From now on, I recommend that all similar acts of pandering hissy fits be referred to as “panderfits.”  Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are first rate panderfitters, though as we get closer to the 2016 presidential primaries we can expect many more to pop up.

Selfusional (self serving + delusional): Not long after Ted Cruz’s panderfit, C-Span viewers had the opportunity to watch former President Bill Clinton interview current President Barack Obama about the Republicans’ effort to derail health insurance reform. To listen to these two, you’d think that the Affordable Care Act, which has its roots in Republican ideas about health care delivery, is somehow in the progressive tradition of Social Security and Medicare. Yes Obamacare is better than the Republican alternative, which no one takes seriously. But for Clinton and Obama to present themselves as courageous progressives extending the New Deal and Great Society is self serving and delusional. Selfusional pays though; after the interview Obama spoke at a DNC fundraiser at which attendees paid anywhere from $5,000 to $32,400 to attend. Suffice it to say those folks aren’t shopping for health care on the exchanges, though it would not be surprising to find out that some of them are insurance industry executives benefitting from the new law.
Chumsfeld (Cheney + Rumsfeld): On the same day as the selfusional with Bill Clinton, President Obama addressed the United Nations. He insisted on repeating the tired neoconservative meme that the United States is the world’s “exceptional” nation, while his criteria for when the US might intervene militarily around the world only mildly tweaked the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. Far from repudiating the narrow nationalist neoconservatism of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, today’s foreign policy establishment has in many ways internalized it. Establishment foreign policy speeches should no longer be called foreign policy speeches; instead let’s call them “Chumsfelds.”

Exploitition (exploit+ ambition). Does anyone have any doubt by now that Scott Walker is giving serious thought to entering the 2016 Republican presidential primaries? Frequent trips to primary states, nonstop fundraising, and a soon to be released book all point clearly in that direction. He’s got one problem: if he doesn’t get reelected in 2014, his presidential hopes will be toast. His solution? Make sure all public policy proposals promote his personal ambitions. Thus we get a pointless property tax cut plan, announced almost immediately after Mary Burke threw her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination for governor. Exploiting the public for sheer personal ambition. Let’s call that “exploitition.”
Congastrophe (Congress + catastrophe). Public Policy Polling found that the Republican Congress is less popular than “lice, colonoscopies, and Nickelback.”  That poll was taken before the Congress, led by panderfitting, selfusional politicians pursuing the exploitition policy of defunding Obamacare, shut the government down for sixteen days and came this close to throwing the country into default. Impressive work, huh? The sixteen days in October of 2013 should always be remembered as the kind of Congastrophe future Congresses should work hard to avoid.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Media Rants: Bradlees For Bezos


Bradlees For Bezos

Media Rants

From the October 2013 edition of The SCENE
Billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of the wildly successful Amazon.com, stunned the media world recently when he purchased the Washington Post from the legendary Graham family for $250 million in cash. A 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years put the family in the selling mood. Bezos’ reputation for innovation and experimentation convinced the Grahams that he’s capable of constructing a digital age business model that might rescue the Post and maybe even the entire newspaper industry. 
 
Being a billionaire allows Bezos to take the Post private. He won’t have to report quarterly earnings or obsess over how to maximize short term profit for investors. In other words, he will have a freedom to experiment not enjoyed by many of his corporate press competitors. 

Those hoping that Bezos will shift the Post firmly to the political Left or Right will probably be disappointed.  Unlike his billionaire brethren George Soros and Warren Buffett, Bezos doesn’t posture as the “I’m filthy rich but I feel your pain” friend of the downtrodden global masses. Similarly, he’s shown little sign of being a right wing kooky crackpot like Trump or the Koch Brothers

Bezos strikes me as the “hipster” billionaire, the cool digitarian who paved the way for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other new wave “job creators.” These peppy plutocrats see themselves as new millennium revolutionaries, with revolution defined as the ability of every person to purchase consumer goods inexpensively with one click and share that experience with their virtual friends. 

True to the hipster form, Bezos assures Post employees and readers that change can only happen collectively. He told the Post: “In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is through team effort. There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge.” 

He’s yet to announce how this team effort will be accomplished, but I’m expecting that in the near future Post employees will get a memo saying something like this: “Dear valued Post employee. If we are to change the culture of this company, I need to hear your opinion as to what direction we should take. I believe the greatest ideas are always stated in 150 words or less. Please write up your idea and put them in the suggestion box outside your office. You’ll notice that we are calling it the “Bradlee Box” in honor of BenBradlee, the former great editor of the Post and one of my heroes growing up. In fact, here at the Post ideas will now be called Bradlees. So please put your Bradlees in the Bradlee Box! The best Bradlees will receive $200 Amazon gift cards.”  
Shortly after sending the memo, Bezos open the first floor Bradlee Box and notices that it already has three Bradlees in it. Bradlee #1 is from a Post employee identified as a “senior editor:” Thanks for the opportunity Jeff. It’s about time we had someone running this company who really understands the business side of news. The Post has to find ways to prevent readers from getting our fine product for free. Let’s create a digital paywall with teeth.  Let’s take on the leeching aggregator sites like Huffington Post, in court if we have to. And why have we rolled over and played dead in response to Craigslist? Craig Newmark went to war with newspapers, and much to his benefit found the corporate press armies in retreat. Let’s fight to get back those advertisers! 
Bradlee #2 comes from someone identified as “senior reporter on the White House beat:” Websites like politico.com have figured out how to generate an audience for political reporting in a digital age. Politico privileges the views of powerful insiders more than we do, and they even find a way to get readers interested in pointless tripe. For example, I saw a headline over there that said, “Robert Gibbs,Maureen Dowd trade barbs.” At the Post our journalism quality has fallen, but we still aim for the Woodward/Bernstein/Bradlee Watergate standard. Maybe we can only continue to do that if we balance it with more pointless tripe? 
Bradlee #3 comes from someone identified as a “20 year old summer intern majoring in Journalism at a Midwestern university:” Hey Mr. Bezos. I don’t have too much to say, but I thought you might be interested in this quote I found in the textbook for my Intro to Journalism class. It’s from the legendary newsman William Allen White: “The owners of newspaper investments, whether they be bankers, stockholders of a corporation, or individuals, feel a rather keen sense of financial responsibility, and they pass their anxiety along to . . . managing editors . . . . copy desk men, reporters or what not. The sense of property goes thrilling down the line. It produces a slant and a bias that becomes . . . a prejudice against any man or any thing or any cause that seriously affects the right, title, or interest of all other capital, however invested.” 
Bezos reads the three Bradlees and immediately launches an inquiry into the Post’s intern hiring practices. “Criticisms of capital won’t help save the newspaper industry,” reasons Bezos. And thus continued the hipster billionaire digital revolution.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Meaning of Manning

Media Rants

The Meaning of Manning

from the September 2013 edition of The SCENE
[Note: This piece was written in early August, while the sentencing hearing for Private Manning was ongoing. He ended up being sentenced to 35 years, essentially for embarrassing the United States government. Years from now, the arrest, torture, show trial, and incarceration of Manning will be widely seen as one of the worst travesties in the history of the United States.].
In 1923 English scholars C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards released The Meaning of Meaning, a groundbreaking work that sparked decades of discussions about the nature and purpose of communication in society. The authors’ main insight, that “meaning” resides in people and not in words, helped explain why misunderstanding mars most communication encounters. More important, Ogden and Richards promoted reflection on the ethics of communication; i.e. if misunderstanding creates tension and distress between humans, are we not all responsible for helping to remedy that situation?

Early 20th century communication scholars knew their insights could be twisted unscrupulously by governments, corporations, and other institutions of power. Still, even they would be shocked at the extent to which contemporary political and corporate powers not only resist remedying misunderstandings, but actively keep individuals and the public at-large as confused as possible.

One look no further than the detention and trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning, the soldier now convicted of leaking classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, to see how supremely rotten is the current state of political communication in America. Indeed, to grasp the meaning of meaning today requires first grasping the meaning of Manning. The treatment of Private Manning represents one more step toward what writer Peter Van Buren calls “post-Constitution America,” a major feature of which is the “Guantanamo-ized definition of justice.”
Bradley Manning served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Frustrated by his superior officers’ directive that he should keep quiet about war crimes, he struggled with trying to figure out the responsible course of action. When neither the New York Times nor Washington Post showed significant interest in obtaining materials from him, he turned to WikiLeaks. Of all the classified communications released, the most controversial was a video of US soldiers killing innocent civilians (including Reuters news organization journalists) almost gleefully.
After Manning’s arrest in May of 2010 on suspicion of unauthorized leaking, he was subjected to Gulag style incarceration including extended solitary confinement, being forced to sleep naked without pillows or sheets, sleep deprivation, and denial of the ability to communicate. Keep in mind these were the prison conditions Manning was exposed to before even being indicted for a crime. In language that could come right out of dystopian novels like Orwell’s 1984, military officials insisted that Manning’s solitary confinement wasn’t torture but actually a “prevention of harm watch.”

Elite media turned out troves of stories based on the leaks, yet curiously and sadly would not champion Manning’s cause in the same way most championed Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers 40 years earlier. Some have argued that Manning’s actions were worse than Ellsberg, an argument Ellsberg himself repeatedly refutes. Moreover, the main difference between their cases appears to be the fact that the documents released by Ellsberg were labeled “top secret,” but nothing released by Manning carried a similar label.
Elite media mostly ignored Manning’s prison plight, so it was left to United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez to alert the world to the travesty: “I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture.”  No doubt Edward Snowden read Mendez’s report before making the decision to seek asylum instead of placing his fate in the hands of USA prison authorities.

After 3 years in horrid prison conditions, Manning’s court martial proceedings finally began on June 3rd of this year. Military prosecutors labored to show how his disclosures constituted irreparable harm against The Homeland, including “aiding the enemy” and “espionage” in accordance with World War I era legislation. In keeping with the Guantanamo style justice mentioned earlier, prosecutors sought conviction for “wanton publication.” Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman had the perfect retort: “The real offense, for which no one has been charged, is the wanton disregard for human life that Manning exposed.”

Media elites in their establishment slumber could not be bothered to express even mild outrage at being effectively barred from Manning’s trial, but woke up to announce relief that Judge Denise Lind acquitted the whistleblower on the “aiding the enemy” charge. Conviction on aiding the enemy would have criminalized investigative journalism. JeremyScahill, author of the bestselling DirtyWars, said that “The corporate media coverage of this trial, which is arguably one of the most important cases in modern American history, has been utterly shameful . . . There has been more coverage of the indictment of that Real Housewives lady and her husband than there has been of Bradley Manning,”

As I write in early August, the trial is in the sentencing phase. Manning faces as much as 136 years in prison for the sham charges he was convicted of at the show trial. The Obama Administration, instead of using Manning’s revelations to support the obvious need for a reset in the conduct of the “War on Terror,” instead took the Nixon/Bush/Cheney route of overt intimidation and persecution of people of conscience.
Welcome to the 21st century United States where, thanks to thuggish government officials and a compliant corporate press corps, those exposing criminality themselves come to be defined as criminals. That is the meaning of Manning.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Media Rants: Reformers and Hacks in Politics and Media

Reformers and Hacks in Politics and Media

By Tony Palmeri

From the August, 2013 edition of The SCENE

Asked what steps his administration would take to apprehend National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, President Obama said he was not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” In fact, the administration immediately revoked Snowden’s passport, bullied nations that dared offer asylum, and colluded with cowering European governments to engineer the shameful spectacle of the forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Vienna upon suspicion Snowden might be aboard. That Dick Cheney and Ari Fleischer openly support the administration’s stance ought to give us pause.
Snowden vs. Obama underscores the truth of the late journalist/historian Walter Karp’s insight in his classic 1973 book IndispensableEnemies that the tension in American political life isn’t between Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives, but rather reformers and hacks. Driven by a moral vision and idealism, reformers act on principle.  Driven by self-preservation instincts, hacks act in accordance with the demands of the structure of power. Anyone who’s ever worked in academia, corporate America, or other hierarchical institutions knows the same principles apply there too. Hacks aggressively undermine and marginalize reformers not just in politics, but in establishment media. The Snowden Affair presents a striking case study of the reformer/hack dynamic at work.
We live in such unprincipled times that when someone genuinely acts on principle our tendency is to be suspicious. Snowden’s statement of July 12, 2013 is enough to make a hack’s head explode:

Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.

It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.

I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring."

A handful of establishment politicians now use Snowden’s revelations as a basis for questioning the legality of the NSA’s expansive surveillance model, but few defend the leaker. As I write in mid-July, only retired Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey had the cojones to stand with Snowden; in an email to him he wrote: “I believe you have done the right thing in exposing what I regard as massive violation of the United States Constitution . . . I wish you well in your efforts to secure asylum and encourage you to persevere.”

Snowden responded by saying in part, “I only wish more of our lawmakers shared your principles - the actions I've taken would not have been necessary.” Indeed our own “progressive” Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin to this point only mimics the hacks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: “I do not believe that Edward Snowden acted at all appropriately. I think he should be tried. Let’s bring that before a jury of his peers.” Seriously Senator? Does the treatment of Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers provide even a scintilla of hope that the present United States government is capable of treating Snowden fairly? Legendary Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg thinks not, and penned a Washington Post piece explaining why: “Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.”

As for the establishment media, the London Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald (the journalist who received the leaked materials) continues to do a remarkable job of demonstrating how in almost every country of the world the substance of the NSA documents receives prominent coverage. Only in the hack controlled US media do we see an obsession with Snowden’s personality, personal life, and other irrelevancies. MSNBC is especially deplorable these days; now a pathetic, moderately left of center Fox News style propaganda machine that Jeff Cohen callsthe official network of the Obama White House.”

Swedish Sociology Professor Stefan Svallfors recently nominated Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. His nomination letter suggests a desire to put the Nobel organization on the side of reform as opposed to hackery: “The decision to award the 2013 prize to Edward Snowden would . . . help to save the Nobel Peace Prize from the disrepute that incurred by the hasty and ill-conceived decision to award U.S. President Barack Obama the 2009 award. It would show its willingness to stand up in defense of civil liberties and human rights, even when such a defense is viewed with disfavor by the world's dominant military power.”

Friday, July 05, 2013

Media Rants: Gettysburg’s Lesson For Today

Media Rants

Gettysburg’s Lesson For Today
By TonyPalmeri


I’ve been reading and been disappointed by corporate mainstream daily newspapers for a long time, but it wasn’t until April 26, 2013 that the front page of a tabloid made me physically ill almost to the point of throwing up. On that day Gannett’s USA Today had on its cover a picture of George W. Bush having a good laugh with his daddy George H.W. Bush at the dedication of Bush The Younger’s presidential library and museum. The copy under the picture said, “Living presidents join to hail Bush."

What sickened me was the fact that the Bush Klan Kodak Moment was juxtaposed with a below the fold picture of Ronny “Tony” Porta, a 26 year old war veteran who suffered terrible trauma in Iraq. Headlined “Who’s going to love me now?” the story said “Tony Porta, disfigured in Iraq, has sustained additional wounds at home: stares, pointing, even mocking. For this Marine and many war vets like him, the battle never ends.” The editors somehow thought it appropriate to place Tony Porta’s severely scalded facial features in proximity to the chuckling Bush, yet never saw fit to communicate the fact that Porta’s plight, and the plight of thousands more soldiers and their families, exists as a direct result of the former president’s deceptions and the lapdog media that enabled them.
What is owed Tony Porta and the thousands of victims of the now more than 10 years’ worth of foreign policy death follies? Given that this July is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, perhaps we could look to President Lincoln’s response to that event for advice.

Historians consider the July 1-3, 1863 Gettysburg campaign to be a turning point leading to a Union victory in the Civil War even though, according to the New York Times, there were more casualties “in the twenty two months of war after Gettysburg and Vicksburg than in the twenty seven months of war that preceded them.”  The Union Army suffered 23,055 casualties and losses at Gettysburg including 3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, and 5,369 captured or missing. The Confederate number was 23,231 including 4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, and 5,830 captured or missing.

President Lincoln in his famous November 19th  Gettysburg memorial address could have assured the war weary public that ultimate victory was near; he could have easily offered a 19th century equivalent of “Mission Accomplished.”  Instead, with stunning eloquence he needed just over 270 words to remind his hearers of the great principles underlying the battle:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Anyone attempting to compose a Gettysburg Address for our contemporary killed and maimed warriors must come to grips with the fact both Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice commandeered by administrations involved not in Lincolnesque quests to preserve the Constitution, but in Nixonian crusades to subvert it. Think warrantless wiretapping, torture, extraordinary rendition, expanded drone wars, the virtual criminalizing of investigative journalism, forced feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo, the rubber stamp FISA court, and additional abuses associated with the post 9/11National Security/Surveillance State.

Given that context, what do we owe Tony Porta and the war dead? What does it mean today to resolve that they shall not have died in vain? The short answer is this: when soldiers are sent to war by leaders who are themselves at war with the Constitution, our obligation is to take the side of those with the courage to reveal what government is doing in our name. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden represent just two examples of honorable young men who get the message of Gettysburg in ways the chuckling Bush never could or will. Support them.