When we want to be uninformed (5×8 – 2/11/13)

We see nothing, the search for Sgt. Baker, the right to privacy and the taxpayer’s dime, in the name of property values, and tales from prom season.


The Monday Morning Rouser…

1) WE SEE NOTHING

David Carr of the New York Times takes a swing at the golden goose today — the news consumer — over the perception that the news media has failed to tell the story of the United States’ mostly secret drone program.


A few things are at work here beyond government secrecy. Even though drones carry a payload of dark implications, they are positioned as an exercise in global hygiene — taking out terrorists a long way from here with very little risk. The government never wants to talk about drones, unless a high-value target is hit, in which case it invites the press in to watch the end zone dance. And could it be that because the keeper of the “kill list” was perceived as a liberal and had a background in constitutional law that he was cut some slack that others would not receive? Replace the name Obama with Bush and you could imagine the uproar.

“It’s worth noting that until last year, no one in the administration would use the word ‘drone,’ ” said Mr. Isikoff, who was quick to point out all the groundwork done by other journalists in advance of his scoop.

Now that the news coverage has finally goosed Congress off the sidelines, you are going to be reading a lot more about drones because it is, by definition, a story with a very long tail.

Carr says the reason so many people are in the dark about the drone program is because they want it that way.

In an editorial today, the Baltimore Sun says this is a huge expansion of presidential authority and suggests that perhaps Congress might want to involve itself more.


All that’s required for their being placed on a government kill list is the opinion of an “informed” official that they pose an “imminent” threat to American lives or interests. Not only does the document contain no definition of what qualifies an official as being “informed,” it turns the concept of “imminence” on its head. There’s no need for the government to show the existence of any specific plot or target of an attack; it’s enough if officials merely believe a person is engaging in a “continuing” effort to harm Americans.

Brandon Bryant is one of the drone program’s pilots — or at least he was until he realized he just couldn’t continue to commute to his job to kill people half a planet away.

“I saw men, women and children die during that time,” he told Spiegel Online in December. “I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.”

He spoke to the CBC last week.

Related war: The SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story. (Esquire)

2) THE SEARCH FOR SGT. BAKER

Somewhere out there, maybe there are descendants of Sgt. Fred Baker, a Sioux Falls native who enlisted when World War II broke out and resides in northern France, as he has since he was killed in 1944.

Jon Strupp has been trying to locate them since he met a woman on a bus in Minneapolis who worked at a storage facility and has medals — a Purple Heart and a Silver Star — honoring Baker that were left in a locker at some point.

He’s had no luck so far, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports, although he’s learned a lot in his question to find Sgt. Baker’s family.


He was 23 and gone,” Strupp muses. “The old saying is true. He gave away all his tomorrows so you could have your today.

“My dad got the chance to come back. He met my mother and, shortly after, married her. He came back and had five kids and everything. This guy died at 23, and that was it.”

While Strupp has not been overseas, a friend toured the World War II battlefields and cemeteries in France and told him “it was just amazing.

“I hope to get there someday.”

If he does, the trip will include a visit to the 48-acre Epinal American Cemetery on a plateau above the Moselle River. Strupp will make his way among the graves of 5,255 American soldiers to the white stone cross marking Fred Baker’s remains.

(h/t: Luke Taylor)

More medals: Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha of Minot receives his Medal of Honor today.

3) THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND THE TAXPAYER’S DIME

Last week the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan gave the principal of a high school almost $65,000 to go away after a complaint was lodged. Want to know more? Forget it. Few institutions are better at secrecy than school districts.

It happens quite often with government institutions , the Pioneer Press reports. It happened in Minneapolis when a supervisor got $70,000 to leave for unspecified reasons. In Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, an HR official got a quarter-million dollars and school board refused to say why.

It was after that bit of stonewalling that the Legislature changed the law requiring the reasons for such payoffs to be made public. And yet, they continue.

“This just doesn’t pass the smell test,” one West St. Paul resident tells the Pioneer Press. “It looked to me like there was some very calculated strategic approach to get around the law. That makes me crazy.”

4) IN THE NAME OF PROPERTY VALUES

One in five Americans lives in a neighborhood governed by a homeowner’s association. They usually have to sign some sort of covenant that restricts their freedom to do what they want, usually under the presumption that it will destroy property values.

How much is too much? In Virginia, the Washington Post reports, a couple fought back when the neighborhood association wouldn’t let them keep the “Obama” sign in their window. To them, it seemed like an abridgement of free speech rights.

The result? Their association is bankrupt, and neighbors are pitted against neighbors.

The comments section provides the occasional tasty morsel


I am reminded of a conversation I had with my niece, who lives in a “deed restricted” community in Florida. I told her then that I would rather live across the street from a purple house than to live in a community where purple houses were banned.

5) TALES FROM THE PROM

It wouldn’t be prom season without prom controversies, and this year it’s starting early.

In Indiana, parents and students at a Sullivan County high school (near Terre Haute) want to ban gays from their prom. Legally, there’s nothing Sullivan High School officials can do about it so some parents are creating a separate prom for the straight kids.

In Cincinnati, a school principal heard that students were planning a massive water balloon fight during lunch. She gave the students a choice, saying if there was a fight, there’d be no prom; the choice was theirs. They chose the water balloons. She canceled the prom.

Bonus I: Jack Long needs to undergo open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He, his teacher and his classmates in New Jersey started raising money and hoped to raise about $1,000 selling bracelets. The Rochester Post Bulletin says they’ve raised almost $10,000, with much of the money coming from people who lost nearly everything in Hurricane Sandy.

Bonus II: What’s the old saying about performing with kids? In Fargo, predictably, a weatherman got upstaged bigtime by a Moorhead kid.

Valley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand Forks

Bonus III: Near San Francisco, a piano appears by the ocean in violation of all rules. It is falling victim to the elements, which is part of its final performance.

Bonus IV: Why were there so many cars spinning out of control in Minnesota yesterday? Maybe they were running the camera at the time.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign effective later this month. Today’s Question: What’s your reaction to the announced resignation of Pope Benedict?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Roundtable on the value of failure(Rebroadcast).

Second hour: Roundtable on whether new forms of engagement help us move beyond the politics of anger and outrage? (Rebroadcast)

Third hour: Roundtable on the changing demographics of the country, and what it will mean when the U.S. becomes a “majority-minority” nation in the coming decades. (Rebroadcast)

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Obama advisor Bill Burton of Priorities USA, speaking at the HHH School about the progressive agenda.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – Former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy breaks down the defense budget.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - Lots of seafood at the supermarket these days is labeled “sustainable,” so

that you know it’s environmentally friendly. But how does seafood earn that label and how confident can you can be in it? An NPR investigation finds some answers.