How to spy on reporters (5×8 – 5/14/13)

The threat of a well-informed citizenry, the great Minneapolis parking debate, raw milk showdown, is there some right to go really fast, and veterans are still killing themselves.


1) THE THREAT OF A WELL-INFORMED CITIZENRY

The Obama administration has been pretty good at deflecting most criticism coming its way. Sending the IRS on the trail of the Tea Party? It’s happened before. But looking up and seizing the phone records of reporters? That’s just about enough for the Associated Press.

The AP reports that the Department of Justice secretly seized the phone records of its reporters and editors for last April and May.

The government would not say why it seized the records, the AP says:


“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.

The government would not say why it sought the records. Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.

It’s unlikely spying on reporters is going to bother a lot of politicians. It probably won’t bother a lot of other people, either.

What would cause a free country to start spying on journalists? This story.

The CIA had thwarted a plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a US-bound airliner. It used a new bomb device, an upgrade of the “underwear bomb” that had been used on a Northwest airliner over Detroit in 2009.

Here’s what’s particular interesting about that story. The AP agreed to the Obama administration’s request not to tell it:


The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot, though the Obama administration continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

That’ll teach ‘em.

2) THE GREAT MINNEAPOLIS PARKING DEBATE

At Streets.mn, Chris Iverson rises to defend Minneapolis’ on-street parking pricing system which increases the rates when there’s a big event — a Vikings game, for example.

It’s in response to a MinnPost article which claimed the zones in which the on-street parking rates are in effect are not well marked and not announced:


Beyond posting maps and information on its website, the city did a poor job getting the word out about these districts. Searching the Star Tribune website turned up nothing about them. Although Minneapolis parking engineer Tim Drew remembers doing television interviews, he said, “People just don’t watch the news, or don’t pay that kind of attention to it.”

A Minneapolis spokesman said the city’s parking ticket database can’t distinguish between event rate violations and simple expired meters, making it difficult to tell how many drivers were snagged by the changes.

It’s easier to distinguish along Fourth Avenue, since meters are only in effect when the Vikings play. There, on four Vikings playing dates, traffic officers wrote 74 tickets according to city records — 33 on Sept. 23, nine on Oct. 7, 25 on Oct. 21 and seven on Dec. 30. Each citation carries a $42 fine, of which $24 goes to the city (that’s a patriotic $1,776 into city coffers) and the rest split between Hennepin County and the state.

The city did not release information on the four other playing dates, three Sunday afternoons and one Thursday night.

The article also objected to the cost to park on the street during events — $15.

Iverson disagrees:


I’m sorry, but I don’t really see a huge problem in this. The author made it seem like a big deal that you have to pay that much to park on the street, but it is still some of the cheapest parking around for game days. Last summer, my fellow interns and I did a short walking survey of the surrounding surface lots, and found that most lots within 3 blocks of the stadium charged $20 or more to park. Although on-street slots aren’t the same steal as before (The old meters charged $1/hour in all of Zone 2), they still are a good price.

Also, the $15 rate was also a compromise for fans wanting to linger the streets and bars after the games. As Tim Drew said in the article, “It gets you all the way until the next morning… We got a lot of feedback from fans who wanted to do something after the game, or were worried they might get stuck if the game ran late.” This is EXACTLY what Downtown East and Elliot Park needs – lingering fans wanting to check out the businesses before and after football. Before the new smart meters, all Zone 2 meters had 8-hour limits, so fans could not spend nearly as much time going around to different dining establishments. The $15 event rate lasts you all day, so you don’t have to worry about refilling the meter.

3) RAW MILK SHOWDOWN

The latest stand in the ongoing controversy over the sale of raw milk is about to take place over in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

“Do citizens have a right to contract with a producer and grow food to their own standards? That is what is at stake in this case,” according to Kimberly Hartke of the Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger is charged with four criminal misdemeanors for selling raw milk. He’s an Amish farmer who operates an organic farm.

Says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Hershberger case has become a rallying point for the raw milk movement nationwide, with supporters hoping that an acquittal could help other farmers who have run into trouble for distributing unpasteurized dairy products to the public.

The trial begins Monday and is expected to last four or five days. Hershberger’s supporters have rented the Al Ringling Theater, across the street from the courthouse, to monitor the proceedings and stage a raw-milk rally.

Supporters from California, Maine, Vermont, Michigan and other states are expected to attend. Guest speakers at the rally include Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian Party’s 2004 presidential candidate.

“Everybody realizes this case is pretty significant,” said Gayle Loiselle, a raw-milk advocate from Dousman.

“It starts with Vernon having the strength to stand up to state government. A lot of other farmers have just caved and said they would stop selling raw milk. He is fighting back and is getting support at a national level,” she added.

State officials have said the case against Hershberger is about licensing rather than the safety or benefits of raw milk. For months, mostly in 2010, they tried to stop the former Amish farmer from distributing raw milk products at his 40-cow dairy farm.

4) THE RIGHT TO GO REALLY FAST

The subtext of the WCCO story last night is that if police are writing speeding tickets, there’s something wrong with that department.

If only there were a way for a motorist not to get a speeding ticket.

Anytime they want to start cracking down on drivers running red lights, it’ll be fine with me.

5) YES, VETERANS ARE STILL KILLING THEMSELVES

In beautiful Great Barrington, Massachusetts — where I worked before moving to Minnesota many years ago — U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Edward S. Passetto hiked to the top of Monument Mountain and threw himself off.

He returned home to the Berkshires in 2011 after saving two men, pulling them out of a burning helicopter. He’d been medically discharged and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

But he died, apparently, because of his own country, which turned its back on him, the Berkshire Eagle reports:


Coincidentally, in Sunday’s print edition — which goes to press on Saturday night — The Eagle published a letter Passetto had sent to the newspaper on May 7. In the letter, Passetto wrote about the importance of veterans, Memorial Day, the media’s lack of focus on the war and veterans issues, and called for changes to “the waiting game” with the VA.

“I am a proud veteran who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was medically discharged from active duty in 2011,” Passetto wrote. “I returned home, and no one noticed. So I went on with my life, filed my papers with the Veterans Administration [sic] and started the waiting game. The same waiting game hundreds of Berkshire County veterans are struggling through along with millions of vets across America.”

Passetto called on the county to “come together and write our congressmen, our senators, to push for the change needed to help every veteran who comes home and the families of those who do not. I feel ashamed at times to be an American who has given seven years of my life to a country that cannot even give five minutes of theirs.”

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported the VA postponed purchases of cardiac monitors, radiological equipment and pain-medication pumps for patients last year. It didn’t replace old surgical tools, oxygen-delivery systems or deteriorating operating-room stretchers. It didn’t spend more than $750 million it had been authorized to spend.

Bonus: First interview with the police officer shot in the Boston Marathon shootout.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Gov. Mark Dayton will sign legislation that legalizes same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The bill signing comes after two years of debate, at times polarizing, across the state. Today’s Question: How can civility be improved between supporters and opponents of same sex marriage?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Medical roundtable: W

Why are hospital bills so high?

Second hour: Non-profits roundtable: What makes a successful non-profit?

Third hour: Women roundtable: Has the push for women’s equality, as Sandberg argues, really stalled?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): “Living a Low-Carbon Life.” A panel discussion from the Commonwealth Club.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - The paucity of homes for sale has given rise to what’s known in the real estate trade as “sleeving.” Rather than adding a home that’s for sale to the Multiple Listing Service, an agent will peddle the home privately to select buyers or to other agents in the same brokerage. Critics say this puts agents in a financial conflict of interest with the sellers they’re representing because it can result in a lower sale price. Agents who do it say it reduces the time and hassle involved in selling a home. MPR’s Annie Baxter will have the story.

  • Bonnie

    Had dinner last night with former co-workers: successful, intelligent business women. No one was aware of the same-gender civil marriage debate going on in our state. They do not read newspapers online or in print, are not on social media, and their favorite shows are cable reality shows. Inconceivable! (And I know what that phrase means.)

    I fear that our debate over the legislature’s action will be lived out by those who paid little time or attention to the realities of the situation, including the history of biblical interpretation or social context, or even the history of marriage. On one side, people who say, “we have the right to do what we want.” On the other, “it goes against the bible.”

    I’m frustrated.

    “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” — Kierkegaard

    Let’s exercise our freedom of thought as this debate continues in our faith communities, neighborhoods, and families.

  • KTN

    Re #1,

    Over at Volokh, Orin Kerr has a sort of funny post about the ‘non story” at least so far.

  • Bob Collins

    The headline indicates a particular weakness of thought on the part of Orin kerr (who, we should remember, is a former employee of the DOJ):

    “The Non-Story of the AP Phone Records, At Least So Far”

    You know what that reminds me of? Watergate. It took three years before people would pay attention to it.

    You can say you’re not interested. You can say “hey, that’s the way it goes,” but you can’t simultaneously call it a “non story” at the same time you’re saying you don’t know enough information.

    Jonathan Adler, at the same blog, got it right:

    This is hardly the first time the federal government has investigated the leak of national security information in the past dozen years, and yet this is the first time a seizure of this scope has been reported. The AP’s letter of protest certainly suggests this was an unprecedented seizure with serious implications for the AP’s newsgathering operations across a range of areas, and that the requisite efforts to obtain the necessary information through other means were not undertaken.

    Perhaps the AP is wrong on these point, and perhaps DoJ did everything that is required. If so, there might not be cause for outrage. But that would hardly make this a “non-story.”

    But all of this comes back to our rush to giving government unprecedented powers in the wake of 9/11.

    Everything is in the interest of national security, but if you go back and look at the original story, the issue at the end of the day wasn’t that the AP got a story that the White House didn’t want given out. At the end of the day, the issue was that Mr. Obama didn’t get to make the announcement.

  • KTN

    Watergate, really. Do you think this will morph into a Watergate sized cover-up, with all the intrigue and maybe even a G.Gordon Liddy.

    Because Kerr once worked for DOJ, does he lose credibility or have an agenda. His assessment does not gloss over what happened, but merely puts it into perspective and aligns with history and that channels were followed by DOJ, though those channels might be upsetting to some.

  • Bob Collins

    //Watergate, really. Do you think this will morph into a Watergate sized cover-up, with all the intrigue and maybe even a G.Gordon Liddy.

    Not talking about the specifics of Watergate; talking about the dynamic.

    The initial story was there was a break-in. Was it a “non story?” Nope. It was a story. As it turned out, it involved a president subverting the Constitution.

    So it actually WAS a story, it’s just that we didn’t know enough about it .

    Declaring something a “non” story when it’s still unfolding is utterly silly. But it’s what we do now.

    //’ but merely puts it into perspective and aligns with history and that channels were followed by DOJ,

    We don’t really know that, one. And, two, it also brings up the question of who’s determining the guidelines. As a post in a few hours will show, the ACLU asked the government for guidelines on how it determines when and how to snoop on text messages. It got 8 pages of black in return; everything was redacted.

    What records were seized? We don’t know. DOJ won’t say. For what purpose was it seized? We don’t know, DOJ won’t say.

    This from an administration that calls itself “the most transparent in history.”

  • KTN

    You will get no argument from me on the utter lack of transparency of this administration.

    I guess I ‘m jaded, no, redact that, I am jaded, so when I see things like this I tend to gloss over and wait for the scandle to unfold (if it ever does).

  • Bob Collins

    Unfortunately, with the decline of journalism and the expertise of politicians learning that people have a short attention span, doing nothing makes stories go away.

    See #5 above.

  • BJ

    I have a feeling years from now the image of Mr. Obama will be a lot different than it is today.

    Not good news for Obama: Three of the top U.S. stories in New York Times are Justice Department targeting the AP, IRS targeting conservatives and Obama dismissing Benghazi furor.

  • Bob Collins

    Interesting to watch the administration handle problems when they just can’t say “but…but…Republicans in Congress!”

  • John P.

    #4 Speeding

    I didn’t get quite the same subtext from the WCCO story. I agree that the teasers and the very beginning of the story did that, but I was paying attention to see if they explained where the differences come from. They went on to explain that certain cities have more highways and places where people tend to speed, and that the cities actually lose money on speeding tickets. All but about $10 of a $120 ticket goes to the county and the state.

    What I got out of the story was that some cities give out more tickets because more people speed there. Some cities are just more focused on ticketing speeders; maybe because they (Like #1 Edina) can afford more cops. I say hurrah for that.

  • MikeB

    Collectively we’ve agreed to relinquish these rights. The govt can look at any email/text they wish. Our elected representatives voted these away, nobody said much at the time. The govt was happy to oblige the sentiment that privacy concerns were only related to wrong doing or those with ill intent.

  • Bob Collins

    // nobody said much at the time.

    They did but they were met with one of two things: a) a questioning of their patriotism or (b) the remark, “hey if you haven’t done anything wrong, what are you worried about?”

    Both were monumentally stupid.

  • MikeB

    Both were monumentally stupid.

    Agreed. What most likely didn’t come across in my post is the frustration that we freely, or indifferently, give away these freedoms and expectations.

    These are only our rights, it’s not like a beer tax or football stadium. You know, important stuff

  • Bob Collins

    Exactly.

  • kennedy

    Re #3: The risk of consuming raw milk is similar to the risk of consuming raw eggs. And the consequences of bacterial infection can be severe for infants, young children, pregnant women, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

    The risks are known and documented. The benefits are anecdotal. It is legal in Minnesota for farms to sell raw milk. Grocers cannot.