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What Happens After You’re Cancelled

This is a highly personal account of what happens after a social media crowd destroys a life. It includes talk of mental illness, severe pain, trauma, and suicide. Stop now if that’s not for you. Also, it’s long. 


I was folding laundry with my partner one day when I looked up at him and said, “Do you think they’d be happy if I did kill myself?”

He looked at me, and took a long breath, and said, “No.”

“You’re right,” I said, “I know it. Nothing makes them happy.”

Taylor Lorenz, a staff writer at the New York Times told The Stranger: “In internet culture, being canceled is only good for your career. It usually results in going viral, which is default good in today’s broken world.”

I suppose it seems this way because you only see the people who survived it, who stayed in the public mind or their jobs. The rest of us, we cease, unpersoned and exiled. We are not in the observational data set, we are never spoken of when people talk about this mode of human life. To this day, as many articles as the New York Times has published about the phenomenon, never once has anyone mentioned my name.

The second time it happened, the bad time everyone remembers, I got a call in a movie theater. That was where I was when the internet wrecked my career, watching Black Panther, and my body still goes cold when I remember it. Katie Kingsbury called me, just before Killmonger died, just before he said “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage” – I missed that part. As I was walking out, she asked me if I’d tweeted something, and I was confused by it. I said, “That doesn’t sound like me.” It turned out it wasn’t my tweet, it was a nine-year-old retweet of John Perry Barlow, an angry clap back at racists shortly after the first Obama election, and it contained the N word.

In the next hours, people would dig up tweets and display them out of context to paint me as an unrepentant racist and homophobe. I never had a chance, before I got home from the theater I was fired from my new job. The Times never asked me to explain the tweets. By the time the King of Wakanda was landing in Oakland, my life as I had know it was gone.

The only tweet anyone at the Times asked me about (after that initial call) was one where I was angry tweeting criticism of the Times’ coverage of the Michael Brown shooting. It was a tweet saying that I’d make a lot more money as a racist at the New York Time than I was making then, right after they’d published their “Michael Brown was no angel” article. I didn’t stop with the tweet. I wrote a satirical piece making fun of how the Times and other outlets covered Brown’s death and other police shootings, about how no one could be good enough to make the conventional media question the police, called Man Killed by Local Police in the Province of Judea.

I’ve spent a lot of my career weaving in elements of satirical bait-and-switch into my commentary and articles, and plenty of the bait without the switch was on display that day. I realized I couldn’t counter it, not all of it, and really not even a bit of it. No one was listening.

Online crowd stomping someone is like a sealioning of mythic proportions, where the crowd tempts you to think if you could just explain it would be OK, but it’s not true, it’s a lie that fucks with your head, a crowd screaming why are you hitting yourself while also telling you to kill yourself.

It’s not that the crowd used my weaknesses against me, it’s that they used my strengths. My pacifism, my work with weird and marginalized communities, my love of flawed people, my humor, my long thoughts and hopes about complicated moral topics, these were all used to reduce me to nazi sympathizer, a homophobe, a white supremacist.

So many of the things people brought up and threw at me weren’t my mistakes at all, but things I’m proud of, like trying to argue an anon out of making rape jokes at a feminist on Twitter.

And then my colleagues in American journalism did me dirty. They ran with the crowd, releasing fast articles without any more context than Twitter and Facebook, without talking to me or trying to understand what was happening. Not all, but most. Enough that I knew I wouldn’t get work again, that anyone who googled me would not speak to me again. And yes, they’ll complain I didn’t get back to them. But I was nine hours ahead of the west coast and overwhelmed. I had just been fired, I was preparing for spinal surgery, and I needed to sleep.Or at least, I needed to try to sleep.

The New York Times apologized for hiring me, but it would be years before anyone would apologize to me. It would be even more time before I found my anger. But it helped when I did.

You don’t know me, you assholes. You don’t even think that matters. All that matters is the last thing you saw, and feeling like you’re better than other people. You’re like the amnesiac goldfish of self-righteous hatred.  

But then, I also know why they did it, I spent years studying and trying to understand exactly the forces that wrecked me that day. I had written about them, had spoken to the situations in which they arise, had suggested ways of making the internet better. Education, mostly, and creating the cultures you want to see on the net through active moderation, among other things. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write about it again.

That February 2018,  I was in a level of pain hard to fit into words. I was struggling to type, I’d all but lost the use of my left hand and my right was starting to fail too. I had written about the pain the five months before,  but it hadn’t improved since then. That’s what the spinal surgery I was preparing for was supposed to fix. This was the final cut on top many years of agony, physical and emotional. I explained everything as best I could in those days following my firing. I wrote about my philosophy, I wrote about what the Times and the crowd had done to me, the how and the why. Often I wrote by dictating notes into my phone, because typing was so painful and difficult. I hoped someone in journalism would retract their claims about me, but no one did. Regular people did, they still do. Sometimes out of nowhere someone on Twitter will say, I was in the mob, and I’m sorry. Not every article was a hit piece, but mostly they were, and none, not a single one that I could find, ever criticized my writing as racist or homophobic. Just me, on social media, in snippets no one wanted to understand.

Publications I was talking to replied that obviously they couldn’t work with me now. People who knew me apologized quietly, but with a few exceptions, they just felt like if they stood up for me they’d be destroyed by the mob too.

Friends, horrified by what happened to me, retreated from the internet. I found myself comforting them. I’d say the internet was not all bad, it was mostly wonderful, and that I would be OK. The first was true, the second, I still don’t know.

When the chips were down I found out I was mostly alone. It wasn’t the first time I felt that. It wasn’t the first time a crowd came for me, nearly drove me to the point of self-harm.

I’d felt it five years earlier, when the media and public went looking for a bad guy to blame for Aaron’s suicide. There were bad guys, MIT and the prosecution, US Attorneys  Stephen Heymann and Carmin Ortiz, but they were safe behind the walls of institutional power. The crowd came for me for the same  reason Heymann did: because I was powerless and easy to exploit and they wanted blood.

I was at my girlfriend’s flat in London the morning Aaron died. I woke up and opened my laptop to see mails and messages from everyone saying to call them, and that it was about Aaron. I said something like “No, no, what did you do, you didn’t do it no no no” and, of all things, pulled up Wikipedia. There, on the page, was Aaron’s end date. As I recall it, I just rocked and cried and said “no no no you didn’t do it” until I had to explain it to my girlfriend. She fed me and looked after me while I booked my way back to New York and then Chicago for the funeral. I went to a conference and did a presentation on Anonymous. Everyone told me I didn’t have to, including the organizers, but I wanted the distraction. I wanted to go through the motions of a normal life I already knew was never going to be normal again.

I met a filmmaker friend of mine at the conference. He hadn’t known Aaron, but now he was surrounded by people who had, and he wanted to understand more. He did a few interviews with me and other people, and said he thought this might be a short film. I looked him in the eye and said, “this is a feature length film.” He was thoughtful and silent. Later, with the camera rolling, he asked me why so many people cared so much about Aaron, and I said, “He was the internet’s own boy, and the old world killed him.”

That film, Internet’s Own Boy, would be shortlisted for the Oscars.

What I didn’t tell Brian that day was the complicated role I played in Aaron’s prosecution, or the complicated roles we played in each other’s lives. That would come out later, in the movie, and in articles, including my own. I would bring most of it out, but already under attacks from people who wanted someone to suffer for what had happened to Aaron. I’d been on and off in a romantic relationship with Aaron for years, and we had both struggled with depression in that time, even before he was arrested while riding my bike in Cambridge.

We’d gone through his arrest and investigation together. I was so angry at him, though you must understand, not for downloading journal articles. I was angry he hadn’t told me what he was doing. When I was being questioned by the Secret Service they couldn’t believe that I didn’t know, because we were so close. I wanted to pound on the table and explain that if I’d known they would never have. There wouldn’t be a laptop in Evidence, purchased with my credit card, there’d be a smoking crater where the JSTOR server used to be and not a shred of evidence that lead anywhere. Aaron wasn’t that kind of hacker. I, on the other hand, had done plenty of things no one ever caught me for.

My lawyers, who were terrible and sold me down the river, had advised me not to say that to the prosecution. They were probably right about that at least.

Aaron was so angry at me for meeting with them on my lawyers’ advice. He was right, but I didn’t know that. He was angry at me for betraying him, but not the way everyone thinks. I was the only one he told when he was suicidal, which was often during the investigation. One day I blurted it out to his lawyer on a speakerphone call. “Aaron is suicidal,” I told him, but he didn’t respond and Aaron hung up and yelled me that his lawyer wouldn’t care and it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t know that his lawyer had tried to act on that information until after Aaron died.

My life with Aaron started at the same time that my spinal problems started, and started with the loss of control of my hands and daily migraines. Just as my marriage collapsed, my body also started to collpase. In 2008 when the first MRI came back, the specialists explained that I could maybe control symptoms with physical therapy, Botox injections, and cortisone injected into my spinal neck, but that very little could be done for me, and when I had surgery, I’d lose mobility. That I would suffer a decline and my body would fail and that it would be terribly painful. “Maybe,” I was told. “Someone will invent a prosthetic.”

Ten years later, thousands of miles away in a country with more mercy for the ill, I was fired from my job, and waiting for that prosthetic to be inserted into three sections of my cervical spine, all while the crowd was trying to move into my mind.

Recovery was not easy. I had to cross Paris on the metro and take a train home, and it was a shockingly painful experience, even for someone as familiar with pain as I was. For the next weeks, I would patiently get up and reach up on the walls to feel them and push myself along. I’d shuffle my way along the edges of my room, trying to balance, trying to move. I didn’t have adequate pain medication, complained, and then I had too much. I became physically dependent on Fentanyl, and then wrote about the withdrawal.

I handed my Twitter account over to a group of friends for my recovery period, and they tweeted the details of my post-operative condition. “Every time I lose a follower, an angel gets its wings,” I joked with them. I was already retreating from the world, as I had when strangers had spent their time telling me I’d killed my beloved.

The weeks passed. I talked to a few publications, but no one  wanted to be seen with me. I felt like an unperson. My throat would tighten until it felt like I would choke, just sitting there. I was fighting to get my body back, and fighting the memories of being a pariah for all of my childhood. It had all welled up and poured over my psyche after the Times, along with the inadequacy I felt at not being able to save Aaron. I was barely keeping my grip on reality. I still had support on Patreon, which was both shocking and intimidating. I felt like I couldn’t produce, I felt broken down completely, and unsure how to rebuild myself, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

And then, a ray of hope. Out of the blue, a publication I dearly love offered me a column. It sounded like it would be coming home, and I said yes. They told me whom I would talk to next in the process to brought on board, and then there were no more mails. They ghosted me. I wrote and wrote asking for the next steps, and they simply never wrote back. I never learned why.

Some little thing in me snapped after that. It was too much. I fought back thoughts of suicide on a daily basis. I talked them through with friends and my partner, and defanged them, but always temporarily.

I was fighting my worst depression in years, and I was using everything I knew to fight it. I was exercising and doing mental work and trying to manage my sleep, but my PTSD was also out of control. I was dreaming every night of fights with Aaron, Occupy camp evictions, seeing my dead father’s body, being visited by all the people who had died, and sometimes just straight up monsters chasing and killing my people, both alive and dead. It had progressed to hallucinations that lasted up to a few minutes after I’d wake up. I’d bat at the air, fighting demons my mind dreamt of, until I realized what was happening, and stopped. I apologized when I woke up my partner.

When I’d dealt with every self-harming thought as well as I could cognitively, they retreated into urges, a feeling like my body would just act on its own, however I might fight it. I became scared to walk across bridges. I tried to not be alone too much. I hated feeling like a burden, I hated feeling like I couldn’t do or be anything helpful or productive for the world, but I had hung on, until the day came when I couldn’t.

I didn’t trust myself anymore. I walked over to the bus stop, and caught the last bus of the night that would take me to the Emergency Room. When they asked me why I had come, I said I was afraid I was going to hurt myself.

They asked me to sit down and before long had a staff psychiatrist talk to me. He spoke some English, but not well. He asked what had happened, and why I was feeling so bad, and I started to tell him about Twitter and the New York Times. I stopped, realizing that he didn’t understand much about this crazy story and I was going to get the wrong diagnosis if I wasn’t careful. I called my partner, and put him on the phone to explain in French.

I watched the psychiatrist. He was an older man with a trace of corrected cleft palate. This comforted me in ways hard to explain. He’d known pain, and flaws, and problems with society. He couldn’t really understand me or my world, but I knew he could understand the pain of being different, of people being thoughtless. He nodded with the phone to his ear and ask questions, and eventually handed my phone back to me. He suggested I take a bed in the hospital for the night.

My trust was not misplaced. Over the next few days we never had much of a real conversation, but he listened and tried to help.

I was admitted to the psych ward that night. It was not a great experience for me, but it was safe. And more than anything I felt like I’d pulled the emergency cord on my life. I’d stopped the whole train, just to say, I need help, I need something to change. I’m not going to survive this without help. I spent two days there, stabilizing and trying to figure out a long terms plan for care. It didn’t work out. Luxembourg, which had so wonderfully cared for me when it came to my spine, has next to nothing in terms of mental health care options. The only care they would pay for outside of the country was inpatient. A former NHS psychologist who had recently moved to Luxembourg was found to talked to me a few hours while I was in the ward, but there was no option to see her later.

Still, the few hours did help.

I went home two days later, in the strange and liminal mood that comes after you’ve done something that changes everything. Everything was a different color. I wasn’t better, but I had nothing on my to do list but survive.

I went back to America, where I knew I could see providers, but for a lot of money. I passed the hat — and old school gofundme — to pay for a couple months of therapy and a visit with a creative, young, and damn expensive psychiatrist. I walked into his office with a twenty-year history of drugs which either had unlivable side effects or hadn’t worked on my depression and PTSD. He took it, read through it, and said “You’ve taken all the drugs.”

I talked about the night terrors, which I never had before. He prescribed me a hypertension drug, which somehow someone realized controls PTSD related night terrors in overly high doses. I had to ramp up over six weeks, but I did. The night terrors aren’t completely gone, but they’re much reduced, and the hallucinations have almost disappeared. It was the second time a drug had actually helped me mentally, the first being taking Trazodone to help me with lifelong insomnia.

But controlling the wider PTSD and depression symptoms wasn’t working. I sought out more group therapy as well as one-on-one, and started a short term treatment with ketamine in hopes that it would control my depression. I tried everything I could at the beginning of 2019.

It didn’t work. It wasn’t a total failure, my sleeping was better, but I was still struggling to live. I felt like I gave it all I could.

When I came back home everything was quiet, around me, and in my head. I felt allowed to do anything I wanted to get better, what was left? Who could say anything to me? I figured if I wanted to run off to a forest and drop acid to get better, so be it, I was going to do whatever I wanted. I had tried everything. I read the studies, saw so many clinicians, read books, tried apps, even taught myself a fair bit of neurology. I was allowed whatever I wanted at this point. I was allowed to call myself treatment resistant.

I didn’t run off to the forest and drop acid, that was mostly theoretical, I don’t even know how to buy acid. But I felt better thinking I could if I wanted to.

I started a new drug prescribed to me by a pschiatrist, new enough that it had to be brought in from France and wasn’t cover by my national insurance. Maybe it helped, I don’t know. It gave me migraines again, which we tried to control through more Botox and other drugs including heavy duty NSAIDs and triptans.

I let the days go by, mostly. I cooked and helped people where I could, I wrote when I was able. I felt time slipping away with panic again, just as I had when my hands stopped worked and every day was full of physical pain. There were ups and downs, but for a while, it seemed to be getting better. My doctor thought it was the new drug, I was not so sure. Trying to understand this stuff makes the three body problem look like child’s play. Controlling one variable is a fun game researchers play, while clinicians laugh at their theories. In the real world, you still have to throw things at the wall, and hope.

I started declining again. I stopped writing, and hated myself for it. I began reaching for anything — exercising, meditation, but everything just got worse. I went back on sleep medication, and upped my antidepressant, figuring I’ll just live with the migraines. I went looking for more ideas, more research, more anecdotes. The familiar gift of desperation was back, accompanied by the fireworks that heralded 2020.

I am out here on the peculiar edge of human experience: the hate of the crowd, in a peculiar era where the crowd can kill you and you still find yourself untouched, alive, and ill-equipped for this life.

Looking for ideas in one thing after another, I found research about holocaust survivors who, having told their story, started doing better. Their physical and mental health improved after they stopped holding in the stories of what happened and how awful it was. I looked at my blown deadlines, and my loving partner, my hesitant career, and all these secrets I was keeping about how much it hurt to get hated and driven out of my career, and I thought, well, what the hell do I have to lose? So here I am, saying what it’s like to try to rebuild a life after a cancelling, and so far, largely failing.

I’ve been harassed on the internet most of my life, but it has tried to kill me twice, a kind of civic death absent stockades or end dates. It nearly succeeded both times. Some days I’m still shocked by the absurdity of still being alive.

The first piece I was going to write for the Times was about how human proclivities and network math work together to sort us into strange crowds, and how hard they can be to escape from. It’s still here, on this hard drive, almost finished for years. I look at it occasionally, but I can’t find the strength in my fingers and mind to tie up its loose ends. I am one of those loose ends now. Every day is hard.


Thanks to my Patrons on Patreon, who amazingly keep trying with me,

even though I struggle and complain so much.

The “Liberal” NY Times Focuses on the Next Disastrous GOP Daddy

It is never enough for the “liberal” media. Despite how the “liberal media” gets relentlessly dumped on and marginalized by the right wing nut machine, they are ALWAYS there to hand out some candy to the nutters.

Here are the estimable Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns in the Only Bunk That’s Fits To Print Gray Lady:

WASHINGTON — Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

Well, crikey, good that the paper of record is covering this. What else they got?

It may get worse, said Jay Bergman, an Illinois petroleum executive and a leading Republican donor. Grievous setbacks in the midterm elections of 2018 could bolster challengers in the party.

“If the Republicans have lost a lot of seats in the Congress and they blame Trump for it, then there are going to be people who emerge who are political opportunists,” Mr. Bergman said.

Well, sorry I asked, turned out it was some entitled crap from a “petroleum executive”. Great call guys!

Swell. Excellent follow up to all those “Ignorant average Trump voters still ignorantly averagely love Trump” reports that are rampant in the beloved balanced media.

Today’s GOP, fronted by Trump and his ilk, is NOT an aberration, but rather the culmination of where the Republican party has been headed for decades, since at least Reagan’s bigoted opening salvo in Philadelphia Mississippi. It is the party of nationalism, racism, bigotry, scientific ignorance and revanchism.

But, hey, never underestimate the ability of the national media to keep on singing like they don’t know their actions helped put this country in the lurch it is in (Her Emails!!). And that their continued refusal to unequivocally call out the current President for the blithering dangerous loon he is, may lead to making the lurch far worse.

The answer to America’s ills do NOT come from the discredited daddies in the GOP, whether older like Mike Pence and John Kasich, or younger like Ben Sasse. We have seen this movie before, and it sucks in a very disastrous way.

The Banality Of Evil Access Journalism

A tweet from a talented, but maybe Stockholmed, journalist favorite of Mr. Trump:

This reporter is old enough and smart enough to know and understand exactly what Rudy and Trump are, but still evinces this blithe acceptance bullshit?

Please stop, yer killing me. With every passing day, the initial criticisms as to the lameness of Haberman, Baker and Schmidt’s on and off duality of record “interview” of Trump look smarter. Greg Sargent was early with this:

President Trump’s extended, rambling new interview with the New York Times provides perhaps the clearest picture yet of his conviction that he is above the law — a conviction, crucially, that appears to be deeply felt on an instinctual level — and of his total lack of any clear conception of the basic obligations to the public he assumed upon taking office.

There are numerous worrisome moments in this interview, from his incoherence on the health-care debate (“preexisting conditions are a tough deal”) to his odd asides about history (Napoleon “didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death”).

But, frankly, the entire tenor and credulity of the interviewers – and the interview – as a whole is simply beyond belief. NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen hit on the latter in a very cogent tweetstorm, as to the interview itself.

But I have to ask the same questions about the journalists conducting this interview. There were a lot of knee jerk defenses, mostly by other journalists, of the manner in which the interview was conducted sans followup questions and factual corrections of Trump’s blatant and rampant absurdity and lying, early on Twitter. The thin skinned “interviewers” of course blanched and professed how much they were just “doing their job”.

At what point does it become journalists’ “job” to stand up for truth, have the guts to speak it to power actually during their access, and not just in seeking it? But, hey, maybe these NYT journalists can deflect it all by comparing the current American crisis to the not even close to analogous bogosity from 20 years ago in the Clinton era. You know, the same misdirection horse manure their access point Donald Trump relentlessly tries to foster.

The United States is not dealing with the same paradigm of politics it was even as recently as seven months ago. Both the citizen public, and the press that supposedly serves them, need to understand the fundamental change and adapt. The presumption of normality still being afforded Trump and his Administration is a disservice to both the people and their democracy. It is, in this critical living breathing moment, the banality of evil.

Criminal Sexual Assault: No Means NO Burden Shifting

CryingJusticeLate last night here, early this morning where many of you are, I saw an article pop up on the New York Times website by Judith Shulevitz on “Regulating Sex”. The title seemed benign enough, but thanks to my friend Scott Greenfield, and his blog Simple Justice, Ms. Shulevitz has been on my radar for a while. So I sent the article (which is worth a read) to Scott knowing he would likely pounce on it when he got up.

And Scott did just that, in a post called “With Friends Like These”, while I was still comfortably tucked in:

A lot of people sent me a link to Judith Shulevitz’s New York Times op-ed, Regulating Sex. As any regular SJ reader knows, there is nothing in there that hasn’t been discussed here, sometimes long ago, at far greater depth. But Shulevitz is against the affirmative consent trend, which she calls a “doctrine,” so it’s all good, right?

What Shulevitz accomplishes is a very well written, easily digestible, version of the problem that serves to alert the general public, those unaware of law, the issues of gender and sexual politics, the litany of excuses that have framed the debate and the seriousness of its implications, to the existence of this deeply problematic trend. She notes that one of its primary ALI proponents, NYU lawprof Stephen J. Schulhofer, calls the case for affirmative consent “compelling.” She neglects to note this is a meaningless word in the discussion. Still, it’s in there.

On the one hand, I think Scott is right that there is really nothing all that new here in the bigger picture, and, really he is right that Ms. Shulevitz is far from a goat, even if a little nebulous and wishy washy.

No, what struck me like a hammer was the ease with which academics like Georgetown’s Abbe Smith and NYU professor Stephen J. Schulhofer, not to mention the truly formidable American Law Institute (ALI) are propagating the idea of alteration of criminal sexual assault law. In short, are willing to put lip gloss on the pig of shifting the burden of proof on a major felony crime of moral turpitude.

And it is an outrageous and destructive concession. This is not a slippery slope, it is a black ice downhill. You might as well be rewriting the American ethos to say “Well, no, all men and women are not created equal”. In criminal law, that is the kind of foundation being attacked here.

Scott did not really hit on this in his main post, but in a reply comment to some poor soul that weighed in with the old trope of “gee, it really is not too much to give” kind of naive rhetoric, Mr. Greenfield hit the true mark:

The reason I (and, I guess, others) haven’t spent a lot of time and energy providing concrete examples is because it’s so obvious. Apparently, not to everyone. So here’s the shift:

Accuser alleges rape because of lack of consent, saying: “He touched me without my consent.” That’s it. Case proven. Nothing more is required and, in the absence of a viable defense, the accused loses.

Now, it’s up to the accused student to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (which means more than 50%) that there was consent. There was consent at every point in time. There was clear and unambiguous consent. And most importantly, that the accused’s assertion of consent somehow is proven to be more credible than the accuser’s assertion of lack of consent.

Let’s assume the accuser says “I did not consent,” and the accused says, “you did consent.” The two allegations are equally credible. The accused loses, because the accuser’s assertion is sufficient to establish the offense, and the burden then shifts to the accused, whose defense fails to suffice as being more credible than the accusation.

Mind you, under American jurisprudence, this shifting compels the accused to prove innocence, which is something our jurisprudence would not otherwise require, merely upon the fact of an accusation, or be peremptorily “convicted.”

Is that sufficiently concrete for you?

Yeah, and do you want that star chamber logic in not just public university settings, but embedded with a solid foothold in common criminal law? Because those are the stakes. Constitutional law, criminal law, and criminal procedure are not vehicles for feel good patina on general social ills and outrages de jour, in fact they are instead designed, and must be, a bulwark against exactly those people who would claim the former mantle.

First they came for the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and you poo poohed the cries from criminal defense lawyers, going back to at least the mid-80’s, about the dangerous slippery slope that was being germinated. Whether the results have touched you, or your greater “family”, yet or not, it is pretty hard to objectively look at today’s posture and not admit the “slippery slope” criers thirty years ago were right. Of course they were.

People operating from wholly, or mostly, within the criminal justice system, whether as lawyer or client/family, just have a different, and more immediate, perspective. A position rarely understood without having tangible skin in the game.

Maybe listen this time. The battle over racial and sexual equality is far from over, but it is well underway intellectually, and headed in a better direction. It gets better. So, make it better in criminal justice too, do not let it be the destructive war pit morality betterment in the US falls in to.

Glaring Front Page Error by David Sanger, New York Times as Iran Nuclear Negotiations Near Deadline

See the update below, as of about 2:45 pm, the Times has changed the wording of the erroneous paragraph without adding a note of the correction. Oops. I got off on the wrong paragraph when I checked back. See the comment from Tony Papert below.

For someone who has written on a range of technical issues for many years, the error committed last night by David Sanger could not be worse nor come at a worse time for the important events he is attempting to cover. In an article put up last night on the New York Times website and apparently carried on page A1 of today’s print edition, Sanger and the Times have garbled a key point at the heart of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations as they near the critical November 24 deadline for achieving a full agreement on the heels of last year’s interim agreement.

The article ostensibly was to announce a major breakthrough in the negotiations, although Gareth Porter had worked out the details of the progress last week. Here is what Porter deduced:

The key to the new approach is Iran’s willingness to send both its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) as well as newly enriched uranium to Russia for conversion into fuel for power plants for an agreed period of years.

In the first official indication of the new turn in the negotiations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham acknowledged in a briefing for the Iranian press Oct. 22 that new proposals combining a limit on centrifuges and the transfer of Iran’s LEU stockpile to Russia were under discussion in the nuclear negotiations.

The briefing was translated by BBC’s monitoring service but not reported in the Western press.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who heads the U.S. delegation to the talks, has not referred publicly to the compromise approach, but she appeared to be hinting at it when she said on Oct. 25 that the two sides had “made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable.”

As Porter goes on to explain, such an arrangement would allow Iran to maintain a large number of centrifuges continuing to enrich uranium, but because there would be no stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), the “breakout time” (time required to highly enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon) would remain at about a year. By having Russia convert the LEU to fuel rods for Iran’s nuclear power plant, that LEU would be removed from any easy pathway to a weapon. This would provide Iran the “win” of maintaining its present level of around 10,000 operational centrifuges but give the P5+1 its goal of a longer breakout time. The key here is that unlike a proposal in 2005 where Russia would take over enrichment for Iran, this new proposal would allow Iran to continue its enrichment program while shipping virtually all of of its LEU to Russia for conversion to fuel rods.

Sanger appears to start off on the right track with his article:

Iran has tentatively agreed to ship much of its huge stockpile of uranium to Russia if it reaches a broader nuclear deal with the West, according to officials and diplomats involved in the negotiations, potentially a major breakthrough in talks that have until now been deadlocked.

Under the proposed agreement, the Russians would convert the uranium into specialized fuel rods for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s only commercial reactor. Once the uranium is converted into fuel rods, it is extremely difficult to use them to make a nuclear weapon. That could go a long way toward alleviating Western concerns about Iran’s stockpile, though the agreement would not cut off every pathway that Tehran could take to obtain a nuclear weapon.

But about halfway through the article, Sanger displays a shocking ignorance of the real points of recent negotiations and somehow comes to the conclusion that Russia would be taking over enrichment for Iran rather than converting LEU into fuel rods:

For Russia, the incentives for a deal are both financial and political. It would be paid handsomely for enriching Iran’s uranium, continuing the monopoly it has in providing the Iranians with a commercial reactor, and putting it in a good position to build the new nuclear power reactors that Iran has said it intends to construct in the future. And it also places President Vladimir V. Putin at the center of negotiations that may well determine the future of the Middle East, a position he is eager to occupy.

Somehow, Sanger and his New York Times editors and fact-checkers are stuck in 2005, suggesting that Iran would negotiate away its entire enrichment program. Such a drastic move would never be contemplated by Iran today and we are left to wonder whether this language found its way into the Times article through mere incompetence or more nefarious motives meant to disrupt any possible deal by providing false information to hardliners in Iran.

At the time of this writing (just before 9 am on November 4), the Times still has not added any correction or clarification to the article, despite the error being pointed out on Twitter just after 10:30 pm last night (be sure to read the ensuing Twitter conversation where Laura Rozen and Cheryl Rofer work out the nature of the error).

Update: And now, around 2:45 in the afternoon, I see that the Times has changed the erroneous paragraph. So far, I don’t see a note that a correction has been made. Here is the edited paragraph:

Russia’s calculus is also complex. It stands to gain financially from the deal, but it also has an incentive to see the nuclear standoff between Iran and the rest of the world continue, because an embargo keeps Iranian oil off the market. With oil prices falling, a flood of exports from Iran could further depress prices.

Will they ever get around to adding a note? I’ll keep an eye out. Well dang, this is embarrassing. I went to the wrong paragraph when I looked back. The article is still unchanged. Thanks to Tony Papert in comments for catching my bone-headedness.

More Catcalling Debate Room Needed at New York Times

[Update below]
So, the New York Times today has up another in their series called “Room For Debate”. Today’s topic is “catcalling”, and the supposedly relevant question for debate is “Do We Need a Law Against Catcalling?” The ‘debate” is based on the “catcalling video” that has gone somewhat viral the last couple of days. First off, let us stipulate that catcalling is disgusting and reprehensible, and there seems to thankfully be a bipartisan consensus on that. But does the New York Times make it a fair debate when it comes to criminalization of public speech? No, of course not, there are three contributors who specialize in seeking to restrict clear First Amendment speech on this subject against one token policy guy from the ACLU who gives the “whoa, hold on there” position. Hardly a “fair and balanced” fight, but the framing itself makes it crystal clear the Times did not want a fair fight.

Frankly, the fact that the NYT was determined to push the knee jerk attack on free speech side was patently obvious from the fact of their title “Do we Need a Law Against Catcalling” and that is exactly what they put up. Which, considering that the New York Times has led the pantheon of First Amendment law for decades, is a rather astounding and depressing thing. I guess the Times’ love and protection of the First Amendment tails off quickly when their own rear ends and press rights are not on the chopping block. A disturbing position.

This is but the latest example of a growing victim culture trend that is willing to abandon the founding Constitutional principles, and shift inherent burdens of proof, out of emotional angst. There is the attempt to criminalize speech in via so called “revenge porn” laws. There is the astoundingly intellectually backward desire of Ezra Klein to eliminate due process and shift the burden of proof onto the accused – presumed guilt – in state government sponsored punitive proceedings in state universities. And now this.

These are all feel good laws fighting against things that are detestable – revenge porn, non-consensual sex and flat out rape on college campuses, and verbal harassment of women on city streets and in public places. Those are all terrible things that we should all be firmly against, and I am. But just because there are terrible things out there in our world does not mean there is always an appropriate path to eradicate it through ever more broad and vague criminal laws. That is a path our founders took great care to protect against, and one we would do well to keep in mind when emotions try to overcome Constitutional protections.

So, in conclusion, no, we most certainly do NOT need a law against catcalling. Furthermore, in the true spirit of Halloween, I boo and hiss in the general direction of the hypocritical New York Times, who apparently view the First Amendment as protecting them, but not the rest of us non-journalist common citizens.

[Note: It is my belief that this will be one of multiple entries from a group of friends who are either practicing criminal defense attorneys, or heavily involved in the criminal justice system. Our own “More Room For Debate” if you will, because the Times will never seek out actual practicing criminal defense lawyers when talking about, you know, criminal laws. Those in for the debate, or hopefully contemplating it, are: Scott Greenfield from Simple Justice, Gideon from A Public Defender, and Liliana Segura from The Intercept. All of these people, and their blogs, are simply superb, and you should be reading them. When and if they post their entries at their sites, I will update with links here]

Update 1: And Scott Greenfield has weighed in with his take.

Afghanistan Bars Rosenberg From Leaving Over Times Report on Coup Plan

With the latest deadline for Afghanistan to resolve its election crisis and put into place a government that can sign a Bilateral Security Agreement now only two weeks from tomorrow (when the NATO Summit convenes in Wales), the pressure on Afghan officials is leading to breakdowns on many fronts. Violence continues in the vote recount process and sniping back and forth in the press over outright insurrection is reaching new levels (note in this article that Abdullah supporters are favoring power sharing while Ghani’s side is pushing the constitution, suggesting Ghani feels confident of winning the recount).

Against this uncertain background, Matthew Rosenberg’s story published late Monday on the New York Times website and appearing in Tuesday’s paper (on page A7, not very prominent placement) remarkably led to him being summoned and questioned by the attorney general’s office in Afghanistan. Further, it appears that Rosenberg will not be allowed to leave the country until he answers questions (he has refused so far) regarding the sources for his article.

The article that has upset the attorney general states that various unnamed government figures are floating the idea of an interim government since the election recount is taking so long to resolve. (Note that Hamid Karzai’s term in office already has officially expired.) Although the plan is referred to as a “soft coup”, the idea is that there would be a quick return to democracy. Further, Rosenberg goes to great lengths to point out that the entire exercise seems to be more of a warning to the Abdullah and Ghani camps to resolve things quickly rather than an actual attempt to seize power:

A coterie of powerful Afghan government ministers and officials with strong ties to the security forces are threatening to seize power if an election impasse that has paralyzed the country is not resolved soon.

Though it is unusual to telegraph plans for what could amount to a coup — though no one is calling it that — the officials all stressed that they hoped the mere threat of forming an interim government would persuade the country’s rival presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, to make the compromises needed to end the crisis.

The Times describes Rosenberg’s treatment during the questioning:

The senior prosecutor who summoned Mr. Rosenberg, Gen. Sayed Noorullah Sadat, whose title is general director of crimes against external and internal security, asked him to identify anonymous government sources quoted in the article, which he declined to do.

Mr. Rosenberg objected to General Sadat’s insistence that he sign a statement without a lawyer present. Mr. Rosenberg then asked to leave the interrogation room and was initially refused permission to do so, until the prosecutors conferred with a higher-ranking official.

They declined to name that official. “It’s a confidential source,” said another general who was present at the interrogation. He declined to give his own name as well, but was later identified as Gen. Abdul Salem Ismat, who works in General Sadat’s directorate. (Although the attorney general’s office is a civilian agency, some officials retain the ranks they gained in police or military agencies.)

The attorney general’s office is on very shaky ground here:

During the interrogation on Tuesday, General Sadat was unable to name any criminal offense that was under investigation, or cite any laws that had been broken.

“Right now, there’s no case, no legal charges, there’s nothing,” he said. But he did not rule out the possibility of charges in the future.

The State Department criticized the Afghanistan government’s actions.

Hmm. No offense under investigation, no law broken, no case, no charges, and yet Rosenberg was brought in. I’m guessing the State Department criticism was something along the lines of “Who do you think you are, Ferguson?” At least he wasn’t teargassed.

Update: Just after this was posted, it was announced that Rosenberg has now been expelled from Afghanistan:

The attorney general of Afghanistan on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of an American correspondent for The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg, and banned him from re-entering the country.

The Horrors! West Point 2014 Graduates Must Advance Careers Without Combat Deployment!

How can our country mistreat its best and brightest so mercilessly?

How can our country mistreat its best and brightest so mercilessly?

Oh, the poor class of 2014 at the United States Military Academy! This morning’s New York Times brings us the tragic news that this year’s class graduating from West Point must somehow find a way to advance their military careers without being deployed to a combat zone. What could our politicians be thinking to so senselessly deprive our “best and brightest” the chance to get those colorful “coveted combat patches on their uniforms”? Why did they pass up the chance to invade Syria? Can’t they send troops quickly to Ukraine? Get with it, Washington, these poor cadets need you:

For the first time in 13 years, the best and the brightest of West Point’s graduating class will leave this peaceful Hudson River campus bound for what are likely to be equally peaceful tours of duty in the United States Army.

“It started to hit home last year, when we started considering what we really wanted to do, and realized that there’s a much more limited opportunity to deploy,” said Charles Yu, who is majoring in American politics and Chinese. Cadet Yu, who will graduate this spring, is going into military intelligence in South Korea, where he hopes to get experience helping to manage the long-running conflict between North and South Korea. He will work at Camp Red Cloud near the demilitarized zone, or, as he put it, “as close as you can get to the DMZ.”

For Cadet Yu and the rest of the class of about 1,100 cadets, there may be few, if any, coveted combat patches on their uniforms to show that they have gone to war. Many of them may not get the opportunity to one day recall stories of heroism in battle, or even the ordinary daily sacrifices — bad food, loneliness, fear — that bind soldiers together in shared combat experience.

The end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan mean that the graduates of the West Point class of 2014 will have a more difficult time advancing in a military in which combat experience, particularly since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been crucial to promotion. They are also very likely to find themselves in the awkward position of leading men and women who have been to war — more than two million American men and women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — when they themselves have not.

But buck up, young soldiers! There is precedent for how to advance your careers in such desperate times:

Two months after graduation, Petraeus married Holly Knowlton, a graduate of Dickinson College and daughter of Army General William Knowlton, who was superintendent of West Point at the time.

Get on it, soldiers! I don’t know their marital status or ages, but it appears that the current commandant has both a son and a daughter, so choose your target appropriately.

A Partial Defense of Bill Keller’s Column on Manning

Late Sunday, former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller put up an op-ed column at the NYT website on the state of Bradley Manning’s case, his perception of Manning’s motivations and what may have been different had Manning actually gotten his treasure trove of classified information to the Times instead of WikiLeaks. The column is well worth a read, irrespective of your ideological starting point on Mr. Manning.

Bradley Manning has ardent supporters and, predictably, they came out firing at Keller. Greg Mitchell immediately penned a blog post castigating Keller for not sufficiently understanding and/or analyzing the Manning/Lamo chat logs. Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake also had sharp words for Keller, although, to be fair, Kevin did acknowledge this much:

It is an interesting exercise for Keller. Most of what he said is rational and, knowing Keller’s history, he could have been more venerating in his description of how the Times would have handled Manning.

Frankly, many of the points Mitchell and Gosztola made, which were pretty much representative of a lot of the chatter about Keller’s op-ed on Twitter, were fair criticism even if strident. And part of it seems to simply boil down to a difference in perspective and view with Keller, as evidenced in Keller’s response to inquiry by Nathan Fuller, where he indicates he simply views some things differently.

This is all healthy give and take, difference in view and sober discussion by the referenced Read more

Hiding Report on Fratricide in Afghanistan Doesn’t Make It Go Away

On January 20, the New York Times carried what they at first thought was a scoop on a “classified” report (pdf) on Afghan military and police personnel killing NATO forces. After they were told that the Wall Street Journal had written on the report back in June, they admitted as much in a correction. They later added another correction after I pointed out that a version of the report clearly marked “unclassified” could be found easily even though the Times referred to the report as classified. It turns out that the report had indeed been published first as unclassified but then was retroactively classified while the Wall Street Journal article was being prepared.

Events over the last few days serve to demonstrate the folly of trying to hide damaging information rather than openly reviewing it and trying to learn lessons from it. The report in question went into great detail to document the cultural misunderstandings that exist between NATO forces and their “partner” Afghan forces, and how these misunderstandings escalate to the point that Afghan personnel end up killing NATO personnel. In the executive summary of the report, we learn that “ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with U.S. soldiers.” Arrogance on the part of U.S. soldiers often was cited, as well.

This clash of social values is at the heart of the newest wave of anti-US and anti-NATO violence in Afghanistan which erupted after an Afghan employee found Korans among materials being burned last week at a NATO base. A part of the response to the Koran burning is that on Saturday, two NATO personnel were killed inside Afghanistan’s interior ministry building. BBC reports that an Afghan police officer is suspected in the shootings:

Afghanistan’s interior ministry has said one of its own employees is suspected of the killing of two senior US Nato officers inside the ministry.

Officials earlier named police intelligence officer Abdul Saboor from Parwan province as the main suspect behind Saturday’s attack.

The NATO response to the killing was swift:

Nato withdrew all its personnel from Afghan ministries after the shooting.

The importance of this move cannot be overstated. Read more