Friday, April 16, 2004

SNOOP DOGGED. The problem with Alexander Cockburn's CounterPunch is that you have to wade through dreck like this: "In Nazi Germany and the old Soviet Union, both run by a better class of people than we now have in public service in the U.S. of A. today ..."

Still, the essay from which that bit of hate speech is taken, by a lawyer named J. Michael Springmann, is worth reading. Springmann was subjected to e-mail surveillance under the Patriot Act because he represented a woman who was a suspected Al Qaeda agent. Springmann writes:

Beyond the violation of attorney-client privilege and the invasion of my privacy and that of my correspondents, I no longer have access to my E-mail addresses, since AOL kept them on its computer. And so I cannot inform my contacts that I have a new E-mail provider. I have no idea whether the Justice Department is still reading the E-mail messages sent and received by my correspondents, whose addressees turned up in the seizure of my accounts. Indeed, I continue to have problems sending and receiving messages to my friends and clients around the world with my new provider (which causes me to wonder if the process is not still continuing). And I must explain to clients and potential clients rightly concerned about confidentiality that the U.S. government has read and may still read E-mails to and from them.

In John Ashcroft's America, Springmann's tale is shocking, but not surprising. (Thanks to civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate for passing that along.)

THE SOUND OF MONEY. It seems that the San Francisco Chronicle just can't stay out of conflict-of-interest controversies. The latest: David Ewing Duncan, a freelance columnist who covers the biotech industry, and who also runs a company involved in biotech.

As Stanford University's Grade the News reports, the Chronicle okayed the arrangement, requiring only that Duncan disclose his conflict. Yet, last year, the Chronicle fired columnist Henry Norr for participating in an anti-war protest. Norr covered technology; his extracurricular activities may have been inappropriate for a journalist, but they hardly represented a conflict.

More recently, the Chronicle reassigned reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf, who had been covering the gay-marriage story, after they themselves got married at City Hall. As I wrote at the time, I think the Chronicle made the right call, since they didn't just get married, but were actually taking part in the very civil disobedience that they were covering.

But the Chronicle, having set a very high standard with Norr, Gordon, and Mangelsdorf, should do no less when it comes to financial conflicts. I guess money talks. (Thanks to BK for this.)

THE CONFUSION IS ALL MITT'S. Try keeping a straight face while reading about Governor Mitt Romney's latest tactic to delay gay marriage. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

The quote of the day is from Attorney General Tom Reilly, commenting on the confusion and panic on the part of city and town clerks that Romney claims will break out if the May 17 marriage deadline isn't put off. Said Reilly: "This isn't all that hard. A half-day's training would do it."

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