@Snowden: Give That Man a Medal, Not a “Pardon”

In the days leading up to the official premiere of Snowden, Oliver Stone’s eponymous biopic of America’s exiled whistleblower, an international movement came together to pressure US president Barack Obama for a pardon. Executive absolution would make it possible for  Edward Snowden to return from Russia without facing a show trial and a life (or even death) sentence for his heroism.

It’s a fine idea. I support it. But I think it does get things backward and sends the wrong message in certain respects.

Edward Snowden shouldn’t NEED a pardon. He performed a public service of inestimable value by exposing the crimes, the criminals, and the techniques of the largest espionage ring in human history:  A conspiracy directed at the very public expected to pay the gigantic tab the conspirators run up. The National Security Agency’s budget is classified  — of course — but thought to be in excess of $10 billion per year. Talk about adding insult to injury.

So, who SHOULD be seeking pardons?

Well, the  operational ringleaders, including but not limited to the last few directors of the NSA, are clearly habitual felons who, in any society with a functioning justice system,  would be sporting leg irons and orange coveralls and writing their own letters requesting clemency about now.

Those evildoers have superiors who are equally responsible for having let them run wild. The two that come to mind are the president(s) and the congressional Intelligence Committees (the House Intelligence Committee contests the pardon movement with a classified — of course — report which in public summary characterizes Snowden as a mere “disgruntled employee”).

If these characters weren’t (with good reason) convinced of their own immunity to justice, they’d be shutting down their unprecedented warrantless search operations and finding ways to preemptively pardon each other ahead of something like a new Nuremburg Tribunal,  instead of continuing to denigrate and persecute the man who exposed their vile deeds.

The only subject of truly legitimate debate over Snowden’s actions is whether they were military or civilian in character. Otherwise, how are we to know whether he should receive the Medal of Honor (military) or the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal (civilian)?

Perhaps an exception should be made that lets him collect all three. Or perhaps none of them are sufficient and a new award, specific to Snowden and those who will hopefully follow in his footsteps, would be more appropriate.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


College Loan Debt: Former Students Strike the Wrong Pose

English: ITT Technical Institute Canton, Michi...
English: ITT Technical Institute Canton, Michigan campus, 1905 South Haggerty Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I saw the Bloomberg headline “Former ITT Tech Students Launch Debt Strike” (September 14),  I assumed the students were upset with the US government for effectively shutting down the for-profit educational chain. After all, it occurred to me, there were probably many students left hanging by Washington’s shenanigans. I’d be upset too if I was most of the way through a degree program and government bureaucrats suddenly made it impossible for my school of choice to continue operating.

I was wrong about their reasons, though. The students (some of whom attended Corinthian, another for-profit chain) racked up big-time debt by making poor decisions. Instead of blaming themselves (or, if they were defrauded, ITT or Corinthian) for that debt, they’re blaming the people who loaned them the money they blew:

“We trusted that education would lead to a better life,” the Corinthian debt strikers write in an open letter to the US Department of Education, “And we trusted you to ensure that the education system in this country would do so. … Each month you force us to make payments into an immoral system that profits from our aspirations. … To the Department of Education and to the lenders, servicers, and guarantee agencies who have stolen our futures, we say: enough! Erase these loans.”

Look, I sympathize. As a callow youth, I attended but quickly dropped out of college with some student loan debt. It wasn’t the huge debt a full four-year degree would have entailed, but yeah, it was hard. I fell behind, defaulted and eventually my wages were garnished to pay it off.

But for some reason it just never occurred to me to hold anyone else — the bank, the government, society — responsible for me getting myself into debt.

Yes, the government certainly bears some responsibility for the size of student debt. As then-Secretary of Education William Bennett wrote in the New York Times in 1987,  “increases in financial aid in recent years have enabled colleges and universities blithely to raise their tuitions, confident that Federal loan subsidies would help cushion the increase. … Federal student aid policies do not cause college price inflation, but there is little doubt that they help make it possible.”

So yes, college has become more expensive over the years, resulting bigger debt loads, partly because of government education subsidies. And it may be that that should be taken into account and some of that debt partly forgiven as part of an agenda that ends such subsidies.

But no, the government didn’t make you borrow the money. To reverse president Barack Obama’s adage, if you’ve got a student loan debt — you built that. Nobody else made that happen. Any discussion of fixing it starts with you owning up.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


9/12: The Appeal to National Narcissism is Alive and Well

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...
September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. (Image: US National Park Service ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The narcissist,” someone once wrote on an Internet discussion forum devoted to the topic, “learns nothing, forgets nothing, and forgives nothing.”

In conscious appeal to this tendency, the American political class flocks to shrines in New York, DC and Pennsylvania each year to once again cynically wring as much narcissistic flag-waving hoopla as possible from the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

I generally avoid watching these observances. This year my sole exposure to them was video of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton collapsing as she left the New York event during a medical emergency.

9/11 will remain American political propaganda’s killer app (pun intended) for many years, I’m sure, but I consider 9/12 and the following few days far more important in the scheme of things. Call ME a national narcissist, but I find the response more compelling than the initiating event.

Fifteen years on, it is clear that America’s political class still relies on Americans having learned nothing, forgotten nothing, and forgiven nothing. That reliance seems justified.

Consider this excerpt from an op-ed I wrote on September 12, 2001:

“Our politicians have acted for years with impunity, citing only our ‘national interest,’ as if any legitimate interest could be served by the intentional killing of civilians simply because those civilians have been designated ‘the enemy’ …

“We watched as those politicians were hustled away to ‘safe houses,’ the better to immunize themselves from the consequences of their own actions of years and decades past. …

“Now, they emerge from their hiding places, and they wail and gnash their teeth, vowing revenge and demanding that we surrender even more of our freedoms in order to avoid more of what they themselves brought upon us in the first place. They regard the blood of September 11 not as a horrible payment for their past errors, but as ink with which to write new checks to the order of their power and drawn on the account of our lives and freedoms.”

Has anything changed since I wrote that column? Not that I can tell.

After 15 years of unremitting exploitation of 9/11 to justify war on our civil liberties at home, and war abroad of the very type that culminated in 9/11, American politicians still believe that all they need to gull the populace into supporting more of the same is, as Joe Biden put it of Rudy Giuliani, “a noun, a verb, and 9/11.”

They’re right. And until that changes, nothing else will.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.