Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wide Awake in America

I was wrong.

I said in this post that the "continuing discussion about Boston College and the federal subpoenas of its Belfast Project material is a discussion about the very thing itself, about the place and nature of academic inquiry." But the amicus brief the ACLU of Massachusetts filed yesterday in the legal appeal by Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre forces me to reassess.

The continuing discussion about Boston College and the federal subpoenas of its Belfast Project material is a discussion about being a human being, about how to live in a daily exchange with other people and the events that connect us. It's a discussion about the need for skepticism and independent thought, about the importance of critical engagement. It's about the choice between eating what appears on the plate in front of you or demanding to know who cooked it and what's in it. All this, ladies and gentlemen, and in a mere legal brief. It's like they spiked the punch bowl: I was just a little thirsty, and now the room is spinning.

Below this post, I'll cut and paste the summary that Moloney and McIntyre sent in a press release today. But I hope you'll skip it -- I hope you'll read the whole brief instead. Skimming through the procedural boilerplate at the top, you should be able to carefully read the whole thing in less than half an hour. Compare the detail, care, and thought that this brief demonstrates to the dismal, gibbering nonsense that has poured out of Boston College in the wake of these subpoenas.

This smart and engaged brief -- it shows what it means to be alive and to think. It's a joy to read, and a real accomplishment. Please read it.

Press Release and Summary of the Amicus Brief:

In its extensive and hard-hitting amicus brief, ACLUM confirmed that the interviewers for the oral history project on the Troubles in Northern Ireland run by Boston College could face an IRA death penalty if the US government’s bid to force the handover of interview materials was to succeed...

Noting that the killing of suspected informers by paramilitary groups has continued in Northern Ireland despite the Good Friday Agreement and that IRA rules forbid the disclosure of it secrets by members, the ACLUM, said: “The forced turnover of interview materials will convert the interviewees and their interviewers into informants.....in the name of solving a 40-year-old murder, the Government risks subjecting multiple participants in the Belfast Project to the ultimate retaliation.”

ACLUM also raised concerns that the District Court’s denial of a motion to intervene filed by the two academics “will have a detrimental effect on the First Amendment activities of academics, as well as on others who gather information of legitimate public concern for dissemination to the public.” The ACLUM argues that it believe that “the academics who gathered that information under a pledge of confidentiality should be permitted to intervene and participate in the outcome of the case.”

ACLUM is also concerned that if the tapes are released, it may make it “more difficult for all those who hold confidential information about individuals -- an increasingly common event in the modern digital age -- to have a right to be heard in opposition to efforts by public or private parties to compel the disclosure of such information.”

Alluding to the dangers of the UK government seeking confidential archives outside its jurisdiction, ACLUM further raised concerns about the U.S. government’s argument that “governments who are parties to Mutual Law Assistance Treaties should have greater rights than United States federal and local law enforcement authorities to subpoena documents without judicial review.”

The ACLUM dismissed the Government’s argument that Moloney and McIntyre had undermined their claim of risk to their personal safety when they decided to publicize the fact that the subpoenas had been issued as “reminiscent of an argument that might have been made by Joseph K’s accusers in Kafka’s The Trial. A witness’s decision to fight the government’s behind-closed-doors decisions affecting the witness’s welfare is not grounds, in this country at least, to impeach the witness’s motives for applying to the court for relief.”

Calling police efforts over the past forty years to solve the murder at the center of the subpoenas - that of alleged British Army spy Jean McConville in 1972 - a “non-investigation”, while charting in detail police refusal to co-operate in inquiries into their own collusion with Loyalist death squads, the ACLUM raised the possibility that the real purpose of the subpoenas is to embarrass the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams who is alleged to have ordered Mrs McConville’s death. It added that the “PSNI/RUC’s self-inflicted wound, their sorry record of non-performance over more than 40 years, does not justify an invasion of academic freedom and the likely destruction of much of this valuable historic research.”

“Academic freedom should not pay the price for the constable’s incompetence. This saga of non-performance by the police does not justify a chilling invasion of the Belfast Project’s oral history efforts”.

The U.S. Government’s efforts to deny Moloney and McIntyre intervention in the case would, if applied to MLAT’s with other countries, deny US citizens the legal safeguards they enjoy at the hands of domestic law enforcement agencies, the ACLUM said, and prevent their intervention to challenge executive decisions in such controversial, bizarre and disturbing cases as:
  • Russia’s prosecution of a dead man, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after torture;
  • The Chinese government’s prosecution of Nobel Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo;
  • The arrests and prosecution of US non-governmental organizations by the Egyptian government;
  • The justification of sexual harassment at work by a Russian judge on the grounds that otherwise “we would have no children”.
Calling the District court’s decision to prevent Moloney and McIntyre from defending the pledges of confidentiality they gave interviewees for the Belfast Project “an alarming and unprecedented infringement on First Amendment interests”, the ACLUM described their interests in protecting the confidentiality pledge, “a textbook case for intervention”.

ACLU of Massachusetts Files an Amicus Brief in the Appeal Over the BC Subpoenas

Here's the brief. More soon. Click on the "full screen" icon at the bottom of the document reader for a larger version.
Aclu Brief

Monday, February 27, 2012

First Look, Coming Soon

The First Circuit has numbered and docketed the appeal from Boston College, so it's now possible to start tracking the case through the courts. BC's docketing statement is due March 8, and will offer a basic first look at what the university's lawyers intend to argue, briefly explaining "the nature of proceeding and the relief sought." So far we've only had a spokesman's representations of what BC thinks their appeal is about.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Called to Account

A librarian and a professor claimed half of the royalties from a book based on a research project they had nominally overseen, saying they would use the cash for the support of further research at their university. Then they took the money for themselves, and they didn't tell the university they'd done it. Years later, lost in the dark, the university made an outrageous attack on an outside researcher it had hired for the same project: the university's spokesman publicly denigrated the researcher for making money on the book that resulted from the project, without mentioning that the professor and the librarian had done the same. He made that false claim because he didn't know it was false, since the professor and the librarian had never mentioned that they profited from the book (and because the exceptionally reckless spokesman was making a serious personal attack based only on his uninformed assumptions).


On Sunday, a radio show on RTE -- the Irish national broadcaster -- examined a particularly cheap shot that Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn had taken on Ed Moloney, the Irish journalist who ran BC's Belfast Project as a contractor. In an earlier RTE interview, since pulled from RTE's website, Dunn claimed that Moloney wrote a book using material from a sensitive archival collection because his personal greed had made him reckless:

"I think, quite frankly, Mr. Moloney was so excited for this project and, quite frankly, so eager to write a book from which he would profit that he refused to ignore the obvious statements that were made to him, including the contract that he signed, expressing the limitations of confidentiality."

What Dunn didn't mention is that Moloney only made half the royalties from the book, because he had split it with two people at Boston College: Professor Thomas Hachey, the executive director of the university's Center for Irish Programs, and Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill, pictured here with Hachey in a story about the Belfast Project.

On Sunday, the RTE ran a new interview with Dunn, which included this exchange:

FM: When you [were] referring to Ed Moloney profiting from the publication of this particular book in interviews both with RTE and with The Boston College Heights, why did you choose not to reveal the fact that Boston College staff members had, in fact, shared the profits as well?

JD: I wasn’t aware that they had. I found that out yesterday in a conversation with Bob Hachey, with, excuse me, with Bob O’Neill.

Listen to the RTE story here, and read a transcript here.

Having attacked Moloney for making money from the book he wrote using no-longer-confidential material from a collection that is still largely embargoed, Dunn also discovered in his Sunday interview that his own earlier claims hadn't been intended as an attack on Moloney's greed: "Mr. Moloney profited from the book and then he shared profits with it with Professor Hachey and Burns’ Librarian Bob O’Neill. The issue has never been that Mr. Moloney profited from the book; he wrote it, he should profit from it. And he chose to share that with two individuals. That’s not the issue."

Just one question for Jack Dunn: If it's not the issue, why did you raise the point in the first place, explicitly framed by a reference to the "profit" that had supposedly caused the author to write the book?

But the story behind the money from Moloney's book is more remarkable than this desperate cloud of recent nonsense from BC's persistently unprofessional spokesman. Remember that the Belfast Project ran from 2001 to 2006, sponsored by Boston College, and hired researchers in Northern Ireland to collect interviews with former members of paramilitary organizations that had fought on both sides during the Troubles. Moloney was the research director, running the program under the aegis of Hachey's Center for Irish programs, and O'Neill archived the result (though he would later tell a federal court that he had no idea what any of the project materials contained). Interviews were protected from release during the lifetime of interviewees, although some interviews of living interviewees have now been subpoenaed. When two interviewees died, Moloney -- the author of several earlier books on Northern Ireland -- used the archival materials from those two interviewees as the basis of a new book.

Now. In a Feb. 9, 2009 email to Neil Belton, an editor at Faber & Faber (which published Voices from the Grave), with Moloney CC'ed, Hachey wrote that he and O'Neill
...would be entirely supportive of a three way split of future royalties in which Ed might very well get half, with the Burns and the Center splitting the balance (Bob could use the income for existing claims on his budget from this project, while I would use any Center revenue as seed money for the victims study if we are successful in getting the Independent Consultative Group to endorse our application). But that is some time away and in the meantime we ( Bob and I ) would be amenable to whatever formula is agreed upon. I am certain that there will be no dissent about how to share potential revenue from subsidiary rights as Bob and I are anxious to fully compensate Ed for what has been his tireless and productive efforts, and we are only interested in having some smaller part of an income stream to the Burns Library, and to the B.C. Irish Programs Center, in order possibly to help to support enterprises of this kind, and the Burns Visting Scholar fund. (emphasis added)
So the money Hachey and O'Neill would receive would be for "the Burns and the Center," to fund "enterprises of this kind" and to support visiting scholars.

Then Ed Moloney got his first royalty check, and asked for bank account information so he could arrange a wire transfer of the half he had promised to Boston College. In a series of Jan. 6, 2011 email messages, Robert O'Neill first wrote back, "My account information is as follows: Bank of America Routing No.011000138; Account No. [redacted]," then added, "The account is in the name of Robert K. and Helen A. O'Neill, though Robert will suffice, as I do not want to involve Helen in any tax liabilities. The mailing address on the checks is P.O. Box 6625, Holliston, MA 01746." (emphasis added)

In a similar series of email messages on Jan. 10 and 11, Hachey also provided account information so that Moloney could arrange a wire transfer of royalty money, writing, "the name(s) on the account to which our [redacted] account number corresponds is Thomas E. and Jane B. Hachey." (again, emphasis added)

Ed Moloney has kept those email messages, and he has kept the wire transfer records, all of which he has given to me. He sent all of that to me precisely because the spokesman for Boston College decided to attack him for making money from his book; no attack, no reply. The same goes for the RTE story on Sunday. Jack Dunn's mouth shook this story out of the dark, where it would otherwise have remained.

Finally, for now: Replying to RTE's story on Sunday with a written statement, Hachey claimed a share of the royalties from Moloney's book on the premise that he and O'Neill had served as "general editors of the publication" who "naturally do receive compensation for our work as would editors over any such."

Unclear on the duties of "general editors," I asked Moloney if Hachey and O'Neill had performed any editing duties on his book. His emailed answer: "absolutely none - i sent them chapters as i finished them seeking comment and never got a single one back."

Quite a picture.

More to come.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Bailout of the Bailout May Need a Bailout

This is actually happening in earthly reality, not in a farce about idiots in power: "The head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Friday he could not rule out that Greece may need a third bailout."

These people are fucking crazy. They will not stop until they are stopped. And eventually, they will be. Beats me how or when, but a ruling class this bizarrely stupid and lost cannot go on without driving into a wall at high speed.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Handy Information

"Allegations of research misconduct shall be delivered to the Vice Provost for Research in person or in a sealed envelope prominently marked 'confidential.' Allegations may also be made to the Vice Provost for Research orally and in confidence."

-- Ethical Conduct of Research and Research Misconduct, Boston College, Jan. 4, 2007

Larry McLaughlin, Vice Provost for Research
Waul House 207
270 Hammond Street
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Boston College Burns the Seed Corn

The continuing discussion about Boston College and the federal subpoenas of its Belfast Project material is a discussion about the very thing itself, about the place and nature of academic inquiry. What is a research university? What does it do? What is its purpose, its structure, its premise, its principle?

Here, again, is a paragraph from a Feb. 15 story in The Heights, the student-run newspaper at Boston College:
On the other hand, Dunn stated that the University made no such promises, and in fact informed Moloney and McIntyre of the risk of subpoena and the danger such a situation could pose to the archives. He admitted that the language "to the extent that American law provides" was not found exactly in the donor agreement, but stated his belief that the contract was drawn up by Moloney, not BC.
Ed Moloney -- a journalist, not on faculty, hired as a contractor to run a research project under BC's aegis -- supposedly wrote the contracts between BC and its research subjects.

So the claim here, made in the university's defense, is that Boston College funded and sponsored a research project that it then didn't run or manage. The university hired outside researchers to conduct research in its name, calling the researchers employees, but left to these subordinate outsiders the task of framing the relationship between BC and the human subjects of sensitive research.

Trying to defend his university, Jack Dunn hollows its core; his defense is that Boston College conducts research without standards or oversight. It was just, you know, the researchers did their thing, man, and we were just here doing our thing, and like whatevs. Oh, that Moloney guy didn't put that stuff about the legal limits of confidentiality into the contract with the interviewees? Oh, man, maybe we should have had some kind of involvement in that!

Now, look: I don't believe him for a moment, and as Ted Folkman has written ("I should add that I would be surprised if BC would allow a BC researcher to draft a contract that binds the University without putting it through a legal review."), it's an awfully strange thing to claim.

But the striking thing is that this is Dunn's idea of a defense, of a claim that puts the university on safer ground. He doesn't appear to notice the devastating implications of the claim that BC had nothing to do with the relationship between its researchers and its research subjects.

So over the weekend, I sent an email message to the provost of Boston College, adding the vice-provost for research to the CC list:
Dr. Garza,

I have written about the Belfast Project subpoenas in the Chronicle of Higher Education Review, the Irish Times, and the Irish Echo, as well as on my own blog. I direct this message to you, rather than to BC's public affairs office, because I have a question about research and academic affairs that relates to statements the public affairs office has recently made. I don't see the point of asking the public affairs office about the public affairs office -- the matter in question relates directly to the academic standards of the university.

A Feb. 15 story in The Heights, "Researchers Weigh In On Belfast Project Legal Drama," contains this paragraph:

"On the other hand, Dunn stated that the University made no such promises, and in fact informed Moloney and McIntyre of the risk of subpoena and the danger such a situation could pose to the archives. He admitted that the language 'to the extent that American law provides' was not found exactly in the donor agreement, but stated his belief that the contract was drawn up by Moloney, not BC."

Dunn's claim is that Boston College agreed to be bound by a human subjects contract written by outside researchers in BC's name, without BC's participation or review. In other words, his claim is that Boston College sponsors research projects that are not governed by BC's research standards, deferring to the standards of subordinate outsiders and contractors in those research projects. Do you agree with Jack Dunn's description of BC's relationship with its Belfast Project researchers? More generally, do you agree that BC allows itself, as a matter of policy, to be bound in research projects by contracts BC does not write or review? Does BC generally oversee research projects sponsored and funded by the university, or does BC generally allow such projects to take place without oversight or internal standards?

I suspect Jack Dunn has misspoken, and I hope you will clarify.

Thank you for your time.

Chris Bray
No response, which is what I expected, but also no public retraction or clarification of Dunn's exceptionally destructive claim, which is surprising and disappointing.

One guy at Boston College, who is not an academic or part of the academic life of the university, said something stupid and damaging. But the university did not set the record straight. The academic center of the institution allowed its spokesman to say that BC doesn't run its own research projects, and doesn't have standards for outside researchers hired by the university.

Passive in the face of absurd lies made on its behalf, Boston College now owns those lies as an institution. Bert Garza, the academic standards of the university are your responsibility. This is your job. And you didn't do it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Most Unwelcome Development

Boston College filed its notice of appeal yesterday in the court case over the Belfast Project subpoenas, but the substance, tone, and seriousness of that appeal remains unclear. A detailed appellate brief, explaining their argument in full, is probably a few weeks away. But for now, we have this statement from BC spokesman Jack Dunn, made today in a brief interview with the local NPR affiliate:
“It appears that these interviews have limited probative value to the criminal investigation,” Dunn said. “We are engaged in this issue for the sake of academic research and the enterprise of oral history.”
That statement eats itself: BC is fighting to protect academic research, but explicitly signals that its only intention is to protect interviews that don't matter. Interviews with probative value to a criminal investigation? Yeah, go for it, doors to the archive are wide open. Happy to help!

This framing is useless in any kind of defense of academic research, and will result -- at best -- in the delivery of a slightly narrower set of confidential research materials to government. It acknowledges the premise that universities can be turned into police agencies, interviewing suspects and delivering interviews to criminal justice systems. Compare BC's position to this one if you want to see what an argument for real freedom of inquiry looks like.

If this is where they're going, their case is a defeat before it even begins.

See also this post from Ed Moloney, who calls BC's effort a "sham appeal," and this statement from all three Belfast Project researchers.


Click the "full screen" icon at the bottom for a bigger version:
Asa Statement

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Most Welcome Development

Boston College has just filed a notice of appeal with the district court in Boston, challenging some piece of the court's orders regarding the Belfast Project subpoenas. I can't find the appellate filing on Pacer, yet, and BC's public affairs office mostly doesn't respond to my questions, these days, so I don't know what they're appealing or on what grounds. More soon!


Below, the very brief notice of appeal filed with the district court. It shows that BC is appealing the judge's order regarding materials responsive to the second set of subpoenas, the broad Aug. 4 subpoenas that sought any materials related to the murder of Jean McConville.

Bc Notice of Appeal


A statement from the Belfast Project researchers:

“We would like to welcome Boston College’s decision to lodge an appeal against the subpoenas served against seven of our interviewees but regret that the college finally took this decision too late to include the interviews of Dolours Price.

“With respect to the standard of review of the materials we can see absolutely no difference between the seven cases now to be appealed by BC and that of Dolours Price. For our part we will continue our fight to protect all our interviewees, Republican and Loyalist, including Dolours Price.”

Ed Moloney - former Project Director, Belfast Project
Anthony McIntyre - lead researcher, republican interviews
Wilson McArthur - lead researcher, loyalist interviews


Ted Folkman weighs in on the importance of BC's appeal, arguing that it "changes the whole complexion of the case."


Via the Boston Irish Reporter, this statement from Boston College:

"Boston College today filed an appeal of the District Court's most recent decision (issued January 20, 2012) requiring the University to turn over all or parts of the interviews of seven individuals who took part in The Belfast Project, an oral history project on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

"The University is seeking further review of the court's order to ensure that the value of the interviews to the underlying criminal investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland outweighs the interests in protecting the confidentiality of academic research materials.

"Boston College did not appeal the District Court's first decision in this case (issued December 16, 2011) because the court both accepted Boston College's argument that government subpoenas for confidential academic materials requires heightened scrutiny, and agreed to review the materials in camera to help protect the significant interests at stake. In its appeal, Boston College will argue that the District Court incorrectly applied its own review standard when it demanded the production of the interviews of these seven individuals."

Plain Truths

At the Chronicle of Higher Education: a great interview with Rik Scarce, a sociologist who was jailed for refusing to tell a federal grand jury about his confidential discussions with research subjects. The interview centers on the federal subpoenas of IRA interviews at Boston College, and the schism between the university and its researchers. Sample exchange:

Q. What is the principled stance here?

A. The researchers' stance.
Read the whole thing!

Friday, February 17, 2012

In the Second Act, the Protagonist Withdraws to the Wings

The ACLU of Massachusetts (ACLUM) will file an amicus brief in a legal appeal over the federal subpoenas of confidential archival material held by Boston College. On Friday, needing time to prepare that amicus brief, the ACLUM asked a First Circuit judge to extend the filing deadlines in two related appeals -- consolidated for the court's simultaneous consideration -- filed by Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre. The brief is below.

Boston College continues to do nothing much.

Aclu Extension Request

No, Sorry, Think Again

"Administration officials say that even though the NATO intervention in Libya, emphasizing airstrikes to protect civilians, cannot be applied uniformly in other hotspots like Syria, the conflict may, in some important ways, become a model for how the United States wields force in other countries where its interests are threatened."

-- "U.S. Tactics in Libya May Be a Model for Other Efforts," New York Times, Aug. 28, 2011

"A damning report by Amnesty International says that a year after the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's militias are 'largely out of control,' with the use of torture ubiquitous and the country's new rulers unable – or unwilling – to prevent abuses."

-- "Amnesty finds widespread use of torture by Libyan militias," The Guardian, Feb. 16, 2012

Let's bomb a country, leave it leaderless, and walk away without a plan to help build post-regime-change stability. It's a model for future operations!

Though the sticking-around-to-guide-the-rebuilding idea doesn't seem to have been a winner either.

A Terrible Loss

The New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who wrote one of the smartest and most careful books about the war in Iraq, has died while on assignment in Syria. He lived well, with courage, integrity, and decency.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

We All Know How Stupid It Is, But It Persists

A former FBI special agent, who spent most of his career in the counterterrorism field, talks about how ineffably stupid and useless the TSA is, accomplishing little to nothing while degrading ordinary people and wasting our time. Worth reading the whole thing.

The TSA is high on my list of things that make me weak with anger and frustration. My mother flew home from a visit with her granddaughter, recently, and was singled out for an aggressive full-body patdown because the body scanner detected the presence of six small, round objects spaced at regular intervals down the front of her shirt. (You'll never imagine what those were.) We all know that TSA officers are useless, expensive irritants, but we can't get rid of them. Meanwhile, they can do shit like this with impunity. That's the state of American democracy.


"Though participants signed contracts that promised them privacy 'to the extent that American law allows,' project supervisors Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University's stance in international media."

-- "Admins Alert Students of Belfast Project," The Heights, Feb. 5, 2012

"On the other hand, Dunn stated that the University made no such promises, and in fact informed Moloney and McIntyre of the risk of subpoena and the danger such a situation could pose to the archives. He admitted that the language 'to the extent that American law provides' was not found exactly in the donor agreement, but stated his belief that the contract was drawn up by Moloney, not BC."

-- "Researchers Weigh In On Belfast Project Legal Drama, The Heights, Feb. 15, 2012

Not found exactly in. Stated his belief that. Could any of that be any clumsier? The story now changes from week to week. This latest version is also a lie, and will also change.

Boston College, your spokesman isn't just a persistent liar -- he's a hapless and obvious liar. He is not serving your cause, and you should make him stop. Why haven't you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brief Hiatus

It appears that I'm taking an accidental break from blogging, but will resume in a few days. I just don't have anything to say right now, if you can believe such a thing. In the meantime, don't miss this story about the politics of historical inquiry by the police in Northern Ireland.

Also, Jack Dunn is still an asshole. Good night!

UPDATED: Spoke too soon!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Narratives: Stronger Than Facts

All of these are quotes from the same book, describing the economic and financial crisis of 2008:

"The country, relying ever more singly across three decades on unregulated markets and the 'wisdom of crowds' -- of each rational economic actor, from steelworker to housewife to CEO, acting in his or her own best interest -- was displaying dangerous imbalances." (pg. 16)

"It had been, and still was, Volcker's view that without serious 'rules of the road,' backed by the law, firms would find ways to profit that put the markets at risk. It turned out to be a prophetic stance, from the 1987 market crash on, and proved only more so in the current election year. Volcker now saw reregulation as a matter of the country's economic survival." (pg. 35)

"That's where Greenspan...established his greatest historical importance. He helped to ensure that, in each crisis, the rollover of debts -- the 'liquidity bridge' Wolf wrote of -- would be supported by the federal government [sic]: a flood of liquidity that altered the ancient, commonplace physics between price and value, confidence and pessimism. The retrenchments, with all their cleansing effects, never really occurred." (pg. 62)

"As Greenspan cut rates, and stressed that he planned to cut them further to continue to fuel America's debt-driven consumption..." (pg. 63)

"...the government's public-private mortgage banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, guaranteeing roughly 80 percent of all mortgages, and for years encouraging the extension of debt to unsteady borrowers as part of [a] national bipartisan push to spread the 'virtues' of homeownership..." (pg. 64)

"Year by year, Fannie's and Freddie's balance sheet became engorged with underpriced risk as the guarantor of nearly 80 percent of the U.S. mortgage market. Along the way, though, the GSEs -- and by association the U.S. government -- were the guarantors of Wall Street's business model and its vast profits." (pg. 68)

"...the government's role as backstop -- final recipient of the risk being passed to and fro between investors in debt -- was crucial to the equation." (pg. 69)

"Once the government business partnership was struck, with profits as a shared goal, it was just a matter of when the 'mixed ownership corporation' would explode and how costly it would be." (pg. 70)

"After many years of sustained lobbying, the financial industry pushed through a key provision in the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, which overhauled the U.S. bankruptcy system. All repos and swaps, like those soon-to-be-fatal credit default swaps, were exempt from bankruptcy's famous 'automatic stay' -- the defining provision, really, of bankruptcy, where all assets and liabilities are frozen as a company seeks the protection from creditors that bankruptcy court provides... Repos, thereby, became the cheapest, safest funding source available, and repo growth was dramatic after 2005." (pg. 88)

"That [retail wealth management] business had grown with breakneck speed over the past thirty years as millions of savers moved from traditional banks to investment funds. Driving the migration was a combination of the government's 1970s creation of tax-exempt 401(k)s and IRAs, to encourage saving, and the 1980s heady rise in stock." (pg. 99)

(And so on, for another 380 pages.)


The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is all this laissez-faire stuff, this total removal of controls from of the economy, this departure of the referee, this complete regulatory flight from involvement in the financial markets. For example, the creation of GSEs that bought up eighty percent of the extant mortgages to ensure the extension of debt to unsteady borrowers and the Fed's decision to persistently provide easy money and the bankruptcy restructuring that incentivized corporations to make heavier use of swaps and repos and the governmental backstopping of private loss and the government's creation of 401(k)s and IRAs to pull the middle class into investment funds. Oh, if only we hadn't had all that deregulation. If only, ladies and gentlemen, if only someone had thought to have some public policy of some kind.

Clearly what we need is to get government involvement back into the financial markets. For the stability.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Growing Attention

Here's a story from CBS News on the Boston College subpoenas. Good to see.

Dunn with the Lies

"From the very beginning of this project, which was conceived by Ed Moloney -- he approached Boston College with the idea to record conversations with former paramilitaries from the IRA and the UVF, and he asked if we would be interested in being a repository of these materials. Boston College is America's leading institution on Irish studies, Irish history, Irish literature. We agreed to add it to our extensive holdings as one more example of something that could be used as a resource for future historians, for journalists, etc., regarding the Troubles."

-- Jack Dunn, RTE Interview, Jan. 25 2012 (since pulled), describing BC's passive, recipient-only role in Ed Moloney's Belfast Project.

Compare (click for larger image):

Dear Boston College:

The person you've chosen as the public face of your university is embarrassing you, and you should make him stop.

I'm Going to Take This as a Flawless Metaphor for Post-9/11 Government

Police officer goes in foot pursuit...of himself. For twenty minutes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One of These Days, Alice

So there I am, having a calm, polite, productive discussion with the editors of The Heights. And suddenly, a crazy person storms into the room and starts shitting all over himself:
Taylour and David: Greetings from El Salvador. Please know that Chris Bray is a professional grad student who has no credibility in academe. He is a lap dog for Mr. Moloney who blogs incessantly without regard for the truth. No one takes him seriously. You should not feel compelled to do so either. Chris, David has seen the contract that Mr. Moloney signed and has read the court proceedings and affidavits. He is an excellent reporter who is tough but fair. He is also unflappable. Your pathetic attempt to bully a student reporter will not work here. The Heights is the best student newspaper in the country. They will not be affected by your attacks. I really feel sorry for you. I hope you will grow up one day. I also hope that we meet sometime, where you will not be able to hide behind your key board.

Note that I stood in a hallway a few weeks ago, not ten feet from Jack Dunn, and watched him skitter away behind a trio of campus police as Carrie Twomey tried to speak to him. So, yeah.

Proof by Denial

Boston College did not clearly warn Belfast Project interviewees that it would not protect their interviews against a subpoena. Period. The explicit promise between BC and interviewees was simply that their interviews would be kept confidential until they died or chose to affirmatively waive confidentiality. The proof comes from campus, in the form of a statement claiming the opposite.

Along with this post about this story, I wrote to the editors of The Heights, the student-run newspaper at Boston College. I asked them about this claim in their story:
Though participants signed contracts that promised them privacy "to the extent that American law allows," project supervisors Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University's stance in international media.
Here's the question I asked:
I would be curious to hear what evidence you have for the claim that "participants signed contracts that promised them privacy 'to the extent that American law allows.'" Did David Cote see the signed contracts between BC and its interviewees?
On Tuesday evening, I got a response from News Editor Taylour Kumpf. I respect the good faith that they showed with their effort to respond, but watch what the response does to their claim. This is the whole response, and read the second paragraph closely:
We realize that as the independent student newspaper of Boston College, it is our job to report the facts about events related to and involving our University, regardless of controversial material or items potentially damaging to the University's reputation. We also realize that as University Spokesman, Jack Dunn has Boston College's best interest in mind and is paid by the University to paint their actions in a positive light to the media, and this is something that we are always conscious of when speaking with him.

That being said, David Cote did see the contracts signed by Ed Moloney upon beginning the Belfast Project. Moloney's signature was on two separate contracts, the first of which directly stated that participants would be protected "to the extent that American law allows." The second agreement, which also had Moloney's signature and the signatures of project participants such as Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, did not state that provision explicitly, but stated on Page 2 that the contract was governed by the provisions of the earlier contract signed by the project supervisor, Moloney. Regardless of what Mr. Dunn said about the contracts, Mr. Cote saw the contracts, in their entirety, with the signatures of Moloney and the project participants.

Thank you for your interest in the matter. If you have any additional questions or concerns that The Heights can address, please do not hesitate to contact us further.
So former members of illegal paramilitary organizations that engaged in armed struggle against the British government were given a contract that didn't mention that their interviews would be turned over to that government if it bothered to ask, but a clause on the second page of the contract between interviewees and Boston College incorporated, by reference, the language of a second contract that the interviewees did not sign and have not been proven to have even seen.

Does that description support the plain claim that interviewees "signed contracts that promised them privacy 'to the extent that American law allows,'" or does it show that interviewees signed a contract that did not make that promise in any clear or direct form that would have been recognized by the people reading it?

Everyone at Boston College knows the answer. An editor at The Heights, David Cote, personally saw a contract bearing "the signatures of project participants such as Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price." With regard to a limitation on confidentiality in the face of a subpoena, the contract "did not state that provision explicitly."

Full stop. The rest is a word game -- with the Irish Republican Army and the peace in Northern Ireland. Does that seem like a good idea to you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Imagine a Rope, and Perceive It Around Your Wrists

From the same news story that I discussed yesterday:
"While Boston College clearly informed the project director that confidentiality could be guaranteed only to the extent that American law allows, [Moloney] and one of his interviewers have chosen to attack the University in the media for complying with the government subpoenas," the letter to students abroad read.
Language is a remarkable tool, and allows dishonest users to evade meaning as they appear to create it. The choice presented to Boston College was not simply complying with the subpoenas or not complying with the subpoenas.

Irish-American groups have attacked the subpoenas in the political arena, pointing out that those subpoenas serve a dangerous political effort rather than a conventional murder investigation. These groups have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask that the State Department intercede and ask the Department of Justice to withdraw the subpoenas. They've met with members of Congress and asked them to do the same, and to contact Attorney General Eric Holder. They've secured the involvement of Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is also asking the State Department to intervene. They've met with officials at the Police Service of Northern Ireland to complain. They've done something. They've tried. They've bothered to be awake and alive, to speak and to think.

Meanwhile, Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre have sued the attorney general, and have filed two legal appeals that have delayed the delivery of embargoed archival material to the police, an effort that adds time to the clock and allows for the possibility of political intervention against the subpoenas. Again, they've bothered to get out of bed. They've bothered to care and to try.

While all of those other people fought, Boston College laid like a lump on the ground, making a limp effort in the trial court before rolling over and going back to sleep. They've chosen a posture of helplessness, pointing at the rope draped loosely across their wrists and moaning that oh, what can we do, our hands are tied. Other options have always been available.

They have chosen. And their choice is shameful. It won't be forgotten.

Monday, February 6, 2012

This Is What I'm Talking About

Noting a growing "credibility gap," a U.S. Army officer writes candidly about the chasm between official statements about the American war in Afghanistan and the reality he has seen with his own eyes. Compare this piece to this one.

We all know this. We all know there's a massive gap between the things being described by government institutions (and other institutions) and the things that are happening. That's true of the economy, true of the wars, true of justice.

Our official and institutional culture is addicted to lies, and allergic to plain truth. And that's more destructive than anything any enemy could ever do to us.

The Heights of Credulity

The foundation of a successful career in mainstream journalism is the ability to assess a puddle of baffling horseshit and type it up as fact. A key to this performance is the choice of verbs: officials "explain" and "reveal," critics and dissidents "claim" and "allege." So there's some good news for Boston College: your student journalists are learning well, and will be eligible for post-collegiate employment in their field.

A Sunday story on the website of The Heights, the BC student newspaper, reports that the university has sent a warning to its students "studying abroad in Ireland and England," particularly in "sensitive areas such as Belfast." Not sure if they're putting Belfast in Ireland or England, there, but if they mean to place it in Ireland, let's take it as a political statement and suggest that Sinn Fein send them a thank you note. Our president thinks Tehran hosts an "English Embassy," so let's be kind on this point.

In any case, the warning is a stark one. BC's Office of International Programs -- joined by the chief of the campus police -- advises students to "avoid wearing clothing that overtly depicts American or Boston College logos during trips to sensitive areas such as Belfast."

Why is a Boston College connection something to avoid discussing in Belfast, just now? Why, because of those bastards Ed and Anthony, and watch this paragraph dance, dance, dance around a whole amazing set of obstacles:

"The Irish media has been heavily covering the subpoena of the Belfast Project, an international legal drama that could threaten the delicate peace in Northern Ireland. Though participants signed contracts that promised them privacy 'to the extent that American law allows,' project supervisors Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University's stance in international media."

So the subpoena -- stick an "s" on the back of that last word, copy desk, so readers think you kind of know what you're talking about -- "could threaten the delicate peace in Northern Ireland." But the very thing that threatens to cause violence in Northern Ireland, the subpoena itself(*), presents no threat or difficulty to BC students in "sensitive areas such as Belfast." Instead, BC students abroad should be aware of the difficulties that may be presented to them by the fact that "Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University's stance in international media."

The subpoena puts all of Northern Ireland at risk of violence; but only these two dudes mouthing off in the press puts BC students traveling in Northern Ireland at risk of violence. Nothing else. Just them. Those premises cannot be reconciled by sentient beings, but they occupy the same paragraph. Wake up when you type your stories -- it helps.

The warning to BC students also suggests that they "avoid political discussions regarding Northern Ireland in public settings such as restaurants and pubs," and that they specifically refuse to talk to anyone about the Belfast Project and the legal case involving the project's interview materials: "Do not feel compelled to discuss the matter with those who may raise it. This case is a complex legal issue further complicated by the politics and history of Northern Ireland, and it is best to simply decline to discuss it."

So BC students shouldn't display BC logos, identify themselves as BC students, discuss BC in public, or talk at all about local politics in Northern Ireland, because of BC's involvement in a "legal drama that could threaten the delicate peace in Northern Ireland." The institution that sent you to X location warns you that it is directly involved in an event that is so toxic and dangerous it could destroy the peace in X location, so for crying out loud keep your mouth shut in X location and don't let anyone know where you're from. Now, with all that in mind, watch these three amazing sequential paragraphs spool out in the same news story:

"The letter was our way of reminding students to follow common sense guidelines for an issue that is likely never to materialize," Dunn said.

The letter emphasized that the students studying abroad were not in danger, but that they should be aware of the difficult political situation in Ireland.

"Please know that we do not believe that you are at risk in any way, and that we fully expect that your semester abroad will be an exciting and rewarding experience," the letter read. "Our intention in writing is to alert you to an ongoing issue so that you will continue to use good judgment in all of your dealings overseas."

Warning! Warning! Warning! Don't tell anyone in Belfast you're from Boston College, and don't talk about politics, and we warn you! Warning! Warning! Warning! (Long pause.) Uh, don't take this as a warning, though. The peace in Northern Ireland is threatened, an event that is likely never to materialize.

This kind of bullshit-straddle has become a normal part of American institutional language: The makers of Gleemonex warn you not to use Gleemonex while pregnant, because the FDA requires us to inform you that your fetus may explode into flames. However, the makers of Gleemonex remind you that our legal department says Gleemonex has never been proven to cause fetuses to explode into flames. But just please oh please for the love of God please don't ever take it while you're pregnant, but it's not our fault.

In fact, this kind of bullshit-straddle has become so normal that you would think everyone can recognize it and perceive its purposes. But apparently not.

Finally, look at this part of the story again: "Though participants signed contracts that promised them privacy 'to the extent that American law allows,' project supervisors Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University's stance in international media."

What evidence does the newspaper have for the statement that "participants signed contracts that promised them privacy 'to the extent that American law allows,'" and how do they present that evidence?

They don't, and they don't. Don't have it, don't describe it. It's a fact claim based on nothing, emerging from thin air. I've sent an email to the editors of The Heights asking if someone at the newspaper has seen the signed contracts with their own eyes, and I'll post their response if it comes. But here's my bet: If they had the contracts in hand, the sentence would include a reference to them. Instead we just get a claim that every interviewee signed a contract that included a warning about the limits of the law. Every former participant in a illegal armed paramilitary organization signed a piece of paper that said we'll give your interviews to the police if they ask, then sat down for candid interviews about their violent criminal past. Don't worry about evidence for that claim, because it just makes such good intuitive sense.

Boston College keeps lying because they keep getting away with it. I'm disgusted, and I understand the strategic calculation.

At least three times a week, now, I say the same thing about Goldman Sachs: If the country's political class is dumb enough to let you steal from them, then why not steal from them? If a drunk lets his wallet fall out of his pocket, is it your fault if you pick it up? (Yes, by the way, but I'm not talking about morality, here.) Apply that logic to Jack Dunn: If most people will let you lie to them....


(*Actually subpoenas, but we're talking about the story at hand, and analyzing their framing. It's like fingernails on a blackboard, but still.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fuck You, Jeff Novitzky

The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California announced on Friday that no charges will be filed against Lance Armstrong, after a long federal investigation into doping allegations. ESPN reports that the investigation, led by FDA Special Agent Jeff Novitsky, "drew in dozens of witnesses, reams of scientific and financial documents, and multiple law enforcement agencies in the United States and overseas."

And what were they investigating? This:

"The Armstrong case had its genesis in doping allegations. But because sports doping is not in and of itself a federal crime, the case would have been built around fraud, conspiracy and other charges related to the violation of his team's contract with the U.S. Postal Service, which specifically prohibited doping."

Multiple government agencies just spent nearly two years investigating something that isn't a federal crime, bringing witnesses before a grand jury and trying to find ways to tangentially criminalize chickenshit.

Seriously, go fuck yourselves. If you can't find some real crimes to investigate, give up your paychecks and go home.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Too Bad You're Missing It

I've been writing constantly about the Boston College subpoenas since early last summer, and two kinds of interest have sustained my attention. I'm interested in the case itself, in the specifics of the subpoenas and the particulars of the ongoing exchange between governments, researchers, and academic institutions.

But I'm also interested in the thing more generally, for what it broadly represents about the condition of our political and cultural institutions. (Hint: bad.) And it's been endlessly fascinating to compare what I know from court documents and conversations to what I see in the newspapers. My verdict on the news coverage has been pretty consistent: Are you fucking kidding me?

I'm reminded of the drunk in the stands behind me at Dodger Stadium who kept inviting the umpire to watch the game: "Great game on the field, asshole, too bad you're missing it." (It was funny the first seventy times.)

In the latest are-you-fucking-kidding-me development, the Irish Times reports that the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland has given a speech calling for immediate and serious debate on how the North should deal with its painful history:

"Mr McGrory, who was involved in several high-profile cases during and after the Troubles, including representing the families of the three IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988, acknowledged that tackling the legacy of the conflict was difficult. But he believed a proper debate was required as to whether there was an appropriate method that would be an alternative to the current situation where the Historical Enquiries Team and the office of the Police Ombudsman effectively dealt with the past."

Aside from the fact that the back half of that last sentence wanders away from its front -- it's important to find an alternative to something that effectively deals with something? -- any reader with the alertness of a geranium will quickly note what the story doesn't say: it contains no reference to the Boston College subpoenas and the ongoing quasi-investigation into the murder of Jean McConville.

So the police in Northern Ireland are investigating an IRA murder that took place in 1972, and the person who would be responsible for bringing charges into a courtroom as a result of that investigation says that hey, hold on a minute, let's find an alternative to what the police are doing about the past. And the report on the prosecutor's speech about finding alternatives to what the police are doing about the past doesn't mention what the police are doing about the past.

It's like (deep breath) the police are out in the streets arresting everyone who wears brown pants, and the head prosecutor stands in the public square and shouts that we shouldn't be going after people who wear brown pants, and the newspaper informs its readers that the prosecutor says we shouldn't be criminalizing the decision to wear brown pants, but the newspaper doesn't think to mention that the police are arresting people for wearing brown pants.

Actually, let me make that a little simpler: It's like the police are at least gesturing at preparing a criminal case against the people who killed Jean McConville, and the person who would be responsible for prosecuting that case all but says publicly, in a thinly veiled statement, that he doesn't think it would be a good idea to bring a criminal case against the people who killed Jean McConville. And the newspaper types up the text without noticing the subtext, which is all of a millimeter deep. Open question whether the reporters and editors who handled the story have opposable thumbs, yes?

But it gets so much better than that, because there's something else the Irish Times (and everybody else) didn't bother to notice, and let's go ahead and number these points to make them easy to follow:

1.) The woman who says she drove Jean McConville to her death says that Gerry Adams gave the order to take her and kill her.

2.) So an investigation into the murder of Jean McConville is an investigation into a crime involving the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

3.) Who used to be represented by a lawyer named Barra McCrory....

4.) ...who recently became the, yes, Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. Maybe you've heard of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland -- he's the guy who just gave a speech saying he's not sure if the police should be digging into the past. Gerry Adams' former lawyer just dropped a fat goose egg of a hint that he doesn't think the police should be investigating Gerry Adams.

How do I know that Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McCrory used to be a lawyer in private practice who represented Gerry Adams? I read it in the Irish Times.

Two months ago.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Judge William Young has denied the government's request that he reconsider his "final order" in the matter of the Boston College subpoenas. A brief note on Pacer says that Young denied the motion as moot, which means he accepted BC's explanations regarding the remaining materials in the Belfast Project collection. Loyalist interviews are safe from surrender, for now. Note that the court has shown itself willing to listen to BC's representations regarding the contents of their archives.

And again: Why did BC fail to complete the same review of its interviews with IRA members, which would almost certainly have achieved the same effect of shielding most of that side of the collection from the eyes of the court? I hope that someone at BC will eventually bother to answer that question. In any event, today's decision leaves Thomas Hachey and Robert O'Neill naked in the light of day. I stand by this post.

Anyway, if BC is going to file an appeal, now's the time. I suspect they won't.

In other news, Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre have appealed Young's decision to dismiss their lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder. The appeals court has consolidated that appeal with their earlier appeal of Young's decision to turn aside their request to intervene in the original court case over the subpoenas. Both appeals will be heard together in April.