Politics

Excessive Force

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I took this picture in Beverly Hills, CA two weekends ago, while protests were breaking out around the United States over the issue of the disproportionate use of excessive force by police departments against African Americans. I don’t know what the quite apparently homeless woman had done but she was in obvious distress at this moment and loudly vocalizing her displeasure with the actions being taken against her.

I have nothing else to say, really, about this conveniently relevant photo that fell into my lap because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Well, other than the fact that my heart goes out to the woman, and also to the cop.

Back before there was such a thing as a blog, when Macromedia Dreamweaver was the coolest thing on the planet, I used it to make and publish a handful of websites. One of them was an anonymous rant against the police. I made it to publicize and characterize for the world-wide-web the never ending cycle of unjustified police shootings here in Southern California.

I had on it the story of the black girl sleeping in her car in the rain at night who police shot while she was unconscious and possibly even overcome by carbon monoxide by her car’s running engine. There was the story of the unstable 130 lb 16-year-old whose family called 911 because they were worried about his erratic behavior and who, when surrounded by police, was whirling in a circle keeping the cops at bay with a broom stick. He was shot 9 times. There was the infamous story of the homeless 90 lb woman in her 60s who was shot for pulling out a screwdriver when stopped by police for having a shopping cart back when the police were instructed to arrest homeless people for shopping cart theft.

Let me repeat. I made a website about a dozen years ago (or more) to publicize questionable killings of black and hispanic people in California. That’s ALL the website was about. The police shooting and killing blacks and hispanics.

Details are very very important. Details are why a progressive leftist person who started a website decrying police violence, along with millions of others, find themselves unable to get behind a protest movement based on an incident that doesn’t have the right set of circumstances and facts to build the kind of systemic change that is needed upon.

That is Ferguson, in my eyes.

The Staten Island tragedy, however, and the I Can’t Breath movement and protests that have been growing out of it, represent, in my opinion, a truly valid protest movement that was born by a clearly indefensible example of unreasonable force by the police resulting in the death of a citizen.

I am deeply disturbed by the death at the hands of the police of Eric Garner in New York.

More power to this movement and to these protests.

I’m putting what I’m about to say out there because I don’t see it on protest signs, I don’t hear it coming from the talking heads on television and I certainly don’t envision the police opening up on this point. So here it is.

Policies and Procedures

Police policies and procedures are largely written by the police with a big assist from police unions. They are the instructions the police write for themselves as to how they are to go about every aspect of their jobs.

In all the years that these shooting have been happening in Southern California, through multiple federal investigations and consent decrees imposed on multiple law enforcement agencies… the one thing that has remained almost untouchable by civilian oversight or the government is police policies and procedures. They’ve changed very little. The police continue to get away with discharging their service weapons into human beings who did not need to be shot to death.

If you want to fight the police the way to do it is find a way to impose civilian oversight over the re-writing of THEIR OWN POLICIES AND PROCEDURES.

Policies and procedures. It’s all right there in those two words. The police write their own. As long as the police make the rules for their encounters with the public, of how and when to use force, they are are going to continue to escalate situations, in the tragic case of Eric Garner, INTRODUCE violence, in that case, DEADLY violence, over minor non-violent and even, I believe, non-criminal violations.

Who gets this? Southern Californian activists. This region of the country is Ground Zero for questionable police shootings of unarmed, mostly (but not always) minority, citizens.

So it would be fitting that right now, as I write this, at this very hour, the LA County Board of Supervisors, with protestors raging outside, is taking up the issue of a civilian oversight board for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

This was voted down last year but with two new members on the board supporting it there is hope that it may pass this time. It’s important that there is civilian oversight and that it not be simply the brand that rubber stamps whatever the police departments decide.

“We are encouraged that this new board is moving forward and has the political will to shift the course where the previous board fell short.” – Jaz Wade “Dignity & Power Now”

I’m not so encouraged, honestly, or nearly as optimistic as Ms. Wade but I am hopeful. If you’re in LA please keep an eye on the news as this story is being covered by all the local television channels.

An Owner’s World

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan's last Instagram

Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan’s last Instagram

Almost as soon as this year’s NBA playoffs opening rounds began something seemed to be in the air. Two top seeds were upset at home. Another higher seed, the Los Angeles Clippers, also lost its opener at home at the Staples Center. Now we’re more than halfway through the eight first-round match-ups and in just two of those playoff series, the Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets vs the Portland Trailblazers, in just eight games total, there have been an astounding SIX overtime contests.

The eighth-seed Dallas Mavericks are up in their series against the class of the league, the number-one-seed San Antonio Spurs, on an unlikely last-second three-point bomb from deep in the corner by the Mav’s Vince Carter. Four of the series are now tied up 2-2 including the match-up between the team many felt was the league’s best for a good portion of the season, the Indiana Pacers, and the only team to come into the playoffs with a losing record, the Atlanta Hawks.

Even before this past weekend’s game the verdict was in and it was unanimous. In the 68-year history of the world’s premier professional basketball league no one has ever seen anything like it. No playoff opening round has ever been this exciting or competitive or dramatic.

This was shaping up to be the National Basketball Association’s finest hour.

But going into the playoffs one series was touted as being the one everyone most wanted to see. The budding, extremely physical and emotionally charged cross-state rivalry between L.A.’s Clippers and the San Francisco Bay area’s Golden State Warriors, two of the most exciting young franchises the NBA has seen in years.

It was into this context that the taped conversations between Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and his one-time mistress V. Stiviano came to light this past Saturday morning.

Regardless of the fact that everyone already knew what a piece of shit this man has always been, these audio tapes, graphically demonstrating him verbally intimidating a women of color into altering her Instagram history and attempting to get her to alter as well her associations with other African Americans, changed everything.

All we can hope for now is that the league will act tomorrow with a devastatingly clear and deeply satisfying response to the disgusting information that has come to the surface and continues to shock as more is revealed.

Anyone who thumps on his copy of the NBA bylaws or any other contractural legalities at this time and asserts what the league can’t do is on the wrong side of history and is standing up and voicing an opinion dangerously on the wrong side of the matter of racial progress and justice in the United States.

What the NBA can do is suspend Sterling indefinitely. But what’s important is that they do the most they can legally do now. Immediately. Almost everything else, what they can and will do later with or about Sterling or the Clippers ownership, is a far-off in-the-distant-future consideration. 

The heat on the controversy is so intense right now because of the laser focus on the playoffs and the Clippers presence in the playoffs and the reactions from everyone, past greats, current superstars, and including that of the President of the United States.

Not to mention the reality, not a mere perception, that the story breaking and the league not acting swiftly or strongly enough on Saturday has broken the focus and momentum, if not the spirit of the Clippers — Lob City being maybe the greatest show in professional athletics right now — and is therefore effecting the outcome of the NBA playoffs. 

We are Clippers fans.

Let me tell you all a story from this morning. I’ve been with a certain girl for 39 years. She is as wide-eyed and pure of heart as she was the day she was born, and certainly as she was the day she arrived in LA. She is a Clippers fan. We’ve been Clippers fans for about the last 20 years or so. But she loves the Clippers more even than I do.

When she talks about the Clippers it’s like a child talking about astronauts or firemen. 

So she comes into the bedroom after her shower this morning and says, in that childlike voice, ‘I don’t think the Clippers will ever be the same again.’

It hurt to hear that. And to know it could very well be true. 

This isn’t a product that we can just choose not to purchase or support. This is our team. There is love and there is heartbreak right now in our world that is off the charts. We realize that our beloved Clippers are really a lesser consideration to the greater issue and injustice of the moment. We’re resigned to that. And I think our minds are right in terms of our priorities. 

But the NBA owners and their commissioner, representatives of the owner’s world we all must live in, can fix many many things right now with swift and decisive action punishing this member of their own club, serving racial and social justice while at the same time letting us Clippers fans get back to loving and supporting our team’s playoff run.

And we will support them. Fine young black men who we admire and, as a Clippers fans, love, their hopes and dreams and all their hard work cannot become just so much collateral damage because of what was said by their white owner.

Art, Documentary, or News: Photography and Racial Politics

 

L1050830-Edit-2That title suggests a lot, I know. These are amazing times online. There are at any point, almost surely simultaneous, multiple battles occurring in larger cultural wars over things like racial and sexual politics. The recent Stephen Colbert – Suey Park skirmish was fascinating, the back and forth analysis provided me, at least, with an education in the current taxonomy of racial and gender politics at least framed by a small subset of the larger culture.

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Anyway, so it now falls on photography to fire our interest and further the fine-tuning of all of our racial and political sensibilities. Here specifically, in the article I’m linking to, the analysis turns towards two different presentations of the same photographs taken (obviously) by the same photographer and how those presentations differ and cross many lines. Some that are probably okay to cross and some that are, increasingly, not.

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None of us really want to offend with our photographs or our presentation of them, or to have our work frowned upon by those who are more in-tuned, sometimes by way of professional experience and sometimes by way of their own personal experiences, to the myriad and shifting protocols surrounding photography that involves the lives of people who are not us. Whoever we may be.

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Okay that was tricky. I have included a bunch of MY recent images that I do (or do NOT) think work well with this subject matter. (I refuse to say. ;-)) But I repeat, these are NOT the images referred to in the articles. These are my own images, taken yesterday in downtown Los Angeles. By me.

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I would love to hear what others here have to say about all of this. Please feel free to jump in. I think one place to start, maybe most obviously, is what is the responsibility of photographers to click the shutter, or not, when seeing realities that also represent stereotypes in his or her viewfinder. That would be a starting point for one discussion, actually. The blurred line betweens art and documentary photography, presentation and commentary, etc., all are other fascinating angles as well. Anyway.

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Here is a quote that describes what the writer of this piece does in the linked article. It’s a great idea. The result itself might elicit a more mixed response from readers.

Below, I step through the images that Politico ran, juxtaposing the caption of the photo from Raab’s site with the Politico caption with a brief comment on how that copy effects the meaning of the picture. 

via Art Photography vs. News Photography: Politico, Race and the “Other Washington” — BagNews.

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Disappointment in Dealey Plaza

(This is a piece I wrote for Steve Huff Photo back in 2011. It created a bit of a firestorm in Dallas that resulted in (or at least contributed to) something very very special happening. I’m reposting it as part of a three-day tribute on this the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Tomorrow I will post what transpired, completely without my knowledge, after this post appeared on Steve Huff’s site. And then on Friday, the 22nd, I’ll post some new and fresh thoughts about the assassination and the last 50 years.)

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The sniper’s window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository

I have to admit to being a somewhat self-assured photographer. What I mean by that is that if I’m pleased with the images I make, I’m not particularly vulnerable to the negative criticism of others and that includes other photographers. Of course, I don’t always make myself happy. And what I’ve learned about failing to make images that I’m happy with is that it most often happens because I was unwilling or unable to do the hard work of seeing and capturing the great images that were there to be had.

I think good photography is challenging and difficult. I’m not sure it’s as hard as writing something interesting or playing jazz, the latter of which has been compared to changing the fan belts on your car while the motor is running.

I don’t think photography is quite that hard. But at 53 years old, the truth is it’s sometimes more of challenge to take great pictures than I am physically or mentally up to. And I probably wouldn’t be admitting that if not for the shots I’m going to present here.

I don’t consider this to be a strong set of images. They are far from it. I’m disappointed in them and, of course, myself. My excuses are that it was very cold in Dallas, I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the last 22 years and I’m not used to that kind of cold. And honestly, after watching the Pittsburgh Steelers lose the Super Bowl the evening before, up close and in person, I was tee’d off, burnt out, hung over, and completely over the entire Texas experience.

I’d taken my M9 to Dallas thinking I would come back with tons of great images. That was not to be the case. Photography is hard and as I said you have to want to take good pictures, and then you have to be willing to do the work to get those pictures. I wasn’t and I came back from the trip with very few images that I ever want to look at again.

Nevertheless, Dealey Plaza, the location in Dallas where President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, is something else entirely. As a lifelong political animal who greatly admired both JFK and RFK, it was always my intention to someday get down there to see the site of this historic American tragedy.

What I found there, for the most part, wasn’t what I expected, but my overall impressions of the place, the aura that exists there, well…

Dealey Plaza is, almost by some kind of natural or unnatural energy, one of the most eerily amazing places I’ve ever visited in my life. More on that later.

But the strangeness of the experience of visiting there is compounded due to the ghastly and unacceptable way in which this historical site has been allowed to deteriorate, and also because of how it is presented to those who come to this historic place to try to absorb something of the terrible events that happened there.

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Chipped paint and rust help mar the experience of visiting this historic site in Dallas.

The overall vibe of Dealey Plaza is electric, oppressive and somewhat disorienting. So much so that the first thing you may notice upon arriving there is exactly that; an atmosphere of mayhem and disorder that permeates the place. Remember the moment in Oliver Stone’s JFK when the pigeons bolt from the roof of the Texas School Book Depository? It feels like that moment.

The entire area feels like a vortex of negative energy and soon after we arrived and were standing near where Abraham Zapruder shot his incredible film of the assassination, up at the bend from South Houston onto Elm, the last corner the president would turn in his life, there was the wild screech of brakes and a violent collision. Minutes later there was the sound of an ambulance. Someone had been injured, apparently seriously, as it wasn’t long before the ambulance frantically sped by us, right up Elm Street and over the spot where the president was shot.

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An ambulance rushes an accident victim injured at Dealey Plaza.

It’s a singularly bizarre place, there’s just no other way of saying it. And a serious traffic accident was just one of many things, the very real sights and sounds of Dealey Plaza in 2011, which contribute to setting the eerie atmosphere that exists there even today.

The lion’s share of that negative vibe in Dealey Plaza, however, isn’t generated by the weight of history or happenstance or traffic accidents. It comes from the fact that the place is in such a miserable state of disrepair that it amounts to a disgrace for the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, and the United States of America.

I live in Los Angeles. In what’s called the slums of Beverly Hills. But what I’m about to say goes for virtually everywhere in Los Angeles. There is more attention paid to the groundskeeping and upkeep and beautification of every apartment building on my street, every street in my neighborhood, and just about every building, house, park, intersection, center divider or median strip, car wash, parking lot, and public restroom on the West Side of LA than there is at the site of the assassination of the 35th president of the United States.

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The infamous Grassy Knoll might better be thought of as the Muddy Knoll.

Paint is chipping badly. Rust stains are everywhere. The grass is trodden over, smashed down to dirt and mud under the feet of visitors. Graffiti covers key components of this historical site including the picket fence behind the Grassy Knoll where some say a second shooter may have fired shots at the president’s motorcade.

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Graffiti covers the fence that some think obscured a second shooter.

But there’s one thing even worse than the disrepair at Dealey Plaza and it is an insult to history and everyone who visits the place as well as to the memory of the slain president and of the events that happened there.

The entire principle roadways, including the spot where Kennedy died on Elm Street, is still open to automobile traffic. The result of that is there is a dangerous and almost macabre scene played out minute by minute as visitors who have come to this spot to try to reconcile, understand, or simply just absorb the events of over 40 years ago are forced to dodge honking automobiles driven by alternately patient and speeding locals as they drive by on the three lanes of Elm Street.

Without a police officer in sight, it’s both a hazardous and out of control situation.

In Los Angeles, we close off busy sections of key streets in Santa Monica multiple times a week for a farmer’s market. They’ve permanently shut down five blocks of 3rd street in Santa Monica and turned it into an outdoor shopping promenade.

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Visitors to Dealey Plaza brave traffic as they try to experience this historic site.

It is outrageous that the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, or the federal government of the United States, hasn’t as yet sealed off Dealey Plaza to car traffic and turned it into the historical mall that it should be. It is a TINY place in what is certainly a small section of the grand scheme of things in modern Dallas. Yes it would require permanent rerouting of traffic but nothing that doesn’t happen every day in every major city in America.

Texas, however, is a still yet a very strange place politically, and this situation is evidence of that fact.

So the bottom line is that, even though I’m very disappointed in my own photography from this trip, I’d hope that the images show some of the problems that I’m referring to. The graffiti. The people trying to stand on the spot where Kennedy died while traffic bears down on them. The general disrepair.

But I hope that my pictures also capture to some extent the weirdness and the aura of mayhem and negativity that hangs over the place. It’s a location where harsh shadows and mysterious figures are still juxtaposed with a fierce blue sky and glaring sun. Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository are haunted, maybe not by real spirits, but by real history. And it’s a cursed and, unfortunately, still dangerous intersection of clashing forces and cross purposes.

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Dealey Plaza remains a place of fierce blue skies and mysterious shadows.

Five decades ago it was a young president whose motorcade happened to pass in front of the building where a raging loner named Lee Harvey Oswald worked.

Now it’s people trampling and marking up and slowly destroying a place of incredible historical significance to the United States while they themselves are threatened by the danger of distracted drivers trying to negotiate through their midst.

And on top of all that there is the unforgivable neglect of the site by the City of Dallas.

In Washington D.C they manage to balance the needs of a functioning government with the influx and presence of millions upon millions of visitors every year and it is carried off with dignity and safety. Dealey Plaza is not much bigger than the cafeteria at the Smithsonian. Its importance in terms of traffic and logistics to the city of Dallas is or very easily could be next to nothing. But its historical importance to our country and to the world is off the charts and it should be preserved and presented with the respect and dignity it deserves.

I’m With These People: NO on Bombing Syria

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These images are from the rally yesterday in front of the Federal Building in Westwood, CA. The people of the United States have had enough. We don’t want to be that country anymore. We have so many problems here on our own soil. Let’s become the model for the rest of the world, not its police force.

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And finally, just…

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Independence Day

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I promised (or threatened) politics when I started this blog. You had to know the bloody day would eventually come. I want to apologize in advance. There Will Be Cursing.

I just want to wrap up in a neat little ball my feelings about some things I’m seeing of late.

I had a dream once that there was a revolution and I was watching it on TV. It happened in a flash in some place like South or Central America at the meeting of the Organization of American States. lol. Seriously. And the POTUS was there and so there was a big American media contingent. Bob Schieffer was covering it for CBS. The revolutionaries stormed the conference area, security never had a chance, and they cut the TV signal coming out of the country right as the mob was overtaking the conference room where the president was. Last part of the dream was Dan Rather calling out to Bob Schieffer and saying something like, I think we’ve lost Bob. lol.

Man. Did I wake up with the chills. I’m serious. This was like in the early 90s. Tried to write a short story of it but it was and would have been a silly tale without a political perspective.

The real fear of the dream was that something could overtake the world media. Shut down or steal the voice or the truth or whatever, etc.

Although I still have that concern, actually that it might have happened a long time ago, but the feeling, the chill, is long forgotten. Until now.

The coverage of this second phase of what I am thinking of as the ongoing Egyptian revolution by the American media is just flat out chilling. It’s obvious the Obama administration thought they had their boy in place in Egypt in Morsy. If that wasn’t obvious before these past few weeks it’s obvious now. Old school American politics in the middle east at its traditional best. We’ll exchange one dictator for another, for what we like to call stability, and this one was extry special (TV hick colloquialism) because he came to power in a democratic election. So the US government is apoplectic over events in Egypt and that’s been made very clear by their many statements, threats, and the decidedly negative take they’ve expressed so far.

But the American news media? Oh my God. It’s like they’ve all been to a party at Judith Miller’s house and drank something she had mixed up in a punch bowl. It’s like they’re all mouthpieces now for the American government. Noam Chomsky has to be just stroking out right about now.

I’ve been seeing it for days now but what I just witnessed on CNN with Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Vanderbilt Cooper … it just recalls for me on a visceral level the feelings I had when I woke up from that dream. The Egyptian overthrow of Morsy seems to be some sort of nightmare from hell, if these people are to be believed.

Then they interviewed one of the guys behind the movement to ouster Morsy. God he was so real. He was PLEADING the truth. It was nothing I didn’t already know or suspect … ten thousand miles or more away. I knew that the ‘people’ of Egypt were always very uneasy about what kind of government Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood were going to give them. And their worst fears were realized over the course of the last year as he abolished and dissolved avenues of self-determination by the people of Egypt. Always underreported by the American media… but it was out there.

Even during the initial overthrow of Mubarak the Egyptian people made it very clear that if they didn’t get an actual government that gave them a voice over their own fates the first time out and if they found out, at worst, they’d just traded one dictator for another they would be right back out in Tahir Square. And Allah bless their fucking hearts, there they are.

All of this was baked into the cake and none of it is really news or a surprise. But the American-centric perspective is so dark you’d think the Russian tanks had just rolled through fucking Poland.

I don’t know if I can ever figure out how to digitally capture something from my TV onto a Mac. But I really implore everyone here to be on the lookout on YouTube for Anderson Cooper’s interview with one of the main inspirations for the revolution in Egypt and watch especially his treatment of the Egyptian and the condescending ’emotions are running high’ crack pipe he and Amanpour share at then end of the interview.

I said I wanted to wrap this all up at the top of this page. Here’s what I mean. And I know a lot of people are really anti-Edward Snowden and everything that he did. But forget about Snowden personally for a moment and his actions and really consider the media and their behavior of late.

The Snowden situation has become a catalyst for a lot of criticism of the American media, which, hello, I happen to agree with. And here is a really blistering example of that perspective which, hello again, I happen to agree with.

This is from Gawker. The link to the complete article is at the bottom. Everything from here on is not mine.

The Washington Post Is a Bitter, Jealous Little Newspaper

The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America. The Washington Post, the pre-Politico newsletter of choice for The Political Establishment, has the worst opinion section in America. Today, they once again prove why: the paper, which helped to break the NSA Prism spying story, editorializes that the U.S. government must stop Edward Snowden from leaking any more of that awful news.

Presumably so that Washington Post reporters cannot cover it? The editorial board of the Washington Post—a newspaper with some of the best national security reporters in America, a newspaper whose reporter Barton Gellman was approached directly by Edward Snowden, and a newspaper that chose to publish only four of the 41 Powerpoint slides that Snowden gave to Gellman— is practically praying for Edward Snowden to be muzzled, so that no more of those news stories might be leaked to papers like, you know, the Washington Post. “How to Keep Edward Snowden From Leaking More NSA Secrets,” is the editorial’s headline. (“…To Us” is only implied.)

At least we know that the Washington Post’s terrible editorial board is fully independent from its shrinking newsroom!

In fact, the first U.S. priority should be to prevent Mr. Snowden from leaking information that harms efforts to fight terrorism and conduct legitimate intelligence operations. Documents published so far by news organizations have shed useful light on some NSA programs and raised questions that deserve debate, such as whether a government agency should build a database of Americans’ phone records. But Mr. Snowden is reported to have stolen many more documents, encrypted copies of which may have been given to allies such as the WikiLeaks organization… The best solution for both Mr. Snowden and the Obama administration would be his surrender to U.S. authorities, followed by a plea negotiation. 

Take note, potential leakers and whistleblowers inside the U.S. government: the official stance of the Washington Post’s editorial board is that you should shut up and go to jail. Would-be Washington Post sources may wish to take that information into consideration when choosing where to leak to.”

http://gawker.com/the-washington-post-is-a-bitter-jealous-little-newspap-645608016