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Comments Rating System Is Now Turned On

Colleagues and Copublishers,

Now that 80 of our 118 original copublishers are in the door, a critical mass has begun commenting, and there are starting to be more comments, we've turned on the "comments rating system" which allows you, the copublishers, to "vote" on which comments get linked on both page one of Narco News, and the front page of this Narcosphere.

That means that YOU, the copublishers, collectively decide which comments get page one placement. This is the main way that we assure that comments, corrections, enhancements, and additional information - especially regarding those news stories reported on Narco News - that the copublishers feel are important get prominent billing for the wider and massive universe of readers. In this, as publisher, I'm surrendering a significant amount of control to you.

Here, below, is how the ratings system works...

Hard Number Time

Hard Number Time.

$7,023.  That's the grand total raised for Narco News through The Fund for Authentic Journalism since we started over New Year's.  Much of that money, along with funds raised for Narco News last year via the (now defunct) LiveArt1st, allowed us to qualify for that first $10,000 installment of our matching grant from Tides.  

$3,443.  That's the total raised since February 5th.  That's everything we can be certain counts toward the next $10,000 batch of matching funds.  That's just over one third of the way there.  

$129.69  That's the average per day of what we've raised this year.  That's a handful of people.  Sometimes even one person.  But always someone.  One person at a time, putting their money where their beliefs are, who wont let mass media distortions go by unchallenged.  

1   Minute.  That's all it takes to contribute, right now.  Please, go to and use the PayPal buttons to make a contribution today.  Thank you.  

How Not to Practice Journalism

Last week's vicious smear and libel campaign against Brazilian drug policy reform leader Fábio Mesquita (read about his timely exoneration here) was an atrocity. The perpetrator, Phil Smith of DRCNet, instead of admitting that he was wrong by posting a correction and offering the apology that any professional journalist would offer, hides in his bunker.

Narco News has obtained the texts of four "private" emails that are now published here, below. They demonstrate grossly unethical journalism on the part of Smith. We didn't hack anybody's email account: Smith sent them, by accident, last week to a public mailing list. He later posted a message to that list confessing: "This was supposed to be a private message."

The emails reveal:

  1. Prior intent, by Smith, to smear Fábio Mesquita.
  2. That Smith reported information he knew to be untrue in his newsletter.
  3. Dishonesty, by Smith, to his sources regarding the subject of his article.
  4. The suggestion that Smith unethically shared his text, in advance, with one side of the conflict.
  5. The fundamental unfairness of conducting interviews in English with native Spanish and Portuguese speakers.
  6. The presence of the legal definition of "malice" in Smith's reporting.
If you don't like to read someone's emails that were intended to be private, nobody's forcing you to click to read more. But for those of us who care about journalism and ethics, this is a textbook case on how not to do it.

Copublishers Introductions... ¡Presente!

Now that more than half of our copublishers are in the door, with others constantly arriving, let's hear from each of ya with a brief introduction here on this thread.

Present your brilliant copublishing selves!

Al Giordano, ¡Presente!. I live somewhere in a country called América (too often in various somewheres all at once). I'm a journalist who reports on the drug war and democracy from Latin America, and I'm publisher of Narco News. I offer my partisan political opinions over at my weblog,, so if anyone wants to play at elections and that kind of thing, you're invited over there, too.

I sometimes subsidize this intercontinental ballistic trilingual online newspaper by strumming my Dobro in clubs. Over the next year, thanks to a recent stroke of good luck in the legal system, I (who have never owned a house before) plan on constructing a permanent oceanside campus-newsroom for the School of Authentic Journalism. In future years, we'll see some of you there, no doubt.

In the meantime, we're hard at work in the Narco Newsroom, and I'm very excited that so many of you are already here, inside the Narcosphere. Ahead of us on the highway is immediate history, and we're gaining on it!

State Dept. Heavy Dispatched to Brazil

That didn't take long.

Days after Brazil's Congress approved a bill to decriminalize drug users, a heavy hitter from Foggy Bottom was dispatched to Brazil to discuss, among other matters, "security concerns including terrorism and narcotrafficking," according to this press release from the U.S. General Consulate in São Paulo:

Brasília, February 19, 2004 Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman, the State Department’s top political affairs official, is visiting Brazil February 18-19. After touring the new facilities of the U.S. Consulate General in São Paulo on February 18, Grossman will hold talks today with high-level Brazilian government officials in Brasília. These annual discussions are part of an on-going bilateral dialogue between the United States and Brazil.

Under Secretary Grossman will review a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues in his meetings with senior Brazilian officials. Among the topics to be discussed are the state of bilateral relations, U.S. and Brazilian views on matters of regional and global importance, the United Nations, and security concerns including terrorism and narcotrafficking.

Let's take this opportunity to look at the U.S. Embassy and Consulate's team on the field in Brasilia and São Paulo, and their past histories that just happen to coincide with US Embassy dirty tricks and other atrocities in those regions, for some perspective on the underhanded smear campaign that has begun against leading drug policy reform advocates in Brazil at the very moment that the movement is on the verge of victory...

Thanks and Introductions

It’s almost a week now that we’ve been online here, and I thought it was about time I introduced myself and said a few things about how we’re doing so far. I’m the Narco News Webmaster, in charge of the technical aspects of this experiment, or forum, or publication, or community, or war machine, or whatever you want to call it. I’ll be using my reporters’ notebook here, in part, to discuss the evolution of this site into what we all expect to be a really unique and vital space for all authentic journalists.

Around América on February 20th

The Drug User Decriminalization Law passed the Brazilian Congress!

I informed y'all this would happen eight days ago.

More details, plus news from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and...

Miami Oligarchs on Parade Tomorrow!

Details follow below...

Secret vetting at Customs

Earlier this week, I received a letter -- sent anonymously. It was stuffed with documents, including a memo written by Colleen Kelley, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The union represents some 13,000 Customs employees who work for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) -- which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  

The NTEU, which has endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry for president, is currently battling the Bush administration and DHS over proposed workplace rule changes that will severely limit the union's ability to represent workers within the new super department.  

The leaked Kelley memo, which is directed to NTEU chapter presidents, also deals with a workplace-rights issue. The memo, dated Nov. 14, 2003, is the real thing. A spokesman for the union confirmed that fact.  

The memo reveals something quite startling in terms of how the government operates with respect to promoting the right people to the right jobs. Essentially, the memo indicates that since December 1998 Customs has maintained a "secret vetting" policy that requires that background checks be run at the headquarters level on employees who are up for promotion.  

So why is this a big deal?  

One Customs inspector interviewed put it this way: "There's a secret vetting list that the agency has. What that means is they have opened a file on your name, to be used for anything."  


Around América on February 19, 2004

I'll be publishing some questions about Haiti and the coup attempt (see my notebook entry of yesterday) on Narco News later today.

Meanwhile, there is lots of news around the hemisphere...

Honduran television journalist Renato Alvarez, 38, sentenced to 32 months in prison for "defamation" of a National Party politician who he labeled a "narco-trafficker," according to AP Español. It's a horrible precedent, but the glass is half-full: His prison time is suspended and he'll pay a fine of $800 dollars and do some community service work. The authorities want to intimidate journalists, but not, apparently, create martyrs for the international press. Still, heed Alvarez's warning:

"They've now begun with the journalists and tomorrow (the government) will restrict the freedom of speech of Honduran citizens who fight against the current State... The people are tired of so much injustice in the country."

More of today's Narco News Round-up, with reports and links from Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, below...

How We Got Here

Hi folks.  Al Giordano suggested a regular blog from the treasurer of The Fund for Authentic Journalism would be a great way to keep people involved in the fundraising end of this operation, up to date with our progress and fully informed about the twists and turns that come up along the way.  Our aim is more than just keeping the Narco News funded.  We want to demonstrate a new model of financial support for journalism that provides the resources necessary to produce the finest journalism without any of the corrupting pressures inherent in advertising and other models.  So hopefully this space will keep your interest.  I'm humbled by having a blog appear alongside such fantastic writers as are lined up for the NarcoSphere, but I'll do my best to keep up.  

First, I want to tell you a bit about where we are and how we got here….


Coup Attempt in Haiti

A Narco News reader, Thomas, writes me that he's "disappointed" that we're not reporting from Haiti.

I'm disappointed too. We don't yet count with the resources to put a reporter on the ground there. (The Fund for Authentic Journalism treasurer, Andrew Grice, will shortly appear here in the Narcosphere to explain that we're still waiting on pledged funds.)

But I have thought of who could do the job, if resources suddenly became available: Paging Stan Goff.

Meanwhile, click the "read more" link for a round up of links to the latest news reports on what is occuring in this Caribbean country...

Welcome to the Narcosphere

Veteran journalist Chris Lydon has a name for it: "the transformation."

A fundamental shift is underway in how politics and fundraising are practiced: from dependence on the financiers at the top levels of the economy to a more authentically democratic model of a wide base of support from below.

The God of Shit

Shit was a word that was prohibited in my childhood home.  We tried alternatives:

"Oh, crap!"

"You're not going to use that word in this household!"

"Oh, crud!"

"That means the same thing!"

Thus three four-letter words were eliminated from my useful vocabulary at a very early age.  I grew up not liking them.  I advanced in wisdom and age not using them.

Now it wasn't that there was no strong language used around our house. One of my sisters mentioned that my father spoke five or six languages.  My mother only three:  English, German and Profanity.  English was the language used with the natives and the kids; German with the few Austrians and Germans in Cheyenne, Wyoming who weren't ashamed to continue speaking it while World War II raged on; and, Profanity which was reserved to use on my father on special occasions when my mother had a need to verbally dump on him.  There is an explanation as to how my mother learned each of these three languages but I will share that another day.  I would also like to add that I think my mother was a very holy person.

The point that I would like to establish at the very beginning of my blogging life is that I grew up hating the word "shit."

Some Autobiographical Notes

Hitler invaded Austria in March 1938.  I was born the next year of Austrian parents who had migrated to Cheyenne, Wyoming in the early '20s.