Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Moment — Dani McClain at The Nation notes that we are seeing the dawn of a new civil rights movement.

Back in August, some observers drew comparisons between the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. If parallels to civil rights movement history are helpful now, then let yesterday’s announcement that a Staten Island grand jury won’t indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death be a sign that we’re somewhere closer to 1963—when a series of devastating setbacks and subsequent widespread outrage transformed the civil rights struggle—than we are to Till’s lynching, that earlier consciousness-raising moment. There was a perfect storm this week: the continuing fallout of the failed indictment of Wilson; the news of the outcome in the Garner case; a Cleveland newspaper’s efforts to discredit and sling mud on the parents of a 12-year-old boy killed by police. This moment has the potential to catapult change, just as a series of events that transpired eight years after Till was killed did.

The murder of 14-year-old Till and the 1963 murder of four black girls at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church both became national stories that hit Americans square in the chest, reminding them of the Jim Crow system of justice in which black people had no rights that whites were bound to respect. With the killings of Garner, Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and others, we are all reminded that black life is still too often devalued, and that police officers are often not subject to the rule of law. That reminder has packed a similar emotional wallop. It is all coming so quickly: these announcements that a trial isn’t even needed to determine the police officer’s guilt or innocence. These exonerations through other means. People are taking to the streets nationwide to protest: just last night saw an outpouring of response in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and beyond.

[…]

Granted, those dead at the hands of police today are not civil rights leaders, or children killed in their place of worship. For some observers, these more recent victims are unsympathetic: they were involved in roughing up a bodega owner or selling untaxed cigarettes. But for others, we find ourselves at a similar moment fifty years after that critical turning point in civil rights movement history—with “Again?” on our lips and a familiar feeling of dread in response to the violence we witness on the video of the killing of Eric Garner, the incredible amount of force used on a man who announced over and over again, “I can’t breathe.”

What would it take to scrap and rebuild a system that makes it nearly impossible to indict an officer when he or she kills a civilian? What is the landmark legislation that all this fury in the streets can demand and drive? Some of the organizers and strategists who are responsible for the displays of coordinated, righteous protest are putting their minds on these questions. The sense of being up against an unchangeable justice system designed to brutalize black life at the slightest perception of provocation can make one feel that the United States has proven itself to be a failed political experiment, one in which some people’s rights will never be secured. But if the history of this country’s most revered revolutionary period is any guide—and if a policy program is developed to channel all this growing energy—then we’re just getting started.

No Less Convinced — Charlie Pierce on the unraveling at Rolling Stone.

I don’t know what to make of the suddenly unravelling Rolling Stone account of a shocking alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Right now, it appears that the magazine is back-pedaling on both feet, while trying to pin everything on the woman who was the victim of the alleged crime, and they appear to be doing it under pressure from, among other quarters, The Washington Post. For myself,  I would like to the Post to clarify further this curious admission from the fraternity’s official statement.

Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” according to the statement.

What “alumni” would those be? Frat-brother lawyers working pro bono? Law enforcement officials in their Wahoo footie pajamas, moonlighting as ratfckers for the old brotherhood? And what undergraduates have “delved deeper,” and what did that involve and where were they delving precisely?

There is a part of me that always thought the story – and the ground rules under which it was pursued – seemed a little hinky. However, at the same time, I’m no less convinced than I was before that something very bad happened to this woman at UVa. If both of those things are true, then a terrible disservice has been done to a lot of different people, including the victim, and I’m not at the point yet that I’m going to take the word of a fratenity’s lawyers that nothing untoward happened at all. I am, however, convinced that we are dealing here with a horrifying breakdown in communications – between source and reporter, reporter and editor, editor and publisher, and magazine and readers – that may well have consequences far beyond this one case. I know a brave someone who’s been working hard on the issue of sexual assaults on campus. This is not a job for the timid and, no matter how the RS affair plays out, it isn’t going to be made any easier, because the howler monkeys already have come out to play. I know we say this a lot but, dammit, absolutely nothing good will come of this.

World Wide Web Not So Much — Vauhini Vara in The New Yorker on how the internet is limited around the world.

In September of last year, Chinese authorities announced an unorthodox standard to help them decide whether to punish people for posting online comments that are false, defamatory, or otherwise harmful: Was a message popular enough to attract five hundred reposts or five thousand views? It was a striking example of how sophisticated the Chinese government has become, in recent years, in restricting Internet communication—going well beyond crude measures like restricting access to particular Web sites or censoring online comments that use certain keywords. Madeline Earp, a research analyst at Freedom House, the Washington-based nongovernmental organization, suggested a phrase to describe the approach: “strategic, timely censorship.” She told me, “It’s about allowing a surprising amount of open discussion, as long as you’re not the kind of person who can really use that discussion to organize people.”

On Thursday, Freedom House published its fifth annual report on Internet freedom around the world. As in years past, China is again near the bottom of the rankings, which include sixty-five countries. Only Syria and Iran got worse scores, while Iceland and Estonia fared the best. (The report was funded partly by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States Department of State, Google, and Yahoo, but Freedom House described the report as its “sole responsibility” and said that it doesn’t necessarily represent its funders’ views.)

China’s place in the rankings won’t come as a surprise to many people. The notable part is that the report suggests that, when it comes to Internet freedom, the rest of the world is gradually becoming more like China and less like Iceland. The researchers found that Internet freedom declined in thirty-six of the sixty-five countries they studied, continuing a trajectory they have noticed since they began publishing the reports in 2010.

Earp, who wrote the China section, said that authoritarian regimes might even be explicitly looking at China as a model in policing Internet communication. (Last year, she co-authored a report on the topic for the Committee to Protect Journalists.) China isn’t alone in its influence, of course. The report’s authors even said that some countries are using the U.S. National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance, which came to light following disclosures by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, “as an excuse to augment their own monitoring capabilities.” Often, the surveillance comes with little or no oversight, they said, and is directed at human-rights activists and political opponents.

China, the U.S., and their copycats aren’t the only offenders, of course. In fact, interestingly, the United States was the sixth-best country for Internet freedom, after Germany—though this may say as much about the poor state of Web freedom in other places as it does about protections for U.S. Internet users. Among the other countries, this was a particularly bad year for Russia and Turkey, which registered the sharpest declines in Internet freedom from the previous year. In Turkey, over the past several years, the government has increased censorship, targeted online journalists and social-media users for assault and prosecution, allowed state agencies to block content, and charged more people for expressing themselves online, the report noted—not to mention temporarily shutting down access to YouTube and Twitter. As Jenna Krajeski wrote in a post about Turkey’s Twitter ban, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed in March, “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. They will see the power of the Turkish Republic.” A month later, Russian President Vladimir Putin, not to be outdone by Erdoğan, famously called the Internet a “C.I.A. project,” as Masha Lipman wrote in a post about Russia’s recent Internet controls. Since Putin took office again in 2012, the report found, the government has enacted laws to block online content, prosecuted people for their Internet activity, and surveilled information and communication technologies. Among changes in other countries, the report said that the governments of Uzbekistan and Nigeria had passed laws requiring cybercafés to keep logs of their customers, and that the Vietnamese government began requiring international Internet companies to keep at least one server in Vietnam.

Doonesbury — Raiders of the lost arc…

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