​Miranda July and Paul Ford Cyberstalked Me

​Miranda July and Paul Ford Cyberstalked Me
By Whitney Mallett for Motherboard

“Are you still a writer?” Miranda July asked me the other night at the New Museum, following a dinner in the museum’s penthouse “Sky Room.” Then she disappeared.

I had reminded her of a time she emailed to gently inform me there was a mistake in an essay I’d written (July had named a low-carb Coca Cola “C2” in the early aughts, not “Coke II” in the mid-eighties). She was smaller than she looked in photos, I thought, and felt the way she asked that question about my writing was slightly off but sort of sweet.

It all made more sense the next day. July was part of the eighth annual Seven on Seven conference at the New Museum on Saturday, where she was paired up with writer and programmer Paul Ford to present a collaborative project. The idea of the conference is to pair seven artists with seven technologists, with the loose requirement they present anything—often an app or an artwork—during the powerpoint-heavy conference. Last year, the most well known pair, Ai Weiwei and the technologist Jacob Appelbaum, met at Ai’s studio in Beijing for a day to produce a set of subversive panda toys. (This was the first year that Rhizome, the museum’s new media-focused affiliate that began the event series in 2009, didn’t set a 24-hour time limit for the collaborations.)

The last team to take the stage at this year’s iteration, July and Ford began telling a story with an incantatory second-person refrain. You were born here. You bought this. You made this. You posted these—all with corresponding cell phone photos, videos and screenshots projected behind them.

Mostly, though, the content was spoken. “Congratulations on learning Debussy’s Clair de Lune,” July intoned, her voice at once steady and melodic. “I think we can all agree with your mother when she says, ‘Makes me want to move the piano out in the field so you can play by the light.’’”

When a crappy cellphone video of a waitress singing happy birthday played, I realized these were not fictional characters but real people. Slowly, it dawned on us who “you” was.

The first part of the piece in which I was the “you” referenced an interview I did with the actor Harry Dean Stanton. “He asked you, ‘What are you wearing?’” recalled July. “He asked me that too!” I whispered.

But then I recognized something of someone else in the room: “Beyoncé sent you flowers.” I’d remembered reading a tweet about that from Jenna Wortham, The New York Times staff writer and conference participant who was sitting in the audience too.

By the time an Instagram of my butt flashed across the screen, I had figured out what was going on: July and Ford had cyberstalked all of us, culling together a story beginning with births and ending with deaths and goodbyes from the raw material of our social media performances.

Photos culled from Astra Taylor’s feed

Someone told me they got goosebumps. Someone else told me they were filled with a sense of dread. One person told me they felt violated. Their address was included as well as something they’d written in response to a family member dying. Someone else described feeling annoyed that the audience’s vulnerability was not matched by the performers’. Others seemed to be flattered and immediately tweeted about their inclusion in the piece.

Our daily practice of social media performance has intertwined visibility and vanity. I’m reluctant to admit that I felt a swell of pride for being included more prominently than other audience members. When my “content” flashed across the screen, I felt a rush of endorphins not unlike when you log onto Instagram and see new “likes.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask Wortham how she felt about it. But her presentation, a collaboration with the rapper Junglepussy, prefigured the performance by Ford and July. Inspired by the exhaustive visibility that comes with the sort of public personal-professional personas Wortham and Junglepussy both maintain online, their talk took issue with how normalized internet researching and social media stalking has become. “Stop googling people before you meet them!” Junglepussy urged.

July and Ford’s project stood out from many of the others during the day-long event because it was not explicitly a critique about the internet or the stories we tell about technology. Their presentation used social media as a raw material rather than presenting a thesis about how we live with it.

“For that one person it might be an intense experience, but it would be meaningless to anyone else,” July said, calling me from a cab on her way to the airport. “I believe that it could have felt scary to someone but it’s all a blur to everyone else. That was the principal we worked from.”

To organize such a large sample of data (the audience was made up of at least 150 people), Ford designed a searchable tool to sort through tweets. Ford and July also recruited mutual friend Starlee Kine, creator of the pseudo detective podcast Mystery Show, and they hired an assistant. Making all the posts and grams into a compelling narrative required a lot of drudgery, they said.

‘For the most part people are really aware and careful of what they share, but the further you get from New York and from a certain class, basically the less that’s true.’

Although many parts of the story they told were generic or universal—sunset pictures, posts about David Bowie and Prince dying—July noted the specific nature of the audience: “It was basically collectors, people in tech, and people in art.” July wanted to unearth more intimate or idiosyncratic details than what people tend to freely share on social media, like where they work, and so she often found herself using information based on what a mother or sister had posted.

“For the most part people are really aware and careful of what they share, but the further you get from New York and from a certain class, basically the less that’s true. If your parents are living in the middle of America and working class, they might be sharing a ton of person information about you that you would never share because you are in tech in New York,” she said. “There’s this kind of homogenization—like this person looks like everyone else but through digging you realize that they came from a lot further away to get here than the majority of the people they are working with.”

Ford noted that there is a privilege to who gets to be private—art collectors don’t have to tweet but it’s sort of a requirement that freelance artists and tech company employees do. But, he said, “Privacy was not the focus,” for him and July. “Narrative was the focus.” The performance was meant to raise questions, he said: “What is the story that can be told from this? Could we find enough stuff to make a story based on the raw material that is out there?”

The work was very much in line with July’s narrative-rich, sometimes overtly-sentimental practice, which includes movies like You and Me and Everyone We Know and the short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. “My interest was that there’s this group of people that is only going to be together on this one day and never again—who are they? What can I do with the raw material of us?”

“It’s funny,” July added, “because later I sat in two other audiences right after the performance.” The night of the conference, she saw an orchestra play in a church and then saw The Crucible on Broadway, because one of her friends was in it. “I was immediately in these audiences on the same night. It was funny to look around at all the people sitting with me and realize how little I knew about everyone around me. It’s the kind of thing I would think about anyways.”

You can watch July and Ford’s performance, starting at 5 hours and 18 minutes in the video below, and watch Motherboard’s interview with Miranda July.

May 18, 2016 at 10:00AM
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The Surprising Reason Why More Americans Aren’t Going To Church

The Surprising Reason Why More Americans Aren’t Going To Church
By Emma Green

The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an explanatory mechanism for natural life. As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking—not just about medicine and mechanics, but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.

Of course, this tale is not just reductive—it’s arguably inaccurate, in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly religious, despite years of predictions about religion’s demise. A significant number of people who don’t identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and roughly 40 percent pray daily or weekly. While there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant shift has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and particularly young Americans, are less likely to attend services or identify with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.

If most people haven’t just logicked their way out of believing in God, what’s behind this shift in public religious practice, and what does the shift look like in detail? That’s a big question, one less in search of a straightforward answer than a series of data points and arguments constellated over time. Here’s one: Pew has a new survey out about the way people choose their congregations and attend services. While Americans on the whole are still going to church and other worship services less than they used to, many people are actually going more—and those who are skipping out aren’t necessarily doing it for reasons of belief.

There were at least three fascinating tidbits tucked into the results of the survey. First, people who report going to worship services less frequently now than they used to overwhelmingly say the logistics of getting there are the biggest obstacle. Second, a significant number of people who said they’re not part of any particular religion expressed mistrust of religious institutions, suggesting these organizations’ reputations have something to do with why people are dropping out of public religious participation.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the country seems to be split in half in terms of how often people get to services. Roughly 51 percent of Americans say they go to church or another worship service somewhere between once a month and multiple times per week, while 49 percent said they go rarely or never. But within that 51 percent, more than half of people said they go more often than they used to—in other words, about quarter of Americans  have gotten more active in their religious communities in recent years, not less.

On the other hand, fewer than half of the people who rarely or never go to church said this has been a new decline in the last few years; a greater portion of that group said they’ve always stayed home on Sundays. All of this is a way of saying that, comparatively speaking, there’s more activity happening on the devout side of the spectrum than the drop-out side; this study suggests that even in a time of religion’s public decline, some people are experiencing religious revival.

According to the survey, about one-fifth of Americans now go to religious services a few times a year, but say they used to go a lot more. Roughly half of this group stopped going as often because of what the researchers called “practical issues”: They are too busy, have a crazy work schedule, or describe themselves as “too lazy” to go. Others said they just don’t care about attending services as much as doing other things.

While it’s easy to empathize with the hassle of trying to wake up and rally kids to go sit still for several hours every Sunday morning, this explanation is interesting for a slightly different reason: It suggests that many people view religious services as optional in a way they might not have in the past. Fifty or 60 years ago, churches, in particular, were a center of social and cultural life in America. For many people, that’s still the case, but the survey suggests that many people may be creating their social lives outside of a religious context—or perhaps forgoing that kind of social connection altogether.

The experience of those who are losing their religion shouldn’t obscure those who are finding it.

The sidelining of services may connect to another factor indicated in the survey: Among people who were raised religiously and who fell away from religion in adult life, roughly one-fifth said their dislike of organized religion was the reason. Another 50 percent said they stopped believing in the particular tenets of the faith they were raised in. Insofar as the decline in U.S. religious affiliation is an intellectual or philosophical story, it seems to be this: Fewer people are willing to sign on with the rules and reputations of institutions that promote faith. That doesn’t mean people don’t care about religious ideas or questions—many of those who are unaffiliated with a particular group still consider themselves “religious” or “seeking”—but they might not be as sold on the religious institutions themselves.

The experience of those who are losing their religion shouldn’t obscure the experience of those who are finding it, though. Twenty-seven percent of people in the survey say they’re attending services more often than they did in the past, cutting against the country’s overall decline in religious practice. This was most common among evangelical Protestants, three-quarters of whom say they go to church at least once or twice a month. Half of the people who said they’re going to services more often explained the change in terms of their beliefs: They’ve become more religious; they found that they need God in their life; they’ve gotten more mature as they’ve aged. By contrast, relatively few said they started going to church more often for practical reasons. Belief brings people to worship, it seems, while logistics keep people way.

The survey offers evidence that at least some Americans find worship services less relevant than other things they could be doing with their time, or perhaps they’re too hard to make time for. But the biggest takeaway is the variety of religious experience in America. Just as some people are drifting away from religion, others are moving toward it—and no matter what they might do on Sunday mornings, many people seem to find religious thinking still relevant to their lives.


August 23, 2016 at 10:05AM
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Guns and demonstrations

Guns and demonstrations
By Eugene Volokh

Seth Taylor, left, a member of the western Ohio Minutemen, stands in Public Square in downtown Cleveland with his assault rifle on July 19. Ohio is an “open carry” state. Protests in the park were peaceful and uneventful. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

As readers of the blog know, I generally support the right to possess weapons that are needed for effective self-defense, including the right to possess them in public places. But there are indeed interesting questions about whether and where this right might nonetheless be limited. Airports? Schools? Bars? Restaurants that sell alcohol but also food? These questions have come up routinely in the more than 40 states that allow pretty much all law-abiding adults to get a license to carry concealed guns (or don’t even require such a license); many states, for instance, ban gun possession in bars, but some don’t.

One such place is demonstrations, where historically some states have indeed limited gun possession. Prof. Professor Mark Kleiman had a particularly interesting post on this, which I thought I’d pass along; I’m not sure what the right answers to his questions are, but I think his questions are much worth discussing. He asks them about open carry, but I would also add the same with respect to concealed carry:

A group called “White Lives Matter,” carrying firearms and Confederate flags, gathered outside NAACP headquarters in Houston today. Presumably the place was closed on Sunday, so there don’t seem to have been any confrontations with NAACP staff.

This raises some questions for advocates of “open carry”:

  1. Is it appropriate to come armed to a political demonstration?
  2. Would it be appropriate for counter-demonstrators also to come armed?
  3. When two groups of armed demonstrators confront one another and start shouting and shoving, and someone opens fire, how could a jury possibly find, beyond reasonable doubt, that whoever fired first was not in reasonable fear of his life from the actions of the armed people on the other side? Texas is “stand-your-ground” as well as “open-carry,” so there is no legal obligation on either side to back off.
  4. If the demonstration happened during business hours, would it be appropriate for NAACP staff to come armed? If one of them were to kill an armed Confederate, and testified that he saw the Confederate going for his gun and felt in reasonable fear of his life, how could a jury convict? Conversely, if one of the Confederates were to kill an armed NAACP staffer and gave the same testimony, how could a jury convict?

Or, if you like, you can flip any of these questions around and imagine a bunch of anti-Trump demonstrators coming armed to a Trump rally.

August 23, 2016 at 08:31AM
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It’s Time to Stop Using the ‘Fire in a Crowded Theater’ Quote

It’s Time to Stop Using the ‘Fire in a Crowded Theater’ Quote

August 24, 2016 at 03:18PM
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What Are We So Afraid Of?

What Are We So Afraid Of?
By Chris Bodenner

In our current cover story, “Is America Any Safer?,” Steven Brill looks back over the past 15 years since September 11, 2001, and assesses what worked and didn’t work as far as preventing another major terrorist attack in the U.S. and how the government is preparing the American people for when an attack eventually occurs. Brill also spoke to PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff about his findings and recommendations:

An Atlantic reader, Darren Huff, provides a reality check over the terrorist threat (with links added by me):

I believe our fear of terrorism should be held in proportion with all of the other things that may kill us in any given day. Every year, just in the U.S., 480,000 die from smoking, 300,000 die from obesity, 250,000 die from medical errors, 88,000 die from abusing alcohol, 30,000 die from gun violence, and 30,000 die from car accidents. Including 9/11, cumulative U.S. deaths from terrorists represent a minuscule fraction of these other causes. Some years, we’ve even been more likely to be shot by a toddler or crushed by furniture.

Of course, losing our sense of proportion is the whole point of terrorism. However, doing so following 9/11 led us to a failed war in Iraq that was justified with false information obtained using torture (PBS’s Frontline, for example, vividly documented in 2005 that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s false statements made while being tortured were cited directly by Gen. Colin Powell in his UN speech making the case for Iraq’s invasion). That war that killed 4,491 American soldiers and 500,000 Iraqi civilians, and cost over $2 trillion. How much more money could we have spent instead on expanded access to healthcare, education, or affordable housing?

Losing a sense of proportion when responding to a threat can inflict magnitudes of harm and suffering greater than the inciting incident.

Brill also tried to put things in perspective, over dirty bombs—conventional bombs containing readily available radioactive material—and the relatively tiny number of people who would die of cancer in the decade following a blast:

This next reader points a finger at mainstream media for stoking fears over terrorism:

Our intelligence professionals, police and homeland security officials, mayors and planners, all have done a great job in keeping us safe. Other than lone wolves amassing arsenals, there isn’t much of a threat anymore. Objectively we are much safer. Our country has withstood Civil War and Pearl Harbor and the threat of nuclear annihilation. No two-bit murderer is going to bring us down.

However, the media has absolutely failed in its responsibility. Their emphasis on sensationalism and fear mongering has created this vision of a dystopian America beset by terror and shadows. If you listened to Fox News and talk radio you’d think America was worse than London during the Blitz. All they have done is try and turn the Home of the Brave into the Land of Fearful.

For an expert perspective on one aspect of national security, Ido Kilovaty, a Cyber Fellow at Yale University’s Center for Global Legal Challenges, emails us regarding “the exaggeration of the cyberterrorism threat”:

Read On »

August 24, 2016 at 12:30PM
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Why The Clinton Foundation Is Gross

Why The Clinton Foundation Is Gross
By Noah Millman

The Clinton Foundation is back in the news because of the possibility that donors got special access to the Secretary of State, which has always struck me as the least-interesting argument for why the foundation is a problem. If a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire wants to get a meeting with somebody high up in Washington because he’s got a favor he needs done, he’s going to figure out a way to get the meeting. And if the favor is innocuous, or somewhat nocuous but unlikely to be noticed, he’s going to get the favor done. Anybody who thinks otherwise, or that there is any meaningful difference between the parties on this score, is dreaming.

No, the Clinton Foundation has been called a shakedown racket because it wasn’t trading access for donations — it was going to people who were already going to get access, and asking them to pay a toll for it.

Is that a problem? Well, that depends on how you feel about a former President and a hopeful future President creating an organization with their name on it, hobnobbing with the rich and famous all over the world on the organization’s dime, having the organization hire their relatives and long-time aides — and having the organization be a charity.

That, when I think about it, is what sticks in my craw. If the Clinton Foundation were Clinton Associates, a Washington consultancy that advised global solutionizers on how to optimize their solutionizing, and they hired a bunch of relatives and long-time aides, traveled all over the place optimizing the hell out of everybody’s solutionizing, and made it understood that it would good idea to hire them for at least some of your solutionizing needs if you plan on doing lots of business in Washington, that would be . . . pretty much par for the course.

But because it’s a charity, and because what Bill, Hillary and Chelsea do for that charity looks precious little like what Jimmy Carter does for Habitat for Humanity, it just makes me feel a little disgusted.

Is that reasonable? I’m not sure. There’s something disturbing about concluding that I’d be less upset if it were a for-profit venture blatantly trading on the Clintons’ access. Wouldn’t I rather they at least put their vanity in the service of a worthy cause? Am I unaware that the game in big-time philanthropy is all about figuring out how to shake down super-rich people for big donations? What’s my problem?

But reasonable or not, it’s how I feel. There’s something just plain gross about oleaginous self-branding on this scale. It’s almost . . . Trumpian.

Of course, if it were the Trump Foundation, they wouldn’t actually raise any money, or make any grants at all. But still.


August 24, 2016 at 04:31PM
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Yes, Politics Is Sort of a Grubby Business

Yes, Politics Is Sort of a Grubby Business
By Kevin Drum

I’ve been genuinely confused about the whole Foundationgate thing. Did big donors to the Clinton Foundation get extra special access to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State? By all the evidence, no. They may have tried to get access, but for the most part they didn’t. So far I haven’t seen any emails that even remotely suggest otherwise. If anything, Hillary seems to have been unusually careful to avoid entanglements with the Foundation.

So what’s the problem? I chatted about this on Twitter last night with Rick Hasen, a guy I trust on these kinds of things. But I still came away confused. So here is Hasen at greater length this morning in USA Today. After talking a bit about Donald Trump, he turns to Hillary:

And now revelations from the latest batch of State Department emails released through actions of the group Judicial Watch show that the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation had easy access to Clinton’s inner circle. S. Daniel Abraham, for example, the billionaire behind the Slim Fast diet and a Clinton fundraising bundler, got eight meetings with Clinton while she was secretary of State to discuss Middle East issues he cared about. An AP analysis found that at least 85 people who met with Clinton at the State Department were donors or connected to donors.

None of these things — Trump courting super PAC donors, Clinton getting paid by the wealthiest companies as a private citizen, or Clinton as secretary of State giving access to big donors to her foundation — amounts to criminal activity or even what we might term corruption. In the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, declared that “ingratiation and access are not corruption.”

But there’s still something wrong with a political system in which access goes to the highest bidder. The Clinton team is quick to argue that there’s no evidence the meetings Clinton gave to big donors led to any official actions. But those donors get more than just a picture with a candidate; they get a chance to make their pitch for the policies they want pursued or blocked, a pitch the rest of us don’t get to make because we don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to contribute to campaigns.

This is fine. If the beef with Hillary is that she’s an ordinary politician who’s more likely to see you if you’re (a) important, (b) a party wheelhorse, and (c) an important donor, then I have no argument. I also have no argument that this is unseemly.

But it’s also something I can’t get too upset about. It’s not just that everyone does this. It’s not just that everyone in American politics does this. It’s the fact that everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history has done this. It’s just the way human societies work. I’m all in favor of trying to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I doubt there’s any way to truly make much of a dent in it. And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider it one of our nation’s biggest problems anyway.

So here are several possible takes on Hillary:

  1. Powerful people all run in the same circles. They all know each other. They all ask favors from one another. Hillary is part of this circle.
  2. People who are big party donors and big policy influencers have more access to politicians than, say, you or me. On this score, Hillary is a garden variety politician.
  3. Donating to the Clinton Foundation was a well-known requirement for getting a meeting with Hillary.

I’ve simply seen no evidence of #3, and that includes the AP’s strained effort yesterday. Besides, if this were truly well known, by now someone would have come forward to spill the beans.

As for #1 and #2, I don’t doubt that they’re as true of Hillary as they are of every other politician in the country. This might be an unfortunate state of affairs, but it’s certainly no scandal. So I remain confused. If you want to criticize the role of money in politics, that’s fine. If you want to criticize the outsize influence of the connected and powerful, that’s fine. If you want to criticize Hillary Clinton for being an ordinary part of this system—as Bernie Sanders did—that’s fine. (As long as you’re not also part of that same system, of course.) But is there some kind of special scandal associated with Hillary in the State Department? I sure don’t see it.

«But it’s also something I can’t get too upset about. It’s not just that everyone does this. It’s not just that everyone in American politics does this. It’s the fact that everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history has done this. It’s just the way human societies work. I’m all in favor of trying to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I doubt there’s any way to truly make much of a dent in it. And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider it one of our nation’s biggest problems anyway.»

August 24, 2016 at 12:36PM
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Make America (Realize It’s) Safe Again

Make America (Realize It’s) Safe Again
By A. Trevor Thrall, Erik Goepner

Donald Trump keeps insisting we live in dangerous times. “I don’t think America is a safe place for Americans” he said earlier this year. And most Americans agree with him. In June 71% of Americans said they expected further terrorist attacks in the United States over the next several weeks. And 53% recently said they worry a great deal about crime while 70% believe that there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago.

It may have been smart politics for Trump to use Make America Safe Again as the theme for the opening day of the Republican National Convention. The facts, however, suggest Americans are already quite safe.

Take crime, for example. The statistics suggest that the public has it entirely backwards. In 2013 and 2014 Americans experienced their safest years on record. The murder rate per hundred thousand was 4.5, well below half of what it was at its worst point in the 1980s and early 1990s, lower even than the murder rate in 1963, the previous safest year on record. The numbers are nearly identical for other types of violent crime. According to the FBI’s crime statistics, the past five years have been the safest of the last half century.

Terrorism is another case where the numbers don’t support the heightened level of fear. The attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando certainly set people on edge, but Americans have a better chance of being killed by lightning or drowning in their own bathtubs than being killed by a terrorist.

Over the past two decades, the tragic attacks of 9/11 included, Muslim extremists were responsible for less than one percent of murders in the United States. And in the past 10 years that number has dropped substantially, with radical Islamists responsible for less than one-tenth of one percent of the killings in America.

Why, then are Americans so afraid? The most obvious answer comes in the daily news. Thanks to its tendency to amplify the most sensational crimes, news coverage helps ensure that public perceptions of crime are out of sync with reality. This is especially true for coverage of terrorist attacks or attempted ones, which rarely provides news consumers with any sense of perspective about the relatively minor threat of terrorism.

But even more important in stoking public fears today are irresponsible political leaders. This is an area where our politicians can and should lead. They can point to the facts and remind Americans that we are safe. They can assure Americans that we can be both safe and on guard to the threat posed by the Islamic State and groups like them. But instead of helping the public see beyond their fear and anger, they have added to a sense of panic for political purposes.

Donald Trump’s recent speech in Ohio, which combined exaggerated figures about terrorist attacks with apocalyptic language, was a perfect example of this problem. Anyone listening to Trump would believe that the Islamic State represented an existential threat to the United States. Worse, when the news media cover Trump, they give him a powerful soapbox to spread fear. Lost in the noise is the fact that it was lone wolves, not organized groups, who conducted the recent attacks in the United States.

Too much fear has the ability to cloud people’s senses, eroding their ability to conduct rational debate and warping their decision-making. The effects can already be seen not only in the irrational levels of fear about ISIS and terrorism but in the surprising levels of support for Trump’s extreme policy proposals.

Without fear it is otherwise hard to explain how 50% of the public supports a ban on Muslim immigrants, 48% support building a wall on the Mexico border, and 44% support the idea of creating a database containing the names of Muslims living in the United States. Such policies, born from fear and emotion, may make people feel better in the short term, but they clearly risk trampling on the values embodied in the Constitution.

Fear is no way to run a country. No threat should be taken for granted, but neither should threats be inflated or manipulated. And today the facts support one conclusion: Americans are safe.  

August 24, 2016 at 12:10PM
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First, They Came for the Experts

First, They Came for the Experts

August 4, 2016 at 10:13PM
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Black Friday Courtroom Confessions Veer Off-script

Black Friday Courtroom Confessions Veer Off-script
By josh rudolph

Over a year after the “Black Friday” crackdown on rights lawyers and activists, four of those detained stood trial earlier this month, receiving sentences of up to 7.5 years in prison. All four of the defendants tried in the first round—Zhai YanminGou Hongguo, Hu Shigen, and Zhou Shifeng—pled guilty. Their pleas, however, are widely believed to have been coerced by authorities, and contained language highly similar to a parallel propaganda campaign lashing out at “foreign hostile forces” for training the activists in order to foment a “color revolution” in China. At the South China Morning Post Jun Mai notes that official court transcripts and state media coverage did not accurately or fully reflect what the defendants said in the courtroom:

In a 10-minute final statement, the Peking University law school master’s degree holder [Zhou Shifeng] praised China’s legal system, saying it was “so much beyond the Western rule of law”, and that the trial would “stand the test of the world”.

The praise was not included in the official transcript published hours later. His speech was condensed into a few paragraphs, in which he pleaded guilty and thanked the court for its fairness.

[…] “The trial fully represents the fairness of a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics,” Zhou said after the verdict.

It was unclear if Zhou was being sarcastic or genuine, and the same confusion hung over two interviews arranged by the authorities later that day. Former colleague Huang Liqun was one of two interviewees designated to speak to the media.

[…] After the trial of activist Hu Shigen, a court summary turned Hu’s reference to “thoughts of Western democracy” into simply “reactionary thoughts”.

A slight change was also made to Hu’s statement about China’s transition to a democracy. The public transcript quoted him as saying: “Once bloodshed breaks out between the government and the people, it will create a chance for international intervention.”

But it omitted the start of Hu’s sentence in court: “We don’t want bloodshed to happen, but …” [Source]

Authorities have increasingly relied on the tactic of promoting, and often televising, confessions that many believe to have been made under duress. Prior to the latest trials, rights lawyer Wang Yu was reportedly released after Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television aired a confession-style interview with her, but has not yet been confirmed to be free. An editorial from The Yomiuri Shimbun warns that so-called “confessions” are being widely publicized in order to suppress dissent, and ties the tactic to other efforts by the Xi administration to crack down on free expression, attack western values and foreign NGOs, and bolster Party rule under the banner of rule of law:

Authorities may believe that having open court proceedings will more effectively discourage lawyers and others from opposing the regime than holding such trials behind the scenes as they normally do.

It is inevitable to believe that law-enforcement authorities have forced the lawyer and others to make a confession in exchange for having their punishments commuted or the surveillance of their family members lifted. Although China, a country with one-party rule, advocates the rule of law, the country does not have an independent judiciary. The rule of law is used only as a tool for the regime to rule the country.

[…] China’s intensification of its control over the freedom of speech is serious.

[…] The Xi administration has also established a law intended to control foreign nongovernmental organizations operating in China. Aimed at preventing such values as human rights and democracy from spreading in Chinese society, the new law will be enforced next January. The law is likely to be used to crack down on activists. [Source]

More activists and lawyers detained last July are expected to stand trial soon, including prominent rights lawyer Li Heping. China Change has translated a recently published interview that artist and activist Ai Weiwei conducted with the lawyer in 2010. In their intro to the translation, China Change commented that “if the spectacle of the four show trials in early August is any indication, the entire 709 crackdown is spurred by unfounded fears and is a mockery of the rule of law.” Read more about the “Great Subversion Case” in a recent essay by Mo Zhixu, translated by CDT.

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August 22, 2016 at 08:45PM
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