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Posts Tagged ‘CENSORSHIP’

FACEBOOK VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT, PRIVACY AND FREE ELECTIONS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 17, 2022 at 12:10 am

As it now operates, Facebook poses a direct threat to the First Amendment, the privacy of its users and democratic elections.

Facebook is the world’s largest social media company, with 2.936 billion users by April, 2022. Its social and political influence on the United States is enormous. According to its profile on Wikipedia:

“The subject of numerous controversies, Facebook has often been criticized over issues such as user privacy (as with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal), political manipulation (as with the 2016 U.S. elections) and mass surveillance.

“Posts originating from the Facebook page of Breitbart News, a media organization previously affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, are currently among the most widely shared political content on Facebook.

“Facebook has also been subject to criticism over psychological effects such as addiction and low self-esteem, and various controversies over content such as fake news, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement, and hate speech. Commentators have accused Facebook of willingly facilitating the spread of such content as well as exaggerating its number of users to appeal to advertisers.” 

To which can be added the following:

  • I was sentenced to “Facebook Jail” for two posts. The first of these stated: “Americans are historical illiterates.” This was labeled “hate speech and inferiority.” The fact that the distinguished historian David McCullough had said exactly the same meant nothing to Facebook.
  • Comedians have long gained laughs at Americans’ historical illiteracy: When Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show, he often did “Jaywalking Tours” where he asked people about seemingly well-known historical events. It was common to see people say the Civil War happened in the 1940s (instead of 1861-1865) or to believe that the Texans won at the battle of the Alamo.
  • A second post deleted showed a group of heavily-armed Proud Boys standing around a cross.  Above this I had posted the caption: “Proud Boys posing with their latest victim.” This was labeled as “hate speech.” 
  • Since this post was bluntly critical of the Proud Boys, the question emerges: Does criticizing the Proud Boys—Fascists who played a major role during the January 6 attempted coup against the Capitol Building—constitute “hate speech”?   

Proud Boys 

Anthony Crider, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

  • I am currently banned from Facebook for posting the following: A Facebook member had posted this solution for achieving universal peace: All enlisted members of all the world’s militaries should refuse to serve. In 2002-3, I had watched President George W. Bush lie the country into a needless, bloody, budget-busting war in Iraq. Thus, I felt the poster’s “solution” required a serious dose of realism. 
  • So I posted a meme below it that contained an image of Herman Goring—chief of the German Luftwaffe (air force) during World War II. As a convicted war criminal, he should, I felt, have insight into how easy it is to lead a nation into war. And he did: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in every country.”
  • No sooner had I posted this than I found myself once again accused of violating Facebook’s “Community Standards.” As in past cases, Facebook did not deign to state, specifically, what standards I had violated, or how the post endangered other Facebook members. I simply found myself blocked from Facebook.

25+ Best Hermann Goering Memes | Goering Memes, His Memes, Are Memes

  • Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, disclosed tens of thousands of Facebook’s internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal in 2021. She testified before Congress that Facebook promotes conflict to increase its readership and keep them reading—and buying. So the comment I made fell exactly into that category of exciting controversy. 

People who libel and/or harass others should be banned from social media. It’s precisely because Twitter refuses to do so that its reputation is fatally tainted.

But posting a comment that is based on accurate history should not qualify as hate speech. And none of the examples I have cited fit that definition.

Through its worldwide membership, Facebook exerts an influence that rivals—if not exceeds—that of most government institutions. Its greatest infamy: Allowing Russian trolls to play a lethal role in electing Donald Trump President in 2016. And no doubt they are preparing to do so again in 2024. 

In a highly polarized political environment, Mark Zuckerberg holds the unique distinction of having infuriated both Democrats and Republicans during his appearances before Congress. His secret: The overweening arrogance he routinely displays to those he considers lesser mortals. His motto is: ““Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

It’s long past time for those at the legislative level to show him that some things—such as the First Amendment, the right to privacy and elections free of foreign influence—should not be broken.  And that there is a high price to pay for those who do.

FACEBOOK VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT, PRIVACY AND FREE ELECTIONS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 16, 2022 at 12:10 am

There is an urgent need for states—and especially the Federal government—to impose serious regulatory controls on Facebook.

Facebook is the world’s largest social media company, with 2.936 billion users by April, 2022. Its social and political influence on the United States is enormous. According to its profile on Wikipedia:

“The subject of numerous controversies, Facebook has often been criticized over issues such as user privacy (as with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal), political manipulation (as with the 2016 U.S. elections) and mass surveillance.

“Posts originating from the Facebook page of Breitbart News, a media organization previously affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, are currently among the most widely shared political content on Facebook.

“Facebook has also been subject to criticism over psychological effects such as addiction and low self-esteem, and various controversies over content such as fake news, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement, and hate speech. Commentators have accused Facebook of willingly facilitating the spread of such content as well as exaggerating its number of users to appeal to advertisers.”

Meta Platforms Headquarters Menlo Park California.jpg

Facebook / Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California 

LPS.1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

To which should be added the following:

  • Facebook operates as virtually a law unto itself, arbitrarily deciding which posts violate its “Community Standards” and deleting them (and their posters) without warning and right to appeal.
  • No details are ever given as to what about the post, specifically, posed a threat to other Facebook members.
  • Facebook claims that its users have the right to appeal: “You can disagree with the decision if you think we got it wrong.”
  • But then Facebook declares: “We usually offer the chance to request a review and follow up if we got the decision wrong. We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to priorities reviewing content with the most potential for harm. This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.” 
  • Using COVID as an excuse to avoid responsible behavior is despicable. If Facebook is going to ban people for supposedly violating its “Community Standards,” there is a moral obligation—if not a legal one—to give them a chance to share their side of the story.
  • Facebook revenues have made its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, worth $71.5 billion. But Facebook refuses to provide its users with an 800 number so they can appeal directly to the Censorship Committee and share their reasons for posting the comments they did.   

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote (32830578717) (cropped).jpg

Mark Zuckerberg 

Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Nor does Facebook provide even an Instant Messaging capability, so members can do so. 
  • Facebook’s refusal to provide a contact number for its members exposes them to potential fraud. National Public Radio published a January 31, 2017 article on “Searching for ‘Facebook Customer Service’ Can Lead To a Scam.”
  • “According to Google data: “‘Facebook customer service’ gets searched, on average, about 27,000 times a month in the U.S.” Yet on its own “Help Community” page, Facebook admits: “Facebook doesn’t offer a phone number for support.” 
  • Nor do Facebook’s executives deign to respond to letters sent to them. I have sent letters to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and to Sheryl Sandberg, a member of its board of directors. Neither had the courtesy to reply.
  • Many of those I know on Facebook have been censored for posts that criticize Donald Trump. Apparently, “freedom of expression” exists only for those who support a man who staged an illegal coup to overturn a totally legitimate election.
  • Members can be banned from Facebook for posting entirely legitimate news stories. One such story described how Texas Congressman Joe Burton had sent a series of smarmy emails to numerous women—while posing as a paragon of “family values.”
  • The post was removed and its poster was sent the following message: “We removed content you posted. We removed this content because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards.” Then the member who posted it found himself blocked from Facebook.

facebook -community-standards-thou-shalt-not-have-personal-opinions-thou-50500808-1.png

  • One Facebook member posted an innocuous anti-Trump cartoon: A group of children are lined up at a house on Halloween. A woman at the door says: “Oh, look. We have a pirate, a witch and a Trump supporter [a boy wearing a white sheet as a ghost].” The post was removed and the poster blocked from Facebook:
  • Many Facebook users have found themselves punished after Facebook’s star chamber censors found a post they didn’t like from four years earlier.
  • Facebook’s arbitrary and punitive actions are so notorious they have become grist for countless memes—some of which are hilarious: “Warning: You have violated a rule we haven’t  made up yet. Because you’re a known troublemaker you’ve been banned for 30 days. Thank you for using Facebook, have a nice day.”

Our Favourite Banned Facebook Memes - The Inappropriate Gift Co

  • I was sentenced to “Facebook Jail” for two posts. The first of these stated: “Americans are historical illiterates.” This was labeled “hate speech and inferiority.” The fact that the distinguished historian David McCullough had said exactly the same meant nothing to Facebook.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion, only comments celebrating the ignorance of ignorant people will be considered acceptable on Facebook.

SURVIVING “FACEBOOK JAIL”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 16, 2022 at 12:10 am

Facebook likes to promote itself as a place for “more than three billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference.”

But there are limits to the ideas that can be shared on Facebook. And while Facebook likes to boast about its “Community Standards,” these are enforced in a totally arbitrary way.

There is simply no predicting what will trigger Facebook’s ire and land a post—and its poster—in “Facebook Jail.” 

Facebook doesn’t restrict itself to banning posts that are libelous and/or harassing. Its definition of “Hate speech” is so all-encompassing it can be stretched to cover anything—including historically valid statements. 

Our Favourite Banned Facebook Memes - The Inappropriate Gift Co

In Part One I laid out the reason for my sending a letter of protest to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s longtime Chief Operating Officer.

In this part, I will offer specific steps Facebook can take to keep faith with its stated mission to be a place where people can “share ideas.” 

Noting that I had been banned from Facebook for seven days for posting “Americans are historical illiterates,” I cited the noted historian, David McCullough, and an article from the Smithsonian Institute to support my statement. 

At the 2015 National Book Festival

David McCullough 

fourandsixty, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I then quoted my offending paragraph in full:

“Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.” 

This referred to yet another act of cowardice by Democrats in refusing to stand up to the aggression of the Republican Right.

There are serious historical parallels between the closing days of the German Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler—and what is happening today in the United States.

Example: In the Weimar Republic, all that stood between Hitler and total power was a frail old man—President Paul von Hindenburg. In the United States, all that stands between Donald Trump and absolute power is a frail old man: President Joe Biden.

Revelan elogios de expresidente Donald Trump a Hitler | Cuba Si

Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump

Too many Americans remain ignorant of their own history—not to mention that of other countries.

That was the point of my post. But on Facebook, it’s “Hate speech” to point out the ignorance of criminally ignorant people.

Then came my third and last point.

Third: Facebook claimed: “You can disagree with the decision if you think we got it wrong.” That implied that I would be given the opportunity to state why I believed the decision was wrong and have that objection carefully reviewed. 

But, immediately afterward, Facebook stated: “We usually offer the chance to request a review and follow up if we got decisions wrong.

“We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritize reviewing content with the most potential for harm. This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.” 

Using COVID as an excuse to avoid responsible behavior is despicable. If Facebook is  going to ban people for supposedly violating its “Community Standards,” it has a moral obligation—if not a legal one—-to give them a chance to share their side of the story.

That is how a court in a democracy behaves. Making a decision based on whim and secrecy, with no appeal possible, is the behavior of a star chamber.

Facebook jail Memes

I then noted two ways by which Facebook could avoid such disgraceful episodes in the future:

  1. Providing its users with an 800 number whereby they can interact directly with the Censorship Committee and share their reasons for posting the comment(s) they did;
  2. Providing its users with at least an Instant Messaging capability, so they can do so.

My letter to Sheryl Sandberg closed as follows: 

Im aware that Facebook is a private company and thus can do whatever it likes. But it is also—supposedly—a market for the airing of competing ideas. And to behave in the despicable manner I have described is as much a disservice to the reputation Facebook wishes to have as to those who are negatively affected by its censorship decisions. 

Frankly, I don’t expect to get an answer from Sandberg, any more than I expected one from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Still, there is this:

On August 23, 1968, Russian poet Yevgeney Yevtushenko sent a telegram to Communist Party Boss Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Aleksei Kosygin, protesting their invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

No doubt, Yevtushenko didn’t expect his protest to change Soviet policy—just as I don’t expect any major changes—for the good—from Facebook.

These will come about only if:

  1. Enough Facebook users get so fed up with arbitrary bullying that they seek another social media format to speak their minds; and/or
  2. Enough members of Congress demand major changes in the way Facebook regularly makes a mockery of the First Amendment. 

Neither of these is likely to happen anytime soon.

SURVIVING “FACEBOOK JAIL”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 15, 2022 at 12:10 am

Facebook likes to promote itself as a place for “more than three billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference.”

But there are limits to the ideas that can be shared on Facebook. And while Facebook likes to boast about its “Community Standards,” these are enforced in a totally arbitrary way.

There is simply no predicting what will trigger Facebook’s ire and land a post—and its poster—in “Facebook Jail.” 

50+ Funny Facebook Jail Memes to Avoid Being Blocked / Get Out of It

It’s true that standards against libel and harassment are absolutely essential.

Twitter has earned an unsavory reputation for refusing to take action against those guilty of one or both. As a result, the Disney company has refused to partner with this company.

But Facebook doesn’t restrict itself to banning posts that are libelous and/or harassing. Its definition of “Hate speech” is so all-encompassing it can be stretched to cover anything. 

For example: On June 3, I received the following message from Facebook: “You can’t post or comment for 7 days. This is because you previously posted something that didn’t follow our Community Standards.

“This comment goes against our standards on hate speech and inferiority, so only you and the admins of Private Liberal Group can see it.

“If your content goes against our Community Standards again, your account may be restricted or disabled.” 

Meta Platforms Headquarters Menlo Park California.jpg

Facebook / Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California 

LPS.1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

And just what was my comment that qualified as “hate speech”?

Facebook refused to publish the comment or news story to which I responded. So I can only assume that I was referring to yet another act of cowardice by Democrats in standing up to the Fascistic Right:

“Americans are historical illiterates, and this is just another example proving it. Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.”

Apparently, for Facebook, “Americans are historical illiterates” qualifies as “hate speech.”  

When Donald Trump boasted, during his 2016 campaign for President, “I love the poorly educated!” he was not alone. The leadership of Facebook apparently feels the same way. 

Making a decision based on whim and secrecy, with no appeal possible—as Facebook routinely does—is the behavior of a star chamber.

In the past, I had sent letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, protesting Facebook’s star chamber approach to justice. Zuckerberg’s life features two accomplishments that dwarf all others:

  1. He’s worth $71.5 billion, courtesy of Facebook’s revenues; and
  2. In multiple appearances before Congress, he’s managed to unite Right-wing Republicans and Liberal Democrats—in their rage at his perceived arrogance and stonewalling.

I didn’t expect Zuckerberg to show the courtesy of a fair-minded CEO by replying to my letters—and I wasn’t disappointed.

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote (32830578717) (cropped).jpg

Mark Zuckerberg

Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

So, this time, on June 3, I decided to write someone else: Sheryl Sandberg, longtime Chief Operating Officer for Facebook. (She will be stepping down from that position in the fall of 2022, She will, however, remain a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Early on in my letter I quickly laid out my case:  Apparently what aroused the ire of Facebook’s Censorship Committee was my statement that “Americans are historical illiterates,” and this was interpreted as “hate speech and inferiority.” Taken to its logical conclusion, only comments celebrating the ignorance of ignorant people will be considered acceptable on Facebook.

Facebook Jail Memes - Geeks + Gamers

Then I offered three reasons why I strongly objected to the decision to ban my post—and me—from Facebook:

First: What I said about Americans’ historical illiteracy was entirely accurate. No less an authority than the acclaimed historian David McCullough has said: “I think we are raising a generation of young Americans who are, to a very large degree, historically illiterate.” 

Nor is he alone. A May 5, 2015 article by the Smithsonian Institute asks: “How Much U.S. History Do Americans Actually Know?” And it answers the question: “Less Than You Think.”

Comedians have long gained laughs at Americans’ historical illiteracy. When Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show, he often did “Jaywalking Tours” where he would ask people about seemingly well-known historical events. It was common to see people say the Civil War happened in the 1940s (instead of 1861-1865) or to believe that the Texans won at the battle of the Alamo. 

Second:  I quoted the rest of my paragraph: “Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.”

I challenge you—and anyone else who reads this letter—to refute one line of that paragraph.

A HEROINE FOR RUSSIA–AND OUR TIMES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 8, 2022 at 12:11 am

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, conscience comes with a price. It can range anywhere from house arrest to years of imprisonment in the Gulag—to being shot or poisoned by the FSB, the secret police successor to the infamous KGB.

It has always been so.

Mikhail  Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky was a major Soviet military leader and theoretician from 1918 to 1937. He fought to modernize Soviet armament, as well as develop airborne, aviation and mechanized forces. Almost singlehandedly, he created the theory of deep operations for Soviet forces.

But he fell victim to the paranoia of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Tukhachevsky.png

Mikhail  Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky  

Arrested on May 22, 1937, he was interrogated and tortured. As a result, he “confessed” to being a German agent plotting to overthrow Stalin and seize power.

On June 11, 1937, the Soviet Supreme Court quickly sentenced Tukhachevsky for treason. Hours later, he was executed.

Among his friends had been Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev. a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers. Knowing that he was a marked man, Zhilayev did something truly extraordinary.

He had a large portrait of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down. If discovered, it meant instant arrest—and almost certain execution.

When the secret police came for him, even they were awed: ”“What, it’s still up?”

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Standing before a Russian judge, accused of vandalism for participating in a demonstration against Putin’s suppression of human rights, 19-year-old Olga Misik dared to speak truths most Russians fear to even whisper. 

I Was Never Afraid': In The Face Of Criminal Charges, Russian Teen Protester Stands Defiant

Olga Misik

From her statement to the court on May 11, 2021:

The prosecution is putting all its efforts into proving that I am implicated in the incident. I’m not going to spend much time showing that they can’t even do that professionally: They are using falsified fingerprint analysis, and, as you saw when you were examining the evidence, there was no trace of paint on my clothes….

But what does that matter when no law was broken? What difference does it make whether I was there or not when no crime was committed?….There is a crime, and it was committed by the police and the prosecutors. And I very much hope, Comrade Judge, that you will not become an accomplice to this crime. 

This is precisely why I demand a complete and unconditional acquittal. I am not accepting any half measures, like settling for a fine. I am sure of my innocence and am prepared to uncompromisingly defend it to the end….

The past nine months have been very difficult, you know, and I wouldn’t like to repeat them. I kept thinking to myself, What could have happened if, and, Everything could have gone differently. But I was lying to myself, because nothing could have gone differently.

From the moment I picked up the constitution, my fate was set in stone, and I accepted it with pride. I made the right choice, and making the right choice in a totalitarian state will always have horrifying consequences. I always knew I’d end up behind bars—it was only a matter of when.

My lawyer brought up Sophie Scholl [a German student and anti-Nazi political activist] today. Her story is shockingly similar to mine. She was put on trial for flyers and graffiti; I’m being tried for posters and paint.

Like she was, I am essentially on trial for thought crimes. My trial is very similar to Sophie’s, and today’s Russia really resembles Nazi Germany.

Right up to the guillotine, Sophie did not stray from her beliefs. Her story inspired me not to agree to charges being dropped. Sophie Scholl is the embodiment of youth, individuality, and freedom. I would like to believe that to be another thing that makes us similar.

The Nazi regime eventually crumbled, as will the fascist regime in Russia. I don’t know when it will happen, be it a week, a year, or decade, but I know that someday we will be victorious, because love and youth always prevail….

Sophie Scholl’s last words before her execution were, “The sun still shines.” Indeed, the sun still shines. I couldn’t see it out the window of the detention center, but I always knew it was there. And if now, in such dark times, we can turn to the light, then maybe victory isn’t so far after all. 

In his 1960 poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who had maintained their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Demonstrating his own moral courage, on August 22, 1968—the day after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia—Yevtushenko sent a telegram protesting the invasion to Communist Party Boss Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Aleksei Kosygin:  

In Russia—under Czars or Commissars—acting on moral courage is no small thing.

A revered poet demonstrated it in 1968. And a teenage girl demonstrated it in 2021.

A HEROINE FOR RUSSIA–AND OUR TIMES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 7, 2022 at 12:11 am

For 300 years, Russians feared the wrath of their czars, who ruthlessly decreed what their subjects could read, write and say.

Protests were brutally punished, even by so-called “enlightened” Czars. Catherine the Great had Cossack rebel Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev beheaded, then drawn and quartered.

Catherine II by J.B.Lampi (1780s, Kunsthistorisches Museum).jpg

Catherine the Great

Czarist rule ended in 1917, when the installation of a democratic Provisional Government. But just nine months later, the Bolsheviks seized power—and starvation, mass executions, forced exiles and repression of religion, speech and press followed until Communism collapsed in 1991.

Then came the wholesale corruption and ineptness of Boris Yeltsin’s brief reign. When Yeltsin picked Vladimir Putin, a former member of the KGB, as his successor, many Russians welcomed his arrival. 

Unlike the fat, alcoholic Yeltsin, he appeared to be a man’s man who plunged into icy rivers, slammed opponents to the floor in judo matches, and—shirtless—hunted tigers and bears. 

He promised that so long as ordinary Russians stayed out of politics, they would enjoy a level of personal independence totally absent during the 74-year Communist regime. 

But, gradually, that promise was revealed as a lie.

At no time has that been more true than following his brutal invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Most Russians can’t imagine waging war against a “brotherly nation.”

Russia 'threatening Ukraine With Destruction', Kyiv Says | Conflict News - Newzpick

Ukraine vs. Russia

Putin’s government unleashed a massive propaganda campaign to convince Russians that Russia was battling Fascists and taking no casualties. And many have believed it.

(Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, is Jewish, and Western intelligence agencies estimate that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have died.)

Nevertheless, thousands flocked to streets and squares throughout Russia despite government threats of prosecution for high treason.  

More than 6,500 demonstrators were arrested over a five-day period. Several Russian and Ukrainian news outlets were blocked for covering the invasion. 

One of those who has repeatedly demonstrated against Putini’s repressive regime is Olga Misik, a former journalism student at the University of Moscow.

Brut - Olga Misik is the New Symbol of the Russian Resistance | Facebook| By Brut

Olga Misik

Accused of vandalism, standing before a judge who could sentence her to literally any punishment he wished, 19-year-old Olga Misik dared to speak forbidden truths about life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

On May 11, 2021, she did so again in a Moscow district court.

Below follows relevant portions of her statement to the court:

And maybe I was scared on the way to the protest after all, but I knew I had no other choice. I understood that anything else would be wrong. That if I stayed silent this time, I would never be able to forgive myself….

Of course I was at that protest. I don’t regret it and more so am proud of my actions. In reality, I had no choice. I had to do everything in my power, thus I have no right to regret it. And if I had the option to go back in time, I would do it again.

If I was being threatened with execution, I would do it again. I would do it time and time again, until it finally started to make some change. They say that doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

I guess hope is insanity. But not doing something you believe in, just because everyone around you thinks it’s pointless, that is learned hopelessness. And better to be insane in your eyes than hopeless in my own….

Denying my participation in the protest would not only be unprincipled, it would erase all of the fear and agony, all we have achieved, all of my pain and rage. I can’t afford such dishonor with which our interrogator and prosecutor live their days….

A fascist government never seems fascist from the inside. It seems like just some minuscule, inconsequential censorship and some targeted repression that will never reach you. I’m not the one on trial today. Today, you are deciding not my fate but yours, and you still have a chance to do the right thing.

You can’t keep lying to yourselves. You know what goes on here. You know what it’s called. You know that there is good and evil, freedom and fascism, love and hatred, and denying that there are sides to take would be a colossal lie.

Those who chose evil have preordered their tickets to the defense table. The Hague awaits all who had a hand in this chaos. I am not promising victory tomorrow, the day after, in a year, or 10. But someday we will win, because love and youth always win. I can’t promise to make it there alive, but I really hope you live to see it.

You’re lying to yourselves if you maintain that I am here because of the protest at the office of the prosecutor general….You know why I’m here….You know what I’m actually being tried for.

For reading the constitution. For my political positions. For being named person of the year. For my principles. For my actions.

I might even be flattered by being singled out for a political trial, if only I really were singled out—when in fact the state is repressing anyone who has an opinion. 

A HEROINE FOR RUSSIA–AND OUR TIMES: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 6, 2022 at 12:10 am

“I just read her final speech. And you know what? I felt ashamed,” Andrei Chvanov, from Tatarstan, wrote on Facebook.

He was referring to Olga MisIk, a 17-year-old activist in the Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

“Because my threshold of fear is much lower….She holds strong, jokes, writes, and is 100 percent sure that she is right. And she is right. She sees the truth. And she is not afraid. Not many people in our country have such a gift.”

On July 27, 2019, Olga was among thousands of people attending an unauthorized protest in Moscow against the bar on opposition activists competing for seats in the Duma (parliament) election against Putin’s lackeys.

Heavily-armed riot police—wielding shields, batons and helmets—stood behind her. As if oblivious to their presence, Olga sat cross-legged in the middle of the street.

She pulled out her copy of Russia’s 1993 constitution and began reading from it.

Dr. Jennifer Cassidy 🇺🇦 on Twitter: "How did I miss this incredible image. One to be enshrined in history forever. Olga Misik (aged 17) heroically sat in front of Russia's riot police.

Olga Misik

“I read four sections,” she said in a later interview “An article talking about the right to peacefully protest, an article saying that everyone can take part in elections, has the right to freedom of speech and that the people’s will and power are the most important thing for the country.”

Olga left the scene after the reading, but was later arrested on her way to a metro station. She was among more than 1,000 protesters arrested as a result of the rally. She had been detained four times in the past three months. She says she was peacefully protesting each time.

Misik was released after the protest in 2019, but she later found herself facing charges related to a protest in 2020.

According to the Moscow Times, Olga and two friends were accused of vandalism after police said they hung a banner supporting Putin arch-foe Alexi Navalny and other political prisoners on a government building.

In addition, said the indictment, they “splashed red paint on a security booth outside the Prosecutor General’s Office building in August 2020.”

Russian Embassy in Ghana on Twitter: "President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message on the occasion of the 65th Anniversary of the Independence Day of the Republic of

Vladimir Putin

Misik wrote on social media that she was dragged out of her home by police after the 2020 protest.

Olga was sentenced on May 11, 2021, for vandalism. She received two years and two months of “restricted liberty,” which amounted to home confinement, including a curfew that required her to be inside her house from 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Her two friends received similar sentences.

Prior to her sentencing, Misik read a prepared statement to the court. At a time when millions of Right-wing Americans lust to replace democracy with the dictatorship of Donald Trump, this statement speaks volumes to Americans who would oppose this.

Here are its most moving passages: 

People often asked, “Aren’t I scared?” More commonly outside the country than in Russia, because they don’t get the reality of life in Russia. They don’t understand the knock on the door in the middle of the night, the arrests and imprisonment without reason or cause.

They don’t realize that the feeling of despair is passed on to us through our mothers’ milk. And that that feeling of despair causes any semblance of fear to atrophy, infecting us with learned hopelessness. What use is fear if you have no say in your future?

I have never been afraid. I have felt despair, hopelessness, helplessness, disorientation, anxiety, frustration, burnout, but neither politics nor activism ever struck fear in me.

I wasn’t scared when armed thugs stormed my home in the night, threatening me with prison. They wanted to scare me, but I wasn’t afraid. I made jokes and laughed, knowing that the moment I stopped smiling, I would have lost.

I wasn’t scared when they put me in the detention center….My own fate was the last thing on my mind. It is very strange, maybe some sort of coping mechanism, but in those days I wasn’t afraid once….

I was worried and stressed about how things would play out, but unafraid. The night was beautiful. I was aware that it could be my last one in freedom, and yet that did not scare me.

However, after the search, for the past nine months, I have been scared constantly. Ever since the night in the detention center, I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep once.

Every night I wake from the smallest of sounds. I keep imagining footsteps in the hallway. Panic washes over me from the sound of the gravel crunching under the wheels of cars outside my window.

I feel like all of the fear accumulated over the past nine months is most concentrated in this exact moment, in my final statement, because public speaking scares me more than the sentencing. My heart is racing at 151 beats per minute, and it feels as though it could explode any second now….

Someone said, “It’s impossible to be afraid if you know you’re right.” But Russia teaches us to always be afraid. A country that attempts to kill us every day, and if you’re not part of the system, you might as well be dead already.

CENSORING THE TRUTH TO “PROTECT” US FROM IT

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 5, 2021 at 12:22 am

The 1992 military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men,” climaxes with a brutal exchange that has since become famous.

The legal combatants are Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

COLONEL JESSUP: You want answers?

KAFFEE: I want the truth!

COLONEL JESSUP: You can’t handle the truth!

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audiences.

Jack Nicolson vs. Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”

[WARNING: The following column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]

On February 18, 2012, editor Anthony Federico posted this headline on ESPN’s mobile website:

Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers

Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets.

The headline was posted at 2:30 a.m. and quickly removed when someone realized that it might be seen as offensive. By Sunday afternoon, Federico had been fired from ESPN.

Jeremy Lin

It’s true that “Chink” is seen by Asians as a derogatory word. It’s equally true that ESPN has the right to discipline its employees when they violate its journalistic standards.

But ESPN should not have the right to treat its audience like so many school children who must be protected, at all costs, from life’s unpleasantness.

Consider ESPN’s apology:

“Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET.

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Note the words “posted an offensive headline.” If you didn’t already know what the headline had said, ESPN wasn’t going to enlighten you.

And other news networks—such as ABC and NBC—have acted similarly, referring to the “c-word” without telling viewers just what was actually posted.

Since the “c-word” is often used as a euphemism for “cunt,” it’s easy to see how many viewers could imagine the writer had used a very different expression.

The official reason given for refraining from actually saying the word that lies at the center of the story is to offending some members of the audience.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said—and let the audience decide for itself.

The evening news is—supposedly—aimed at voting-age adults.  And adults need—and deserve—the hard truth about the world they live in.  Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Examples of such censorship are legion. For instance:

In 1976, during the Republican Presidential Convention, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Earl L. Butz.jpg

Earl Butz

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby. When his comments became public, Butz was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism.

Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print. Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but adult audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Or consider this:

On February 16, 2012, Foster Friess, offered his views about the importance of legalized birth control. Friess was the wealthy investor bankrolling a super PAC for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Foster Friess by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg

Foster Friess 

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive,” said Friess. “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Many news organizations refused to share Friess’ statement, merely saying that he had made an “offensive remark about women.”

It’s understandable that women would be highly offended by this remark. But shielding them from the repressive mindset of those who support Right-wing candidates like Santorum would ill serve their interests.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships. It has no place in a democracy—no matter how well-intentioned the motives of those doing the censoring.

Some words will always be hateful—to blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, women, men.  In short, everybody. 

Refusing to acknowledge their use will not cause them to vanish.

The truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.

But those of us who can deserve the opportunity to learn it.  And, when necessary, to act on it.

GOD MAY FORGIVE, BUT THE TRUTH DOESN’T

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 21, 2019 at 12:37 am

For five years, Donald Trump falsely claimed that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya—and was therefore ineligible to be President.

Now Trump finds himself haunted by something far worse than a slander: The truth.

Since taking office on January 20, 2017, Trump has been ensnared in a series of revelations about collaboration between members of his 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.

The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency have unequivocally stated that Russian Intelligence played a major role in trying to sway the election for Trump.

Trump has steadfastly denied it.

Related image

June, 2016: Trump’s son, Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, met at Trump Tower with Russian Intelligence agents. The reason for the meeting: The Russians claimed to have “dirt” to offer on Hillary Clinton.

May 9, 2017:  Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey had been leading an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was fired.

Related image

James Comey

At first, Trump claimed that he fired Comey for mishandling the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. 

May 10, 2017: But, in a meeting at the White House, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

During that meeting, Trump gave these officials highly classified Israeli Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.

May 11, 2017: In an interview with NBC reporter Lester Holt, Trump admitted:

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’” 

May 17, 2017: Following the uproar over Comey’s firing, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate any links between the Russian government and Trump campaign members.

July 8, 2017: The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Junior met at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised to offer damaging information about Clinton.

Trump Junior released a statement: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

Related image

Donald Trump

July 12 and July 16, 2017: Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, denied that the President was involved in drafting his son’s statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

July 20, 2017: The Washington Post reported that Trump was consulting with advisers “about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection to the probe led by Mueller.

July 31, 2017: The Washington Post reported that, to conceal the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting, President Trump dictated a misleading statement for his son.  In this, the reason for the meeting was given as a discussion about the adoption of Russian children—and not to obtain damaging information on Clinton from Russian Intelligence agents.

August 1, 2017: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump was involved in drafting the false statement that Trump Junior released about the Trump Tower meeting. Sanders called the matter “of no consequence.”

August 3, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington, D.C. to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. 

October 5, 2017: George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government in 2016 concerning U.S.–Russia relations. He also agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe. Papadopoulos had been a member of Trump’s foreign policy advisory panel during the campaign. Prior to pleading guilty, he may have been wearing a hidden recorder while speaking with various Trump officials.

December 1, 2017: Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador. He added that he was cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. A fervent Trump supporter throughout the campaign, his immediate superior had been Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. 

July 16, 2018: Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—instead of Putin for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election: “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

By October, 2018, Robert Mueller had:

  • Indicted 31 people—including 26 Russian nationals and four former Trump campaign advisers.
  • Indicted three Russian companies. 
  • Obtained six guilty pleas.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign.

For years, Trump claimed it was only a matter of time before “the truth” revealed that Barack Obama was ineligible to be President.  That never happened.

Now it seems only a matter of time before truth reveals Trump’s own unfitness to govern.

THE NEWS MEDIA CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 13, 2018 at 12:03 am

The 1992 military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men,” climaxes with a brutal exchange that has since become famous.

Jack Nicolson vs. Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”

The legal combatants are Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

COLONEL JESSUP: You want answers?

KAFFEE: I want the truth!

COLONEL JESSUP: You can’t handle the truth!

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audiences.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]

On February 18, 2012, editor Anthony Federico posted this headline on ESPN’s mobile website:

Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers

Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets.

The headline was posted at 2:30 a.m. and quickly removed when someone realized that it might be seen as offensive. By Sunday afternoon, Federico had been fired from ESPN.

Jeremy Lin

It’s true that “Chink” is seen by Asians as a derogatory word. It’s equally true that ESPN has the right to discipline its employees when they violate its journalistic standards.

But ESPN should not have the right to treat its audience like so many school children who must be protected, at all costs, from life’s unpleasantness.

Consider ESPN’s apology:

“Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET.  The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET.

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Note the words “posted an offensive headline.” If you didn’t already know what the headline had said, ESPN wasn’t going to enlighten you.

And other news networks—such as ABC and NBC—have acted similarly, referring to the “c-word” without telling viewers just what was actually posted.

Since the “c-word” is often used as a euphemism for “cunt,” it’s easy to see how many viewers could imagine the writer had used a very different expression.

The official reason given for refraining from actually saying the word that lies at the center of the story is to offending some members of the audience.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said—and let the audience decide for itself.

The evening news is—supposedly—aimed at voting-age adults.  And adults need—and deserve—the hard truth about the world they live in.  Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Examples of such censorship are legion.  For instance:

In 1976, during the Republican Presidential Convention, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Earl L. Butz.jpg

Earl Butz

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby.  When his comments became public, Butz was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism.

Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print.  Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but adult audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Or consider this:

On February 16, 2012, Foster Friess, offered his views about the importance of legalized birth control. Friess was the wealthy investor bankrolling a super PAC for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Foster Friess by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg

Foster Friess 

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive,” said Friess. “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Many news organizations refused to share Friess’ statement, merely saying that he had made an “offensive remark about women.”

It’s understandable that women would be highly offended by this remark. But shielding them from the repressive mindset of those who support Right-wing candidates like Santorum would ill serve their interests.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships.  It has no place in a democracy—no matter how well-intentioned the motives of those doing the censoring.

Some words will always be hateful—-to blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, women, men.  In short, everybody. 

Refusing to acknowledge their use will not cause them to vanish.

The truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.

But those of us who can deserve the opportunity to learn it.  And, when necessary, to act on it.

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