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Saving the Internet

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Google gagged: A public fight against a secret order


Gagged GoogleThis isn’t a matter of the NSA and a secret FISA court order -- even those are arguably less strict than the gag Google is currently appealing in Texas.

Attorney Calvin C. Jackson was accused of forging signatures on court documents; now he wants Google to erase any and all mentions of the accusations against him from their search engine. Jackson’s 2012 disciplinary hearing before the state bar was held in public at his own request.

"He's trying to pretend like none of this even happened, trying to rewrite history,” a Google attorney told the Houston Chronicle.

While this may be a relatively small personal case that only pertains to one particularly aggrieved attorney, there is the matter of the First Amendment, as well as legal process (Google was not told of the order until after it had been signed by a judge).

According to Google’s attorney, one judge said this is “just like Stalin used to do.”

Google’s currently appealing the gag order, which was signed last year. Of course even if the search engine did erase all results for references to Calvin C. Jackson’s alleged wrongdoings -- which it has no constitutional obligation to do -- it still couldn’t erase the search results themselves, such as this page.

Legal scholars seem confident that the order will be tossed out and Google’s First Amendment rights will be upheld.

Meanwhile Calvin C. Jackson might consider Googling “the Streisand effect.” There are tons of results for that, Calvin.


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Learn to stop worrying and love the paid content


Flickr user 401(K) 2012 via CC BY-SA 2.0Earlier this month, the New York Times published a long piece about women in prison, highlighting an underreported story with well-crafted infographics and interactive elements. But while the Times published the piece, it wasn't wholly responsible for it. The article -- a well-researched and crafted thing that looked perfectly in place on the NYT website -- was paid for by Netflix, as ostensible advertising for its show Orange Is the New Black.

Though the Times’ foray into pay-to-play editorial content had been announced way back in December of 2013, and then again when it launched in April, the feature took people by surprise -- because they actually liked it. Unlike a sophisticated, multimedia-rich feature on how awesome, say, Hewlett-Packard is, the article was actually substantive, and didn’t immediately come across as an ad for a TV show -- in many ways, it was reported and produced just like a piece in the Times' newsroom. For those who missed the small print at the top, the Orange Is the New Black ad at the bottom of the piece might have come as a shock.

As news businesses struggle to survive, they're redefining old revenue streams. Call it what you like -- branded content, sponsored content, native advertising, advertorial -- but this stuff is not strictly new. It's also not strictly unique, nor it is it strictly evil.

And it's not just commercial advertisers in the mix -- nonprofit think tanks and advocacy groups are increasingly bankrolling and packaging deep reporting into topics that news organizations don't touch either for internal political reasons or because they just can't afford to take the time. You might make the case that they're pushing ideology instead of a product.

But really, who isn't?

While some may still cling to outmoded ideas about journalistic objectivity, readers know better. Media publishing promotes accountability and transparency, but often doesn't live up to those standards itself. That's why people don't trust journalists, and feel like we get a lot of stories wrong.

Paid posts might be shameless, but they're also clear about their intentions, unlike a writer who doesn't disclose their personal relationships to politicians or sources, or a publisher that kowtows to corporate interests. For-profit media companies are often controlled by owners' financial interests or political ideology. Nonprofit media companies often receive funding at the will of foundations, trusts, and individual large donors who explicitly contract for certain kinds of coverage. A great deal of content is "paid" content -- the money just flows a little differently.

So don't get stressed when that article you liked ends in an ad. At least they're being honest with you.

Photo: Flickr user 401(K) 2012 via CC BY-SA 2.0

Iraq conflict

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Shadow of war looms over Baghdad as residents prepare for start of Ramadan


In Iraq's capital Baghdad, preparations are underway for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- but the city also teeters on the edge of a return to daily sectarian violence and killings after several years of relative peace and calm.

Lindsey Hillsum reports for Channel 4 News:

Video headlines

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Top news, June 30: Cairo blasts kill police officers, Obama demands faster child deportations, and more


Today's video news headlines from around the world:

  • Euronews Two Egyptian police officers are killed while attempting to diffuse bombs in the capital Cairo. Several other officers were injured, including head of the bomb-disposal department, General Alaa Abdel Zaher.
  • Democracy Now! US President Barack Obama asks Congress for fast-track authority and additional funding to speed the deportation of migrant children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
  • Vice News Fighting in eastern Ukraine breaks truce, with casualties reported on both sides; Mexican vigilante group leader arrested on illegal gun possession; Beijing's police officers armed with guns; and BP asks for companies to pay back allegedly exaggerated compensation for 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.
  • Press TV Pakistan military begins new phase in its offensive against pro-Taliban militants by launching a ground assault in the restive tribal zone.
  • Associated Press Oscar Pistorius trial resumes after one-month break; high winds damage buildings in US state of Wisconsin; two saved from rubble of building collapse in India; and thousands march in NYC gay pride parade.

India Politics

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Is it time for India to look inward or outward?


Reuters/Adnan AbidiPhoto: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) is greeted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif after Modi took the oath of office at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014. Reuters/Adnan Abidi

As freshly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet make their first visits abroad, many analysts argue India's new government seems intent to "go regional" in order to boost India's international profile. Modi's swearing-in ceremony included invitations to every single SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Corporation) nation, including an historic first-time visit from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His first visit abroad was to Bhutan (where he had an "oops moment" and accidentally referred to the country as "Nepal" while addressing the Bhutan Parliament). Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently returned from visiting Bangladesh, a visit that's also been touted as an "effective model of development" for strengthening ties throughout India's South Asian neighborhood.

But as Indian columnist Nilanjana S. Roy writes, Modi's inclination to reach out to regional neighbors isn't just a sign of India looking outward -- it's also reflective of India's search for a stronger Indian identity, and an inherent suspicion of the West:

"In the 1990s, Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, triggered a fierce debate by drawing a line between Western freedoms and human rights, on the one hand, and, on the other, an Asian vision of living in harmony, which might place individual rights in abeyance for the good of the community. In India, this 'Asian values' debate found its way into discussions on development, among other things, notably in arguments trying to discredit environmentalists for being too heavily influenced by the West.

"The problems with that position are the same now as they were then. As the economist Amartya Sen put it in 1997, 'What can we take to be the values of so vast a region, with such diversity?' As a result, invoking an Indian, or Asian, identity in such a plural country, or region, often becomes an excuse for the majority to speak over many minorities."

According to Roy, the suspicion toward the West -- which even ordinary Indians harbor in addition to politicians and businessmen -- has turned "Western values" into a scapegoat in India:

"These days, the purportedly shady influence of the West is invoked not only to explain why women are victims of sexual violence, but also why Indian culture is in danger, artists should be censored or anyone who questions the costs of development is 'anti-national.' In other words, the return of the Asian values debate in India has already become an excuse to assault civil and political rights."

As much as some observers note India's suspicion toward the West and laud Modi's efforts to reach out to neighboring nations, others still criticize the Indian government for parroting the United States and, at least thus far, not asserting a big enough role in the region. Take Suhasini Haidar, the diplomatic editor of English-language newspaper the Hindu. She argues India ought to start asserting a bigger role in the Middle East, West Asia, and the Gulf nations, and wrote the following after an address in Parliament earlier this month in which Indian President Pranab Mukherjee made no mention of the ambassadors from these regions -- even though they were present at the meeting:

"The gradual decline in India's ties with the region is baffling. Even if you discount our obvious dependence on the region for oil -- about 70 per cent of all oil imports, not to mention the bulk of trade that is conducted through this region via the Suez Canal -- there is still the staggering fact of the numbers of Indians employed in the countries there. Nearly seven million Indians now live and work in the Gulf and WANA, sending home about half of the $65 billion India earns in global remittances. These are Indians who will not be granted anything more than work permits, and their welfare will remain India’s responsibility. At seven million, this group of overseas workers is an integral part of India's relations with the WANA-Gulf region, forming the equivalent of India's '30th State,' with a population almost the equivalent of that of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

"The missing workers and stranded nurses of Tikrit and Mosul have now brought this community into the spotlight again, but the focus, as in the past, is fleeting. Indians working in these countries suffer, just as bilateral relations do, from a lack of interest by India. Activists say that everyday in the Gulf, two Indians commit suicide on an average. They work gruelling hours for unregulated agencies, being shipped around, as the construction workers were from the United Arab Emirates to Iraq, without India speaking up for them. And one part of the problem is that India's voice doesn't carry the weight it once did in the region."

Perhaps the time for India's authority in the region has come, however. In the days following the address, the Afghanistan ambassador to India requested India's help in fighting the war in Afghanistan, and more recently, reports indicate thousands of Indian Muslims are signing up to go to Iraq to help preserve shrines in danger of desecration in the current crisis.

Within India, though, impatience is rising within some circles. "Modi has issued a 10-point agenda to improve everything from the economy, transparency and confidence in India's ordinarily truculent bureaucracy," NPR's South Asian correspondent Julie McCarthy wrote in a blog post. "The proposed changes have been cheered by the Indian public tired of a rudderless government and yearning for 'Acche Din,' or the 'Good Days,' which Modi promised to bring about in his campaign."

But the good days haven't quite come to India, McCarthy reports:

"[Modi has] made no public address about the abduction of Indian laborers in Iraq by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. After pledging to make women a priority, Modi made only a glancing reference to the sexual assault and hanging of two young girls last month, a crime that shocked the nation. Police are now investigating whether the incident was a case of honor killing. There has also been an awkward silence regarding the sexual assault charges facing one of his junior ministers."

Indeed, "acche din," or the "good days," has become an ironic euphemism for some Indians who are still waiting for prices to come down and other signs of real change in the country:

("Aanewalehei" means "is coming" -- "Good days are coming," is the translation).

In his defense, Modi wrote in his blog on June 26, the 39th anniversary of India's Emergency and the one-month anniversary of his assumption of power, that he's been working quite hard. He hasn't even had a "honeymoon period," he wrote:

"Every new Government has something that friends in the media like to call a 'honeymoon period.' Previous governments had the luxury of extending this 'honeymoon period' up to a hundred days and even beyond. Not unexpectedly I don't have any such luxury. Forget hundred days, the series of allegations began in less than a hundred hours. But when one is working with the sole aim of serving the nation determinately, these things do not matter. That is why I keep working and that is most satisfying."