RIP RBG: ROUNDUP (Sept.14th-21st)
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In this edition: I corral news from the last couple of weeks for you, following the old CSPAN standard: “What’re you reading today?”: (1). RIP RBG; (2). First person sentenced to death over Zoom in Nigeria; (3). A U.S. Customs and Immigration facility is accused of sterilizations; (4). A deal over the American version of Tik Tok moves forward; (5). More is known about the Soviet Union, including the handling of Chernobyl thanks to archival work.
For many of us, consuming and synthesizing the news has become a draining exercise in constant media cycles burdened by increasingly fast-moving narratives. Bits of information can get lost in the avalanche that is the news cycle. It can pay to see what others consider important.
Here’s what I am reading:
RIP RBG: The marquee news item of the week was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death. Mitch McConnell, true to form as a cut-rate Emperor Palpatine, is gearing up to force through a court pick for Trump, reversing without so much as a shrug his position during the Merrick Garland nomination in the last year of the Obama administration. Two Republicans have broken ranks, but the party has some hope for a successful appointment. It may prove worth mentioning that a recent Reuters poll shows that half of Republicans believe the nomination should be decided after the election, Newsweek reported. Ginsberg’s decision to not retire during the previous administration sure reads differently now, potentially marring her legacy, as Slate points out. It is also a reminder that court reforms would be a good idea. My vote: no lifetime appointments. Jurisdiction stripping, a law graduate tells me, may become a larger point of focus at some point in the near future.
Death Sentence: In Lagos, Nigeria, Olalekan Hameed, 35, became, in a dubious honor, the first person to be sentenced to death in a “remote court” (i.e. over video conference) in May. Virtual courts raise questions about the very definition of free and open judicial processes, though some human rights advocates have offered support for the openness they hope these trials will bring. Visibility is a prerequisite to protests against state-sanctioned ritual sacrifice as well as other forms of injustice. It is why some countries hold executions in secret and announce them only after the fact. The raw force of the brutality is obscured, cloaking the act. In this case, questions about the Nigerian justice have been raised by COVID-19.
American fash: A whistleblower complaint about the U.S. Customs and Immigration facility in Ocilla, Georgia, alleges that the rates of medical procedures on women are alarmingly high. Former detainees have said medical procedures such as hysterectomies have been performed without consent. Members of the American legislature have asked for an investigation. When I described the “detention centers” for migrants as American concentration camps in a debate in 2019, I received some shuddering hesitation from both right-wingers and moderates, although, I should also add, I received some surprising agreement. For the crime of crossing a border, more similar to jaywalking than murder, we have morally licensed imprisonment, separation (which even the UNHRC condemned), and otherwise unconscionable behavior. It re-emphasizes the importance of Hannah Arendt’s “right to have rights” as a point of principle, as well as her acknowledgment of the problems of statelessness in the contemporary world. Vindication never felt so bitter.
Tik Tok Deal: On Saturday, American President Trump sanctified an agreement for Oracle and Walmart to aid ByteDance spin out an American version of Tik Tok, reported my friend Scott Nover in Adweek. Oracle will handle the tech side, Walmart the commercial side, after joint negotiations with Microsoft fell through. An IPO may hit the U.S. stock exchange later this year, provided there are no new stumbling blocks. Chinese state media described the deal as “reasonable” given the “unfair” circumstances. The news item is a consequence of escalating tensions with China.
Fragments of Soviet Repression: A Sept. 15th piece in Rest of World by Linda Kinstler checks in with the declassification of old KGB files from the Soviet Union, and the continued unveilings that entails. Ukrainians are using the documents to highlight repressions old and new, revealing that the methods of repression are not so dissimilar between the 21st and 20th centuries. More interesting than the larger political points, however, are the impact on personal narratives. “These databases contain fragments of history that, when unearthed, have utterly transformed family and political narratives and shifted the terrain upon which conversations about memory, complicity, and justice are held,” wrote Kinstler. “At the same time, the files provide concrete evidence against the prevailing myth about the Soviet government organs — that its agents knew, saw, and recorded everything. Sometimes the surprise is that the archives hold unexpected answers; sometimes it’s that they hold none at all.”
Reflecting on this week’s collection, I admit it is a mostly dark tincture.