Edward Snowden, who leaked information to reporters earlier this month about the U.S. National Security Administration’s classified surveillance program, follows in the footsteps of a long line of government informants who have shared top secrets with the press and helped shake up the establishment. To some they’re considered heroes, to others traitors. To journalists, and the media at large, these stories are pretty much the holy grail.
Law, power, and participation: civics in the news
For news hounds and conspiracy theorists alike, the past few days have been about as good as it gets.
A series of groundbreaking news stories, one published by the British paper The Guardian, the second by the The Guardian and the Washington Post, uncovered two top-secret U.S. government surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, both aimed at collecting massive amounts of personal communications data. The findings have reignited the age-old debate over privacy and security. Civil libertarians – an interesting mix of key outspoken conservatives and liberals (yes, Rand Paul, Al Gore, and the ACLU are on the same page on this one) – expressed outrage over privacy invasions and government overreach, while President Barack Obama and a similarly unique blend of conservative and liberal government officials are defending the programs as a “critical tool” for rooting out potential terrorist activity and protecting American lives.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Obama told reporters on Friday. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
If you’re still a bit fuzzy on this week’s whirlwind of James Bond-esque (or, some would say, Orwellian) developments, here are a handful of good resources to help make sense of it all.
Understanding and comparing the two surveillance programs
The New York Times has a clear side-by-side comparison of the two programs, who they target, what data is collected and the companies involved in delivering it.
USA Today put together a fascinating simulation that approximates the process by which the NSA is collecting and using phone data from millions of Verizon users.
The Washington Post published a series of NSA slides explaining the PRISM data collection program, which accesses web communications information from nine different internet companies,
- Sharply contrasting editorials in two leading liberal and conservative newspapers:
- An interesting slideshow from Politico highlighting the differing positions of 20 influential politicians and pundits.
- Also from Politico, a quick video mashup of immediate reactions:
A modern history of electronic surveillance
The NY Times produced an interactive timeline of key (known) government electronic surveillance projects and milestones that began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
And on the lighter side …
It wouldn’t be big news if Stephen Colbert didn’t have something deliciously sarcastic to say about it.
It’s probably the first time that any government has ever censored the term “Big Yellow Duck”.
But if you search for it (in Chinese) on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblog, a message tells you that results can’t be shown “according to relevant laws, statutes and policies.”
“Today”, “Tonight”, “June 4″, and “Anniversary” are also among the many blocked words and terms on the Twitter-like site, which has more than half a billion registered users in China (Twitter is blocked there).
So what gives? Continue reading
As part of a collaboration with the National Writing Project, this is the first in a series of teacher-created educator guides on key topical issues. Written by two NWP-affiliated high school English and media arts teachers – Kirsten Spall of Natomas Charter High School (Sacramento) and Chris Sloan of Judge Memorial Catholic School (Salt Lake City) – the guide helps teachers explore and navigate the highly-charged political and emotional issues behind the topic of gun control. Based on content featured on The Lowdown, the guide provides ideas for integrating the issues into English language arts and social studies curriculum. It includes Common Core Standards Alignment, a synopsis of key background information, integration tips, and lists of issue pros and cons, creative writing prompts and best classroom practices.
Ever since the first Europeans landed here over four centuries ago, America has had a conflicted relationship with its newcomers. It’s a serial drama that continues today in the halls of Congress, as legislators wrestle over a new round of immigration reform. We are, of course, a nation of immigrants, a destination for huge numbers of people from around the world. And the vast majority of us – everyone, in fact, except for American Indians – can trace our roots to foreign lands. Despite that common thread, though, America has not always treated its newest residents with empathy.
There have been four major waves of immigration to America, the last of which – mainly from Mexico, other Latin American countries, and Asia – continues today. Several themes play out consistently in all four chapters:
- Each successive wave of immigrants has been, to an extent, a reflection of social and economic conditions elsewhere in the world, and within the U.S. itself.
- Nearly every cycle of newcomers has faced animosity and backlash from already assimilated communities.
- The history of America’s immigration policy is a swinging door that often opens during periods of economic prosperity and slams shut when times get tough.
Scroll through the timeline below to follow the tangled history of America’s ever-changing immigration policies. (Easiest to view in full-screen mode) The interactive chart beneath it shows rates of legal immigration from 1820 to the present (use the scroll bar to zoom into specific chunks of time).
Number of Foreign-Born Legal Permanent Residents, 1820 to 2012
Source: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics
One of the final requirements in the long road to becoming an American citizen (in addition to an application, an FBI background check, and a three-part English language exam) is passing a short civics test. Applicants are given 10 questions about American history and government (randomly selected from a batch of 100 questions that they are allowed to preview beforehand). The test is given orally, so unlike the quiz below, there is no multiple choice. To pass, applicants must answer at least six questions correctly. The questions in this quiz are adapted from the list of 100 possible questions that could be asked.
So … how would you do? Give it a shot!
As Congress haggles over comprehensive immigration reform, it’s worth taking a look who America’s immigrant population actually is. The following infographics, compiled and designed by the Pew Research Hispanic Center, illustrate findings from its analysis of the nation’s foreign-born population. The information is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, which counts both legal and undocumented immigrants. Continue reading
Correction note: The original version of this post stated incorrect information about the history of Labor Day. It was established in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland (not 1955). The information has been updated to reflect this change.
For some, May Day means prancing awkwardly around a feather-wreathed pole.
But that ancient Druid rite of Spring is likely not what today’s immigrant rights protestors have in mind.
In about 80 countries throughout the world, May Day is actually an official labor holiday, often commemorated with large strikes, rallies, and demonstrations in support of workers rights. The day’s roots date back to a heated struggle for something that most of us now take for granted: the eight-hour work day. Continue reading
When it comes to America’s eclectic patchwork of voting laws, there is certainly no lack of variety. Rules often vary dramatically from one state to another, and voting in some areas is a significantly harder feat than in others.
Take Virginia and West Virginia. While the latter doesn’t require any ID to vote, its neighbor to the east has one of the strictest ID laws in the nation. And while Virginia permanently strips certain types of violent ex-felons from voting, ex-felons in West Virgina convicted of the same exact crimes can regain the right to vote after completion of their parole.
To add to the confusion, a number of states have recently attempted to dramatically change their own rules on voter ID requirements, resulting in a constantly changing set of laws that can often leave voters feeling baffled and unprepared as elections approach (see examples at the bottom).
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark law that is widely considered among the most effective and successful pieces of U.S. civil rights legislation. At issue is a provision in the law called Section 5 that applies only to specific parts of the country with a history of discriminatory voting practices. It covers nine states, mainly in the South, plus regions within seven other states (including California). The law requires that all covered areas receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department before implementing any changes to voting laws.
The map below helps sort through the hodgepodge of individual state laws that determine who can vote. We’ve ranked and color-coded each state by the severity of its voting laws (taking voter ID, felon voting, early voting, and Section 5 into account). See the notes below the map for explanations on asterisked states that have recently changed laws, are waiting for federal approval to do so, or just happen to have their own unique rules.
Happy Earth Day!
To start, a quick quiz:
1. Who said the following quote:
“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they, more than we, will wreak the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.”
2. Which organization contributed the most money and support to the first Earth Day?
(Yup, you guessed it: you gotta read the post to find the answers.)