Law and Legal
KFF – “As states and employers continue to reopen businesses and public offices, important decisions are being made about how to keep workers safe from becoming infected with coronavirus at work or on their commutes to and from their homes. In addition, outbreaks of coronavirus at some businesses, such as food processing facilities and long-term care facilities, highlight the risks faced by essential workers who have continued to work outside the home. Safety considerations will be particularly important for those workers at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they become infected with coronavirus. This caution applies to older workers in general, as well as to younger workers with certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected. We use the National Health Information Survey (NHIS) to look at how many adult workers1 are at increased risk of severe illness if infected with coronavirus, based on risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These risk factors include having diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, a body mass index (BMI) above 40, moderate to severe asthma, and a functional limitation due to cancer. All workers 65 and older also are considered at higher risk. The approach is similar to our prior work identifying at-risk adults and is described in more detail in the Methods…”
MakeUseOf: 2020’s 7 Most Secure Browsers Compared – It’s 2020, the internet is ALIVE, and you want to browse its worldly goodness. But you also know that being 2020, there is the potential for phishing attacks, malware, fake news, misinformation, and much more. So, how do you stay safe online? The first thing to consider is your internet browser. There are many browser options, but which is the safest internet browser in 2020? Here are 2020’s most secure browsers…”
PCWorld – “Can you trust what you read on Facebook? No. And why not? Because Facebook has now explicitly said that it will obey an executive order from President Trump and will refuse to fact-check misinformation and disinformation as American heads into the 2020 election. In April 2017, Facebook published a white paper that acknowledged the spread of “information operations” trying to divide and deceive Americans, in response to accusations that misinformation helped influence the 2016 U.S. elections. In September 2017, Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos acknowledged that some of the accounts and Pages disseminating that information came from within Russia. Common Cause, a watchdog group, filed suit. Then Facebook joined Twitter and Google, telling Congress that they would do better. On Thursday, in response to a request by the presidential campaign of Senator Joe Biden to stop the spread of misinformation, Facebook threw in the towel. The company claimed that a recent executive order by President Trump tied its hands. Facebook’s announcement came a day before Twitter eliminated thousands of accounts which it claimed were tied to state disinformation campaigns…”
Transportation for America – “In an expensive effort to curb congestion in urban regions, we have overwhelmingly prioritized one strategy: we have spent decades and hundreds of billions of dollars widening and building new highways. We added 30,511 new freeway lane-miles of road in the largest 100 urbanized areas between 1993 and 2017, an increase of 42 percent. That rate of freeway expansion significantly outstripped the 32 percent growth in population in those regions over the same time period. Yet this strategy has utterly failed to “solve” the problem at hand—delay is up in those urbanized areas by a staggering 144 percent. Those new lane-miles haven’t come cheap and we are spending billions to widen roads and seeing unimpressive, unpredictable results in return. Further, the urbanized areas expanding their freeways more rapidly aren’t necessarily having more success curbing congestion—in fact, in many cases the opposite is true.
- This report examines why our strategies to reduce congestion are failing, why eliminating congestion might actually be the wrong goal, and how spending billions to expand highways can actually make congestion worse by encouraging people to drive more than they otherwise would, a counterintuitive but well-documented phenomenon known as induced demand. The report also has five simple policy recommendations to make better use of our billions of dollars without pouring yet more into a black hole of congestion “mitigation.”…
Washington Post – Masks, distance, dividers and price hikes: Industry insiders predict what the lingering impact of the coronavirus could be on the way we travel. “…Despite covid-19 continuing to claim lives, locations around the world are beginning to open again. More travelers are getting on planes. Airlines are reinstating routes. Countries and states have begun to welcome visitors, despite the remaining risks. For now, travel may look different in a number of ways. People can expect to explore a world of face masks, physical distancing, closed businesses and two-week quarantines. But what changes can travelers expect in both the short- and long-term? We spoke with experts to get their best predictions on an uncertain future….”
Expanded free access for everyone through December 31, 2020 – “Supporting libraries during the COVID-19 crisis – JSTOR and our publishing partners are committed to serving the scholarly community during this challenging time. Together, we are providing our participating institutions with free access to journals and primary sources they do not already license through December 31, 2020. A set of ebooks is also available to institutions that do not currently license ebooks through JSTOR. To get free access to the collections, please log in to your JSTOR library admin account to request expanded access. Request access.”
Consumer Reports – How You Can Kill Coronavirus in Your Car Without Damaging Interior Surfaces – “As COVID-19 spreads, you’ve probably already learned the proper technique for washing your hands and which household cleaners can destroy a coronavirus. But what about the inside of your car? If you or someone else who has been in your car shows symptoms of the illness, you should clean frequently touched surfaces, including the steering wheel, door handles, shift lever, any buttons or touch screens, wiper and turn signal stalks, passenger and driver door armrests, grab handles, and seat adjusters, according to Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. If you’re a taxi or ride-hailing driver who carries lots of passengers, driving a rented or shared car, or if you live somewhere with many cases of COVID-19, regularly cleaning these surfaces is a must. A car’s interior is less durable than, say, a kitchen counter or bathroom sink. So how do you protect those surfaces without damaging them?…” [h/t Pete Weiss]
Vox: “Bostock v. Clayton County, a landmark Supreme Court decision holding that federal law prohibits employment discrimination against LGBTQ workers, was a test of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s principles. He passed. Gorsuch is a vocal proponent of “textualism,” the belief that the meaning of a law turns on its words alone, not on the intentions of the law’s drafters. And Bostock forced Gorsuch to decide between his own conservative politics and following the broad language of a landmark civil rights law. Gorsuch didn’t simply honor his textualist approach in Bostock; he wrote the majority opinion. In Bostock, the Court considered Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employment discrimination that occurs “because of [an employee’s] race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Though there is little doubt that the people who drafted this law in 1964 did not believe they were enacting a ban on LGBTQ discrimination, the thrust of Gorsuch’s opinion is that the expectations of lawmakers in 1964 simply do not matter. Only the text of Title VII matters. And, as Bostock explains at length, that text clearly prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Gorsuch lays out why in just five crisp sentences on the first page of his majority opinion:
In Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbid…”
In light of Covid-19, an MIT study looks at tradeoffs between economic value and public health, across different types of retail:”A new study by MIT researchers uses a variety of data on consumer and business activity to tackle that question, measuring 26 types of businesses by both their usefulness and risk. Vital forms of commerce that are relatively uncrowded fare the best in the study; less significant types of businesses that generate crowds perform worse. The results can help inform the policy decisions of government officials during the ongoing pandemic. As it happens, banks perform the best in the study, being economically significant and relatively uncrowded. “Banks have an outsize economic impact and tend to be bigger spaces that people visit only once in a while,” says Seth G. Benzell, a postdoc at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) and co-author of a paper published Wednesday that outlines the study. Indeed, in the study, banks rank first in economic importance, out of the 26 business types, but just 14th in risk. By contrast, other business types create much more crowding while having far less economic importance. These include liquor and tobacco stores; sporting goods stores; cafes, juice bars, and dessert parlors; and gyms. All of those are in the bottom half of the study’s rankings of economic importance. At the same time, cafes, juice bars, and dessert parlors, taken together, rank third-highest out of the 26 business types in risk, while gyms are the fifth-riskiest according to the study’s metrics — which include cellphone location data revealing how crowded U.S. businesses get. “Policymakers have not been making clear explanations about how they are coming to their decisions,” says Avinash Collis PhD ’20, an MIT-trained economist and co-author of the new paper. “That’s why we wanted to provide a more data-driven policy guide.” And if the Covid-19 pandemic worsens again, the research can apply to shuttering businesses again. “This is not only about which locations should reopen first,” says Christos Nicolaides PhD ’14, a digital fellow at IDE and study co-author. “You can also look at it from the perspective of which locations should close first, in another future wave of Covid-19.”
- The paper, “Rationing Social Contact During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Transmission Risk and Social Benefits of U.S. Location,” appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, with Benzell, Collis, and Nicolaides as the authors. Benzell is about to start a new position as an assistant professor at Chapman University; in July, Collis will become an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin; Nicolaides is also a faculty member at the University of Cyprus.
Wired – How to Clean Up Your Old Social Media Posts – “These tips will help you safely tidy up your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts—or give your profile a fresh start.”
Wired UK – “…First off–everything you do on Instagram is tracked. Almost every online service you use collects information about your actions. Every thumb scroll made through your feed provides it with information about your behavior. Instagram knows that you spent 20 minutes scrolling to the depths of your high-school crush’s profile at 2am. The data that Instagram collects isn’t just for advertising. The company uses your information—for instance, what device you use to login—to detect suspicious login attempts. Crash reports from your phone can help it identify bugs in its code and identify parts of the app that nobody uses. In 2019 it ditched the Following tab, which showed everyone the public posts you had liked. Other than deleting the app completely there’s very little you can do to stop Instagram from tracking your behavior on its platform, but there are things you can do to limit some of the data that’s collected and the types of ads you see online…”
Wired – “Last spring, artificial intelligence research institute OpenAI said it had made software so good at generating text—including fake news articles—that it was too dangerous to release. That line in the sand was soon erased when two recent master’s grads recreated the software and OpenAI released the original, saying awareness of the risks had grown and it hadn’t seen evidence of misuse. Now the lab is back with a more powerful text generator and a new pitch: Pay us to put it to work in your business. Thursday [June 11, 2020], OpenAI launched a cloud service that a handful of companies are already using to improve search or provide feedback on answers to math problems. It’s a test of a new way of programming AI and the lab’s unusual business model….OpenAI has focused on pushing the technique to greater scale and making software that generates text. Given a snatch of writing, it builds on it, unspooling sentences with similar statistical properties. The results can be uncannily smooth, if sometimes unmoored from reality…”
These guidelines were released on Friday, June 12, 2020. Yet around the country states and localities had previously ended restrictions on many activities, indoor and outdoor, as well as reopening of commerce – stores, restaurants, and other businesses. The CDC was far behind the curve in providing requisite federal guidelines prior to re-openings that have led to significant spikes in new COVID19 cases (Texas, Arizona, Florida, Alabama, Oregon).
As communities and businesses are opening, you may be looking for ways to resume some daily activities as safely as possible. While there is no way to ensure zero risk of infection, it is important to understand potential risks and how to adopt different types of prevention measures to protect yourself and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. As a reminder, if you have COVID-19, have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, it is important to stay home and away from other people. When you can leave home and be around others depends on different factors for different situations. Follow CDC’s recommendations for your circumstances…”
“The twelfth edition of the Democracy Index finds that the average global score has fallen from 5.48 in 2018, to 5.44. This is the worst average global score since The Economist Intelligence Unit first produced the Democracy Index in 2006. Driven by sharp regressions in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, four out of the five categories that make up the global average score have deteriorated. Although there were some dramatic downturns in the scores of certain countries, others have bucked the overall trend and registered impressive improvements. Download the free report to find out where your country ranks.” [The US is no longer rated as a “full democracy” and fell down the list to 16th place]
Washington Post – “Tension built for days between Florida Department of Health supervisors and the department’s geographic information systems manager before officials showed her the door, she says, permanently pulling her off the coronavirus dashboard that she operated for weeks. Managers had wanted Rebekah Jones to make certain changes to the public-facing portal, she says. Jones had objected to — and sometimes refused to comply with — what she saw as unethical requests. She says the department offered to let her resign. Jones declined.
Weeks after she was fired in mid-May, Jones has now found a way to present the state’s coronavirus data exactly the way she wants it: She created a dashboard of her own. “I wanted to build an application that delivered data and helped people get tested and helped them get resources that they need from their community,” Jones, 30, said of the site that launched Thursday. “And that’s what I ended up building with this new dashboard.” White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx praised Florida’s official coronavirus dashboard in April as a beacon of transparency. But Jones has asserted that the site under counts the state’s infection total and over counts the number of people tested — with the official numbers bolstering the decision to start loosening restrictions on the economy in early May, when the state had not met federal guidelines for reopening…”
MIT Technology Review: “Avi Schiffmann, the brains behind the web’s most popular coronavirus tracking site, just launched a protest tracking site. How did he do it? The coronavirus pandemic and the protests sparked by the May 25 murder of George Floyd have been the defining events of 2020 so far, and in both cases one 17-year-old has played a major role online: Avi Schiffmann, the creator of the web’s preeminent covid-19 case tracker and, more recently, a protest tracking site. The trackers have garnered praise for providing concise, instantly updated information. Schiffmann’s coronavirus tracker is so thorough, in fact, that epidemiologists have used it to predict the disease’s spread. Schiffmann has earned the Webby Person of the Year award along with praise from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who called the teen’s site “essential.” Schiffmann could have rested on his laurels, but the murder of George Floyd prompted another project. This new site is simple and serves one primary purpose: find local protests. So how did Schiffmann do it? We spoke to him to find out how he got involved—and what advice he could give anyone else who fancies doing something similar…”
- 2020 George Floyd / Black Lives Matter Protests – Showing to date – 3429 cities or towns with protests (throughout the world – with the majority in the US and Europe) since May 25 2020. Updated June 13. 2020.
- The New York Times – How Black Lives Matter reached every corner of America – “On any given day, they spill out onto the streets, driven by fury. They march. They kneel. They sing. They cry. They pray. They light candles. They chant and shout, urgent voices, muffled behind masks. They block freeways and bridges and fill public squares. They press their bodies into hot asphalt, silently breathing for eight minutes and 46 seconds. They do all this beneath the watchful gaze of uniformed police officers standing sentry…race, the warm spring air was already charged. A killer virus had ripped through black communities. Bullets, too. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. And then the death of a black man after an encounter with a white police officer, who pressed his left knee on the neck of the man the world now knows as George Floyd. His death during the last light of Memorial Day has unleashed one of the most explosive trials of American racism in modern times…”
- See also Kadir Nelson’s “Say Their Names” – A closeup examination of the artist’s latest cover, in which the murder of George Floyd embodies the history of violence inflicted upon black people in America. By The New Yorker – “An annotated version zeroes in on these lives, including Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Rodney King, Martin Luther King Jr., Trayvon Martin, David McAtee, Rosa Parks, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Emmett Till, and the unnamed millions of black people enslaved in America.”
Ars Technica – Section 230 is the legal foundation of social media, and it’s under attack.”…To understand Section 230, you have to understand how the law worked before Congress enacted it in 1996. At the time, the market for consumer online services was dominated by three companies: Prodigy, CompuServe, and AOL. Along with access to the Internet, the companies also offered proprietary services such as real time chats and online message boards. Prodigy distinguished itself from rivals by advertising a moderated, family-friendly experience. Employees would monitor its message boards and delete posts that didn’t meet the company’s standards. And this difference proved to have an immense—and rather perverse—legal consequence…”
CRS report via LC – COVID-19: Remote Voting Trends and the Election Infrastructure Subsector, June 10, 2020: “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated the systems and assets used to administer elections as a critical infrastructure subsector in 2017. The federal elections policyframework—including infrastructure protection—has generally assumed in-person voting at official polling places as the primary means of elections administration. Therefore, infrastructure security efforts have focused on reducing risk to existing systems and assetssuch as voter registration databases, voting machines, polling places, and elections storage facilities. However, recent elections cycles have witnessed increased use of alternatives to in-person voting…”
CRS report via LC: Larger Businesses and COVID-19: Financial Relief and Assistance Resources Updated June 11, 2020: “This CRS Insight presents selected resources and CRS products potentially relevant to medium and large businesses directly affected by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic seeking economic relief and assistance. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, contains provisions to assist businesses. This Insight focuses on potential sources of assistance designated for medium and large businesses that do not qualify for Small Business Administration programs or other assistance programs for small businesses. For small business assistance programs, see CRS Insight IN11301, Small Businesses and COVID-19: Relief and Assistance Resources, by Maria Kreiser. Note that this Insight may not include every instance of federal assistance to medium or large firms provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Firms of this size may have, on occasion, received funding via other CARES Act mechanisms or facilities. These firms’ eligibility for this other funding may be due to factors or combinations of factors such as the structure of particular programs, how the firm is organized, or situations involving a specific industry…”
USA Today – But many aren’t sure how to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic – “…Just 37% of libraries plan to reopen by July, according to a recently released survey from the American Library Association. Nearly half of the nation’s libraries – 47% – do not have plans to reopen their doors to the public anytime soon, according to the association, which surveyed 3,800 libraries from all 50 states in May. Librarians and library patrons say it is an especially difficult time for libraries to be closed, with many school systems closed to students who might not have internet access at home and more than 44.2 million Americans filing jobless claims, many of whom would normally be able to seek assistance at their local library branch…”