Law and Legal

CDC Document Shows Just How Badly the U.S. Is Handling Coronavirus

Gizmodo: “The U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic continues to be faltering, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leaked CDC documents dated June 9 that were obtained and published by Yahoo News this week show the U.S. is still exhibiting astronomical increases in new cases of the virus, doing far worse to contain it than the other nine nations who have experienced the highest number of total cases: Brazil, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, Spain, Italy, Peru, Germany, and Iran. The CDC document shows that the U.S. experienced an estimated 36.5% uptick in confirmed daily cases, which is far above any of the other countries. (The closest is Peru, which saw a 4.46% increase in confirmed daily cases.)

Another document from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also from June 9, confirmed the 36.5% statistic, according to Yahoo News. The FEMA document also shows that the rolling average of daily deaths in the U.S. is beginning to exceed 1,000 per day. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine tracker shows that of the 7.4 million confirmed cases globally, just over 2 million of them have been in the U.S., which has also seen over 113,000 of the nearly 460,000 deaths. (These numbers are likely an undercount.) The U.S., however, has charged ahead with reopening businesses and other institutions initially shut down under emergency lockdown measures in all 50 states, despite most of the states falling short of federal guidelines on coronavirus containment and the U.S. failing to come anywhere close to the progress seen in many other nations loosening restrictions…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic particles fall into 11 protected areas in western U.S. each year

Wired – Plastic Rain Is the New Acid Rain – Researchers find that over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic fall on 11 protected areas in the US annually, equivalent to over 120 million plastic water bottles: “Writing today in the journal Science, researchers report a startling discovery: After collecting rainwater and air samples for 14 months, they calculated that over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic particles fall into 11 protected areas in the western US each year. That’s the equivalent of over 120 million plastic water bottles. “We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total US area,” says lead author Janice Brahney, an environmental scientist at Utah State University. “The number was just so large, it’s shocking.”

It further confirms an increasingly hellish scenario: Microplastics are blowing all over the world, landing in supposedly pure habitats, like the Arctic and the remote French Pyrenees. They’re flowing into the oceans via wastewater and tainting deep-sea ecosystems, and they’re even ejecting out of the water and blowing onto land in sea breezes. And now in the American West, and presumably across the rest of the world given that these are fundamental atmospheric processes, they are falling in the form of plastic rain—the new acid rain…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Policing the Police: Qualified Immunity and Considerations for Congress

CRS report via LC – Policing the Police: Qualified Immunity and Considerations for Congress, June 10, 2020: “In the wake of unrest arising from George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020,after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck, broader questions have arisen with regard to how existing law regulates the conduct of local police officers. While these issues are explored more broadly in these separate Sidebars, one particular issue of recent judicial and legislative focus has been the doctrine of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine shielding public officials who are performing discretionary functions from civil liability. The doctrine plays a particularly prominent role in defense of civil rights lawsuits against federal law enforcement officials under the Bivens doctrine and against state and local police under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983). With regard to its role in civil lawsuits concerning violations of constitutional norms regulating the police, defenders of the doctrine have suggested that qualified immunity plays an important role in affording police officers some level of deference when making split-second decisions about whether to, for example, use force to subdue a fleeing or resisting suspect. Critics of the doctrine have questioned its legal origins and have argued that its practice has provided too much deference to the police at the expense of accountability and the erosion of criminal suspects’ constitutional rights. With increasing focus on whether Congress should legislate to abrogate or otherwise modify the doctrine, this Sidebar explores the legal basis for qualified immunity, how it has operated in practice, and current debate over the efficacy of the doctrine. The Sidebar concludes by discussing considerations for Congress regarding qualified immunity…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Libraries Strive to Stay ‘Community Living Rooms’ as They Reopen

The New York Times – “Safely lending books is just the beginning. Libraries are figuring out everything from how to remain welcoming spaces to how to respond to changing reader behavior. In pockets of Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, there are books sitting in quarantine. They are public library books that have been returned, and then spend at least three days sitting on tables or in big metal carts, carefully labeled with the dates they came in. After that, they can they go back on the shelves. Libraries around the country are tiptoeing toward reopening, but they’re not just trying to figure out how to safely lend out books. These are community hubs where parents bring their toddlers for story time, where people come to use the computer, where book groups meet. Now all of that has to be rethought. “It’s awful because it’s the opposite of what we normally try to do,” said Karen Kleckner Keefe, the executive director of the Hinsdale Public Library just outside of Chicago. “We want to be the community living room, we want everyone to stay and get comfortable. And to design service to prevent lingering and talking is so different from everything we’ve been working toward.” With their doors closed, libraries moved whatever they could online. Book clubs were held on Zoom. The Queens Public Library in New York changed a job-search training session to focus on online networking. Author events became virtual, too, which, while lacking an in-person touch, sometimes meant they could include special guests…Branches around the country have also been offering curbside pickup, where books are left by the front door or dropped in the trunks of waiting cars, along with library catalogs and leaflets about their cleaning protocols. And even when the lights were off, many libraries kept their Wi-Fi humming so people park themselves outside and use it for free…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Trump trashes 50-year-old environmental law, blames coronavirus

grist – “With the nation’s eyes on ongoing protests for racial justice (not to mention a seemingly endless public health crisis), last week President Trump signed an executive order that would waive key requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The landmark 1970 law requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of proposed federal actions and projects, including the construction of major highways, airports, oil and gas drilling, and pipelines. Trump’s new executive order relaxes the law’s requirement that major new infrastructure and energy projects undergo environmental reviews to ensure they will not significantly harm the environment and nearby public. (Industry representatives often blame the environmental impact statements required by the law for the extensive delay of permit approvals.) …Early this year, the Trump administration announced plans to overhaul key elements of the law, including by limiting requests for community input prior project approval, disregarding project alternatives, and shortening the deadline for environmental impact statements and environmental assessments. Pollution-burdened communities have long leveraged NEPA as a defense mechanism to protect their health and the environment — examples include the fights against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of the 710 freeway in Long Beach, California…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Activists rally to save Internet Archive as lawsuit threatens site

Follow up to previous posting – Publishers file suit against Internet Archive for systematic mass scanning and distribution of literary works – via Decrypt: “…In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic led to the shutdown of public libraries, the Internet Archive created the National Emergency Library and temporarily suspended book waitlists—the kind that make you cool your jets for 12 weeks to download “A Game of Thrones” onto your Kindle—through the end of June. In doing so, it essentially allowed for a single copy of a book to be downloaded an infinite number of times. Book publishers weren’t happy. Last Monday, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Wiley—four publishing behemoths—sued the organization. The lawsuit argues that “IA’s actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute willful digital piracy on an industrial scale.” Perhaps in response, today the Internet Archive announced it was closing the National Emergency Library two weeks early. Founder Brewster Kahle wrote that he hoped the plaintiffs would “call off their costly assault.” If the court finds that Internet Archive “willfully” infringed copyright, the library could be on the hook for up to $150,000 in damages—per each of the 1.4 million titles. (You do the math.)…”

Categories: Law and Legal

MIT, guided by open access principles, ends Elsevier negotiations

MIT News: “Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract. Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts.  Developed by the MIT Libraries in collaboration with the Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research and the Committee on the Library System in October 2019, the MIT Framework is grounded in the conviction that openly sharing research and educational materials is key to the Institute’s mission of advancing knowledge and bringing that knowledge to bear on the world’s greatest challenges. It affirms the overarching principle that control of scholarship and its dissemination should reside with scholars and their institutions, and aims to ensure that scholarly research outputs are openly and equitably available to the broadest possible audience, while also providing valued services to the MIT community…More than 100 institutions, ranging from multi-institution consortia to large research universities to liberal arts colleges, decided to endorse the MIT Framework in recognition of its potential to advance open scholarship and the public good…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Coronavirus Could Make America’s Gun Problem Even Deadlier

The New York Times Opinion – We studied 26 million Americans over 12 years. Here’s what we learned about gun ownership. By David Studdert, Matthew Miller and Garen Wintemute Mr. Studdert is a professor at Stanford University, Mr. Miller at Northeastern University, and Mr. Wintemute at U.C. Davis: “Millions of Americans have experienced the coronavirus pandemic directly, as they or their loved ones suffered through infection. But for most of us, the experience is defined by weeks and months on end stuck at home. The shut-ins are testing the safety of our home environments. Stress and isolation combined with another feature of American life — easy access to firearms — could form a deadly brew. Last week we released results of a new study — the largest ever on the connection between suicide and handgun ownership — in The New England Journal of Medicine revealing that gun owners were nearly four times as likely to die by suicide than people without guns, even when controlling for gender, age, race and neighborhood…

Our study compiled information on 26 million Americans over 12 years. We tracked handgun acquisitions in a large sample of California residents and then compared the frequency of death among those who did and didn’t own them. The elevated suicide rates among handgun owners were driven by their higher rates of suicide by firearm — eight times higher for men and 35 times higher for women, compared with non-owners of the same gender. By contrast, handgun owners did not have higher rates of suicide from other methods or higher rates of death by other causes. These results are consistent with those from every serious study that has examined the relationship between gun access and suicide in the United States. If anything, we find a stronger connection than most others have…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Voter Registration: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress

CRS report via LC: Voter Registration: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress. June 10, 2020: “…The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) expanded registration opportunities by creating a federal mail-based registration form and requiring states to provide voter registration opportunities alongside services provided by departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) and at other agencies. NVRA remains a fundamental component of federal voter registration policy and contains a number of other provisions affecting voter registration administration. Other key provisions of NVRA are related top pocesses used for voter list maintenance or removing voters from the registration list, among other provisions….Many view congressional activity related to voter registration as an extension of the federal government’s role in upholding the constitutional right to vote and ensuring the integrity of election processes…Certain voter registration measures, however, may be viewed as barriers that inhibit otherwise eligible individuals from being able to vote. Some may question whether further expanding the federal role in voter registration is necessary, given existing federal and state practices. Imposing uniform standards across states could also present challenges because of the decentralized nature of U.S. election administration and the variety of election practices currently in place under state laws. Other measures addressing elements of election administration or election integrity, unrelated to voter registration, may also be a legislative priority…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Harvard health expert predicts an additional 100,000 US coronavirus deaths by September

Business Insider via Yahoo – “Close to 113,000 people have already died from the coronavirus in the US.  The main model being used by officials to estimate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States also revised its death toll this week to 193,347 COVID-19 deaths by October 1.  Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the current data shows that somewhere between 800 to 1,000 Americans are dying from the virus daily, and even if that does not increase, the US is poised to cross 200,000 deaths sometime in September. “I think that is catastrophic. I think that is not something we have to be fated to live with,” Jha told CNN. “We can change the course. We can change course today.” So far close to 113,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the US. Jha stressed that the numbers he’s predicted are only for the next several months.  “The pandemic won’t be over in September,” Jha said. “So, I’m really worried about where we’re going to be in the weeks and months ahead.”…

Categories: Law and Legal

What Will Greetings Look Like in a Post-Coronavirus World?

The New York Times – It might be a while before we can offer a hug or handshake. But that’s OK. “…While some people may be eager to resume their usual behaviors after social-distancing measures have been relaxed, in the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, many will be more cautious with their interpersonal interactions, Dr. Molinsky said. Instead of reverting to familiar physical greetings, he said, society will adopt new ones with similar meanings. Instead of interpreting a neighbor’s beeline to the other side of the street with a quick nod as cold and distant, we may perceive it as a safe acknowledgment….While it’s true we may miss out on some of the many health benefits of daily human touch — decreases in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones and increases in bonding hormones like oxytocin — Dr. Field said that interpersonal contact wasn’t the only way to get the feel-good benefits of touch. As long as the skin is being activated by exercise, stretching or even a prolonged scrub in the shower, you’re stimulating the skin’s pressure receptors, and activating therapeutic responses within the body that induce relaxation and reduce depression, anxiety and heart rate…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Police have shot and killed 5,400 people since 2015

Washington Post – “Protests against the use of deadly force by police swept across the country in 2015. Demonstrators marched in Chicago, turned chaotic in Baltimore, and occupied the area outside a Minneapolis police station for weeks. Protesters repeatedly took to the streets of Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer had killed a black teenager the previous year and fueled anew a national debate about the use of force and how police treat minorities. That year, The Washington Post began tallying how many people were shot and killed by police. By the end of 2015, officers had fatally shot nearly 1,000 people, twice as many as ever documented in one year by the federal government. With the issue flaring in city after city, some officials vowed to reform how police use force. The next year, however, police nationwide again shot and killed nearly 1,000 people. Then they fatally shot about the same number in 2017 — and have done so for every year after that, according to The Post’s ongoing count. Since 2015, police have shot and killed 5,400 people…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Why filming police violence has done nothing to stop it

MIT Technology Review – “After years of police body cams and bystander cellphone video, it’s clear that evidentiary images on their own don’t bring about change. What’s missing is power …The hope for sousveillance comes from the same logic. If police officers know they’re being watched both by their body cameras and by civilians with cell phones, they will discipline themselves and refrain from engaging in unnecessary violence. It’s a good theory, but in practice, it hasn’t worked. A large study in 2017 by the Washington, DC, mayor’s office assigned more than a thousand police officers in the District to wear body cameras and more than a thousand to go camera-free. The researchers hoped to find evidence that wearing cameras correlated with better policing, less use of force, and fewer civilian complaints. They found none: the difference in behavior between the officers who knew they were being watched and the officers who knew they were not was statistically insignificant. Another study, which analyzed the results of 10 randomized controlled trials of body camera use in different nations, was helpfully titled “Wearing body cameras increases assaults against officers and does not reduce police use of force.”… [h/t Mary Whisner]

Categories: Law and Legal

COVID-19: Remote Voting Trends and the Election Infrastructure Subsector

CRS report via LC – COVID-19: Remote Voting Trends and the Election Infrastructure Subsector, June 10, 2020: “…Public health concerns about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have accelerated consideration of remote voting options as many voters have sought to avoid the possible health risks of crowded polling places. Elections authorities have invested in new physical and cyber infrastructures to reduce in-person interactions throughout all phases of the election cycle, including but not limited to the casting of ballots on Election Day. These efforts have focused on universal mail voting—the only form of remote voting in wide use. (Some states provide for electronic marking and return of ballots in certain limited cases.) The rapid pursuit of expanded mail voting and development of accompanying infrastructures during the pandemic has presented near-term technical, logistical, administrative, and security challenges to the election infrastructure subsector (EIS). State and local preparedness to transition to mail voting varies widely. Several states already use universal mail voting for elections. However, most states still rely primarily upon in-person voting, with varying eligibility standards for absentee ballot access. Elections experts have cautioned that introduction of universal mail voting is typically a multi-year process even in the most favorable circumstances, as it involves elements with long lead times, such as legislative changes, contracting, manufacturing, property acquisitions, interagency coordination, and systems testing…”

Categories: Law and Legal

What If Working From Home Goes on … Forever?

The New York Times – Miserable as it can often be, remote work is surprisingly productive — leading many employers to wonder if they’ll ever go back to the office. “…In a May working paper, Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor in management science at M.I.T., and a group of academics reported survey results indicating that half of those who were employed before the pandemic were now working remotely. That’s a significant increase — pre-Covid-19, the paper estimates, the figure was about 15 percent. (In 2018, a U.S. Census Bureau survey found that just 5.3 percent of Americans worked from home full time.) It’s a situation deeply skewed toward the privileged: Many employees who work in health care, public transportation or the service sector, for instance, have never been given the option to work remotely, during the crisis or before. At companies where remote work is possible, though, many now expect it to continue for quite some time….

Output often rises when people work remotely. In 2012, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, headquartered in Northern Virginia, began a program allowing patent examiners to live anywhere. For those who chose to work remotely, productivity rose by 4.4 percent, according to a study last fall by Prithwiraj Choudhury, a professor at Harvard Business School, and two colleagues. A 2015 case study by Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, and others found that when one Chinese travel agency assigned a random group of employees to work remotely for nine months, their productivity went up by 13 percent, generating an increase of roughly $2,000 in annual profits per employee. (It later rose even higher, to 20 percent.) The company’s chief executive had actually expected productivity to decrease; he figured the shift would yield savings that made up for the lost output…”

Categories: Law and Legal

NYT Vaccine Tracker

Coronavirus VaccineTracker: “Researchers around the world are developing more than 135 vaccines against the coronavirus. Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic, but scientists are racing to produce a safe and effective vaccine by next year. Work began in January with the deciphering of the SARS-CoV-2 genome. The first vaccine safety trials in humans started in March, but the road ahead remains uncertain. Some trials will fail, and others may end without a clear result. But a few may succeed in stimulating the immune system to produce effective antibodies against the virus. Here is the status of all the vaccines that have reached trials in humans, along with a selection of promising vaccines still being tested in cells or animals…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Congress Civilian Control of the Military and Nonpartisanship

CRS report via LC: Congress,Civilian Control of the Military, and Nonpartisanship, June 10, 2020: “The possible use of federal armed forces as part of the U.S. executive branch’s response to incidents of violence during racial justice protests has raised questions about how the military is controlled by domestic political institutions and the U.S.military’s relationship with American society. Article I of the U.S.Constitution grants specific powers to Congress, making the legislative branch a key actor in governing, overseeing,and funding the U.S. military. What Is Civilian Control of the Military? How to advance the nation’s security while at the same time ensuring that instruments of force do not undermine the practice of American democracy has been a central question since the founding of the United States, if not before. The designers of the Constitution were deeply skeptical of a standing army, as such a military instrument could also overthrow the government it professed to serve, much like Oliver Cromwell demonstrated in 1653 when he used his army to disband the English Parliament. Consternation regarding British deployment of its military to the American colonies without the consent of local governing officials was among the key grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

In the context of a new, experimental, and democratic Republic, the Founding Fathers believed that subordination of the military to the authority of civil masters was critically important to prevent the emergence of a new form of tyranny or dictatorship. The principle of civilian control of the military places ultimate authority over U.S. armed services in the hands of civilian leadership, with civilian responsibility and control of the military balanced between the executive and legislative branches of the government. In some ways, the relationship between the military and the civil society it serves is a paradox: the military, by its very nature, has coercive power that could threaten civil society. Yet without a sufficiently strong and capable military, civil society becomes vulnerable to attack, and the former might not be able to defend the latter…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Academic libraries will change in significant ways

Inside Higher Education – Christopher Cox predicts the significant ways academic libraries will shift in terms of collections, services, spaces and operations as a result of the pandemic – “In early March 2020, COVID-19 blindsided academic libraries. With little time to plan, we closed our library facilities at Clemson University to protect the safety of our patrons and employees and moved to online services only and work from home. Thankfully, years of curating digital content, providing multiple opportunities for research interaction and developing robust search interfaces and web presences served us well during this transition. With discussions now occurring about reopening campuses, academic libraries face a paradigm shift. Instead of returning to normal, librarians will be returning to a “new normal” — one where in-person classes and service interactions may be impossible or no longer preferred, where collections in physical format may be a barrier to access, and where collaborative study is shunned in favor of social distancing in buildings that can only safely house half the people they used to. How can we leverage this crisis to create new and innovative collections and services to improve our campus communities? Below are some of my predictions, based on trend analysis, of how the landscape of academic libraries may change in terms of collections, services, spaces and operations, in hopes they inspire new thinking and continued dialogue….”

Categories: Law and Legal

New report identifies why enterprise security tools are failing

FedScoop: “…The latest FireEye Mandiant Security Effectiveness Report which assesses the effectiveness of security controls used at participating organizations around the world, by executing thousands of mock attacks on more than 120 market-leading security technologies deployed by those organizations. It probably won’t come as a surprise that these large-scale organizations manage between 30 to 50 different security tools. What is surprising: In spite of the investment in all of these tools — or, perhaps because there are so many — these organizations only succeeded in detecting 26% of Mandiant’s various attacks, on average, and preventing just 33% of them…”

Categories: Law and Legal

CIO Council report recommends improvements to federal IT hiring

FedScoop – “…More than 80% of the federal IT workforce is older than 40, per federal data cited in the report. Of the remaining population, just over 3% is younger than 30, and agencies continue to struggle to attract and hire younger IT talent to fill in this gap. The “Future of the Federal IT Workforce Update” report has several recommendations for how federal IT hiring can be improved to attract the next generation of tech talent. Namely, it points to “creating common competency-based position descriptions; recruiting through commercial platforms, job fairs, and hackathons; using a [subject matter expert]-based assessment process; and leveraging direct hiring authorities.”

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