Law and Legal
Freedom House – A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy – “Democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world. At the same time, many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest. In fact, such leaders—including the chief executives of the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies—are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas. As a result of these and other trends, Freedom House found that 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The gap between setbacks and gains widened compared with 2018, as individuals in 64 countries experienced deterioration in their political rights and civil liberties while those in just 37 experienced improvements. The negative pattern affected all regime types, but the impact was most visible near the top and the bottom of the scale. More than half of the countries that were rated Free or Not Free in 2009 have suffered a net decline in the past decade…The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance. A striking number of new citizen protest movements have emerged over the past year, reflecting the inexhaustible and universal desire for fundamental rights. However, these movements have in many cases confronted deeply entrenched interests that are able to endure considerable pressure and are willing to use deadly force to maintain power. The protests of 2019 have so far failed to halt the overall slide in global freedom, and without greater support and solidarity from established democracies, they are more likely to succumb to authoritarian reprisals…”
Overview: How a changing relationship with cars may shape the future of transportation – “Automobiles make up 70% of the emissions from all forms of transportation. There are an estimated 1 billion cars on the planet, with around 80 million new cars sold each year. Despite continually strong sales, experts suggest we have reached ‘Peak Car’ – meaning the average distance traveled per person in cars has peaked, and will continue to fall over time. There are many different factors contributing to this trend, such as a global shift towards urban living, new forms of mobility, new government policies for reducing traffic, and a slowing expansion of road networks…” [Note – the aeriel photos are amazing]
Smithsonian Magazine – The National Park Service predicts the pink-and-white blossoms will reach peak bloom between March 27 and 30 – “very spring, the 3,800 cherry trees along Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin burst into a symphony of pink-and-white blossoms. Because this picturesque period lasts, on average, just four to seven days, the spectacle is a much-anticipated annual event, with local horticulturalists and cherry blossom enthusiasts alike predicting the timing of peak bloom ahead of the National Park Service’s (NPS) official announcement. This year, reports the NPS, peak bloom—when more than 70 percent of Yoshino cherry trees, the most common species in the area, open their buds—is projected to begin between March 27 and 30…”
See also the National Park Service Twitter feed – https://twitter.com/hashtag/BloomWatch?src=hashtag_click
The New York Times – The latest Apple and Google models have software that automatically enhances your photos, but you can also take control to get your perfect shot: “It’s getting harder to take a truly bad photo on a good smartphone. Thanks to better lenses, robust processors and integrated computational photography software to process images under the hood, even scenes in low-light, no-flash situations that used to be hopelessly murky can now turn out nicely. Your phone’s native camera app makes it simple to grab a picture with just a couple of taps. But if you’ve recently upgraded your device and want to dive deeper into the latest hardware and software, here are a few tips — illustrated by two current models, Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max and Google’s Pixel 4 XL…”
Citizen Lab – Censored Contagion – “Key Findings:
- YY, a live-streaming platform in China, began to censor keywords related to the coronavirus outbreak on December 31, 2019, a day after doctors (including the late Dr. Li Wenliang) tried to warn the public about the then unknown virus.
- WeChat broadly censored coronavirus-related content (including critical and neutral information) and expanded the scope of censorship in February 2020. Censored content included criticism of government, rumours and speculative information on the epidemic, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and neutral references to Chinese government efforts on handling the outbreak that had been reported on state media.
- Many of the censorship rules are broad and effectively block messages that include names for the virus or sources for information about it. Such rules may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention…”
Via CDC Public Health Media Library – “Healthcare professionals, labs, and health departments, learn the most current information about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): outbreak locations, risk assessment, and travel guidance.”
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary – This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse – “The latest available case-by-case records from the Department of Justice show that the prosecution of white-collar offenders in January 2020 reached an all-time low since tracking began during the Reagan Administration. Only 359 defendants were prosecuted. Almost all of these were individuals rather than businesses. January 2020’s prosecutions continued a downward slide, dropping 8 percent from a year ago, and were down 25 percent from just five years ago. On an annual basis, during the Obama Administration they reached over 10,000 in FY 2011. If prosecutions continue at the same pace for the remainder of FY 2020, they are projected to fall to 5,175 – about half the level of their Obama-era peak. These comparisons are based on case-by-case information obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University after successful litigation against the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act.
Prosecutors chiefly pursue individuals when prosecuting white-collar crimes. Corporations and other business organizations are rarely prosecuted. Yet white-collar crimes typically involve some form of fraud or anti-trust violations involving financial, insurance or mortgage institutions; health care providers; securities and commodities firms; or frauds committed in tax, federal procurement or federal programs among others. Since separate tracking for business entities began in FY 2004, businesses made up just 1 out of every 100 prosecutions. Mirroring overall trends, the number of white-collar offenses that business entities have been prosecuted for have also been generally falling…”
The NYT Open Team – A step-by-step guide to finding and removing your personal information from the internet. “No one wants their home address on the internet. That is personal information we typically only give out to friends, family and maybe our favorite online stores. Yet, for many of us, that information is available and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. And increasingly for journalists, public figures and activists, this kind of information is dug up and posted to online forums as a form of harassment, or doxxing. Doxxing (also sometimes called “doxing”) is a low-level tactic with a high-impact outcome: it often does not require much time or many resources, but it can cause significant damage to the person targeted. Once sensitive information — such as home address, phone number, names of family members or email addresses — about a targeted individual is posted to public forums, it can be used by others for further targeting…When our team begins looking into the personal information that is available online for a colleague, we think like doxxers and use some of the same readily available online resources that doxxers may use to surface personal information…” [h/t Barclay Walsh]
Guthrie, Chris, Toward A Mission-Based Ranking? (February 21, 2020). Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 20-13; 60 Jurimetrics Journal 75-81 (2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3542518 – “Law schools exist to generate knowledge about law and the legal system and to prepare students for entry into the profession. Law school rankings, in turn, should evaluate schools on their success in carrying out this two-part mission.”
Fortune: “The posting on a big, reputable job board seemed perfect: An opening at a well-known company you’ve always admired, with generous pay and benefits and the option of working from home. Of course you submit a resume and after an interview or two by phone or video—usually with, say, the HR director and one other senior manager—you get a terrific offer, which you happily accept. Naturally, once you’ve signed the employment contract that comes to you by snail mail, your new employer needs all kinds of personal information about you, including your bank account number for direct deposit of your paychecks, so you fill out and return the forms they send. Then the nightmare starts. When you show up for your first day of work, no one at the company where you’ve supposedly been hired has ever heard of you—or, for that matter, of the “executives” who interviewed you. It gets worse: The balance in your bank account is now $0. And of course, you’ve already quit your old job. Unthinkable, right? But, according to a recent bulletin from the FBI, this scenario, or some diabolically clever variation of it, has been on the rise since early 2019….”
Slash and Burn – Sierra Club -“Over the years, I have often seen the evidence of this mass deforestation: in geometric clearcuts along the ranges of Catron County, New Mexico; in old-growth piñon forest reduced to pulp on the remote Tavaputs Plateau in Utah; in vast fields of stumps on rugged mountainsides in the basin and range country of Nevada. “Treated” is the term preferred by range managers to describe the undertaking. But this is little more than a bureaucratic euphemism: The trees are felled with saws, poisoned with herbicides, ripped from the ground with massive chains dragged by bulldozers, chewed to bits by machines called “bull hogs” and “giant masticators,” and burned with hand torches and incendiary “ping pong balls” filled with potassium permanganate and dropped from helicopters. Federal land managers once declared openly—even proudly—that this clearcutting was for a single purpose: to increase the land available for livestock grazing. “For as long as most of us have been aware of the piñon-juniper woodland type, we have looked upon the aggressive juniper and the scrubby piñon as weeds in need of eradication,” wrote David Tidwell, a special assistant to the director of the BLM, in 1986. “That’s not a goal to be ashamed of. Hundreds of thousands of acres of underproducing rangeland have been transformed into highly productive grazing land.”
Today, the deforestation (or “conifer removal” in the clinical patois of the land managers) is couched in the buzzwords of ecological stewardship. The trees are being cut down to increase the “resilience” of woodland ecosystems or to reduce the “fuel load” in the nation’s forests or, most often, to protect sagebrush-steppe habitat for the threatened sage grouse. “Removing encroaching juniper will improve conditions for greater sage grouse and many other species that depend on a healthy sagebrush-steppe ecosystem,” reads a 2018 BLM press release calling for the elimination of more than half a million acres of juniper forest in the remote Owyhee Mountains, straddling Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada…”
The New York Times – Federal health officials botched an initial diagnostic test and restricted widespread screening. Missteps may have raised the risks to Americans, critics say. “The coronavirus has found a crack in the nation’s public health armor, and it is not one that scientists foresaw: diagnostic testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched its first attempt to mass produce a diagnostic test kit, a discovery made only after officials had shipped hundreds of kits to state laboratories. A promised replacement took several weeks, and still did not permit state and local laboratories to make final diagnoses. And the C.D.C. essentially ensured that Americans would be tested in very few numbers by imposing stringent and narrow criteria, critics say. On Monday [March 2, 2020], following mounting criticism of the federal response, Trump administration officials promised a rapid expansion of the country’s testing capacities. With the help of private companies and academic centers, as many as a million diagnostic tests could be administered by the end of this week, said Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. But many scientists wonder if the moves come too late. As of Monday evening, 103 Americans were infected with the coronavirus in the United States. Six deaths have been reported. Dozens of patients, in several states, may have caught the virus in their communities, suggesting that the pathogen already may be circulating locally. The case numbers are rising not just because the virus is spreading, but because federal officials have taken steps toward expanded testing. The persistent drumbeat of positive test results has raised critical questions about the government’s initial management of the outbreak…
Despite repeated inquiries from The New York Times, C.D.C. officials have never provided a full account of the obstacles the agency faced in producing a diagnostic test. On Monday, officials appeared to have removed figures on the agency website counting how many Americans had been tested, and abruptly canceled a news conference just as it was to begin…”
The Verge: “A tally of the number of people tested for the novel coronavirus disappeared from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on Monday. The change was first reported by journalist Judd Legum on Twitter. The disappearance of the numbers comes less than a week after the first cases of the virus with unknown origins were reported in the US. In the past few days, six deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have been confirmed in Washington state…”
ars technica: “Networking giant Cisco is getting into the coronavirus monitoring and mitigation game with its Webex remote meeting property. The company notes that in the wake of mandates issued to employees to halt travel plans and/or work from home, traffic across its Webex backbone has increased significantly. Webex meeting traffic connecting Chinese users to global workplaces has increased by a factor of 22 since the outbreak began; traffic in other Asian countries is up by 400 percent or more, and free signup rates in impacted countries have increased 700 percent or more. In response, Cisco is offering temporarily unlimited usage (with no time restrictions) in all countries where the service is available (full list here), not just the ones worst hit by coronavirus. The company is also offering free 90-day licenses to businesses that are not currently Webex customers and offering free upgrades to customers whose current plan is insufficient to accommodate increased traffic due to the outbreak. In the worst affected countries, telepresence and remote work software like Webex is currently the only alternative to a complete shutdown of activities. In its press release, Cisco highlights the Nesbitt Center, an organization working with disabled young adults in Hong Kong…”
LA Times: “As three more deaths in the United States were linked to the coronavirus Tuesday World Health Organization officials warned the virus could be far more dangerous than the flu, with a mortality rate of 3.4%. The global mortality rate — which includes more than 3,000 deaths — is many times higher than the mortality rate of the flu, which is less than 1%. WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that is at least partly because COVID-19 is a new disease, and no one has built up an immunity to it.
Washington Post – How bad will the coronavirus outbreak get in the U.S.? – “The spreading coronavirus is shaping up as a pandemic of potentially historic proportions, possibly on the scale of the global outbreak of influenza in 1957 but unlikely to be as catastrophic as the Spanish flu of 1918, according to projections by infectious disease experts who are still struggling to understand this novel pathogen…Most new coronavirus cases are now outside of China, with 64 countries reporting cases as of Tuesday…”
See also The Dallas Morning News – Gov. Abbott calls CDC release of coronavirus-infected patient “negligence” “He is also asking federal public health officials to boost test requirements before releasing any more patients from quarantine at a San Antonio military base…”
The Conversation – “Millions of Americans enjoy feeding and watching backyard birds. Many people make a point of putting food out in winter, when birds needs extra energy, and spring, when many species build nests and raise young. As a wildlife ecologist and a birder, I know it’s important to understand how humans influence bird populations, whether feeding poses risks to wild birds, and how to engage with birds in sustainable ways. There is still much to learn about the risks and benefits of feeding birds, particularly through large integrated national citizen science networks like Project FeederWatch. But we now have enough information to promote healthy interactions that can inspire future generations to care about conservation…” [h/t Pete Weiss]
Gizmodo: “There are currently 342 potential borrowers waiting for 197 digital copies of Ronan Farrow’s investigative thriller Catch and Kill at the Los Angeles Public Library. “It’ll take months for that ebook to become available,” I mutter to myself as I do my usual dance: searching the LAPL’s ebook shelves for titles on my reading list. I place a hold anyway. Then I search for a book that’s no longer the topic of watercooler conversations: Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. Only four borrowers in line for 93 copies. This book was major back in 2017, with dozens of digital copies to prove it, but I’m reaping the benefits of being three years late. I’ll be able to download this book to my Kindle in less than a week, I bet.
But why can only one person borrow one copy of an ebook at a time? Why are the waits so damn interminable? Well, it might not surprise you at all to learn that ebook lending is controversial in certain circles: circles of people who like to make money selling ebooks. Publishers impose rules on libraries that limit how many people can check out an ebook, and for how long a library can even offer that ebook on its shelves, because free, easily available ebooks could potentially damage their bottom lines. Libraries are handcuffed by two-year ebook licenses that cost way more than you and I pay to own an ebook outright forever. Ebooks could theoretically circulate throughout public library systems forever, preserving books that could otherwise disappear when they go out of print—after all, ebooks can’t get damaged or lost. And multiple library-goers could technically check out one ebook simultaneously if publishers allowed. But the Big Five have contracts in place that limit ebook availability with high prices—much higher than regular folks pay per ebook—and short-term licenses. The publishers don’t walk in and demand librarians hand over the ebooks or pay up, but they do just…disappear….”
Scholz, Lauren, Algorithms and Contract Law (August 1, 2019). Cambridge Handbook of the Law of Algorithms, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3525503 – “Generalist confusion about the technology behind complex algorithms has led to inconsistent case law for algorithmic contracts. Case law explicitly grounded in the principle that algorithms are constructive agents for the companies they serve would provide a clear basis for enforceability of algorithmic contracts that is both principled from a technological perspective and is readily intelligible and able to be applied by generalists.”
FastCompany: “…Creating a workplace where people from varied backgrounds are thriving doesn’t end with the hiring process. Inclusive facilities such as all-gender restrooms and lactation rooms are a massive step forward, but work remains to be done. The final, crucial piece of the puzzle is fostering a sense of belonging across the entire company. Solving this problem is a nebulous, occasionally messy, oh-so-human endeavor, and at no point will you clap the dust off your hands and say, “Well. Glad that’s sorted.” The good news is that anyone can be part of the solution, no matter if you’re the CEO or the intern who started last week. Managers do play a special role in this endeavor. First, they set the tone for their teams, so it’s important that they model vulnerability and authenticity. Those are big concepts, but bringing them to life can be as simple as publicly owning mistakes or giving your team a heads-up that you’re struggling with something in your personal life right now and may not be as available as usual. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a downer. Being open about your dorky obsession with turn-of-the-century operettas counts too…”
Inside Higher Education: “A recent survey found the use of technology in class, such as laptops or phones, for noneducational purposes was distracting to almost half of students, while others surveyed believe technology in the classroom is unavoidable. The study was published in the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and surveyed 478 students and 36 instructors at the University of Waterloo. Of the undergraduate students surveyed, 49 percent said the use of technology for reasons not related to class, or “off-task” use, was distracting to them. However, students generally said they’ve used technology for off-task purposes regardless.
“Students actually know and realize that the use of technology has a negative impact on people around them when used for off-task purposes like browsing the web,” Elena Neiterman, a Waterloo teaching fellow and one of the authors of the study, said. “They still feel like [technology] is still necessary when the classes are not engaging enough. Like, for example, being in a large lecture hall or when the professor is what they call ‘boring.’”