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Longreads – Secrecy and speechifying, collegiality and hierarchy, exceptionalism and opulence on the Supreme Court. “…At the corner of East Capitol and First in Washington, D.C., across the street and a world away from the workaday Congress, resides the Court. Its proximity to Congress serves as a reminder of the looming power of the third branch of government. Built on the site of a prison for captured Confederates — the prison held Mary Surratt, Samuel Mudd and others arrested after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination — the Court is the closest thing we have to a secular shrine. When its cornerstone was laid in 1932, amid the Great Depression, Charles Evans Hughes, the chief justice, proclaimed, “The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith.” The Court is the most powerful in the history of the world…Someone once remarked that if the gods had an office, it would look like the Supreme Chamber. By any other name in our constitutional system, the justices are a priesthood, with all the trappings. They certainly dress the part — that’s why they wear the black robes, a practice dating to the estimable John Marshall, chief justice in the early 19th century. “I’m sure we could do our work without the robes,” Scalia acknowledged in an interview, but they “impart the significance of what goes on here.” The justices wear them even at such nonjudicial events as the State of the Union by the president in the Capitol. For Rehnquist, austere black was not enough. He started wearing his robes with four personally designed gold stripes festooned on each sleeve, inspired by the Lord Chancellor in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.” (Roberts abandoned the self-congratulatory practice.)..”
The New York Times: “With a single scholarly article, Lina Khan, 29, has reframed decades of monopoly law….In early 2017, when she was an unknown law student, Ms. Khan published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal. Her argument went against a consensus in antitrust circles that dates back to the 1970s — the moment when regulation was redefined to focus on consumer welfare, which is to say price. Since Amazon is renowned for its cut-rate deals, it would seem safe from federal intervention. Ms. Khan disagreed. Over 93 heavily footnoted pages, she presented the case that the company should not get a pass on anticompetitive behavior just because it makes customers happy. Once-robust monopoly laws have been marginalized, Ms. Khan wrote, and consequently Amazon is amassing structural power that lets it exert increasing control over many parts of the economy. Amazon has so much data on so many customers, it is so willing to forgo profits, it is so aggressive and has so many advantages from its shipping and warehouse infrastructure that it exerts an influence much broader than its market share. It resembles the all-powerful railroads of the Progressive Era, Ms. Khan wrote: “The thousands of retailers and independent businesses that must ride Amazon’s rails to reach market are increasingly dependent on their biggest competitor.” The paper got 146,255 hits, a runaway best-seller in the world of legal treatises. That popularity has rocked the antitrust establishment, and is making an unlikely celebrity of Ms. Khan in the corridors of Washington. She has her own critics now: Several leading scholars have found fault with Ms. Khan’s proposals to revive and expand antitrust, and some have tried to dismiss her paper with the mocking label “Hipster Antitrust.” Unwilling or perhaps unable to accept that a woman wrote a breakthrough legal text, they keep talking about bearded dudes…”
Secrecy News Blog: “The Congressional Research Service once played a prominent role in supporting oversight by congressional committees. Although that support has diminished sharply in recent years, it could conceivably be restored in a new Congress, writes former CRS analyst Kevin R. Kosar in a new paper. In the past, CRS “closely assisted Congress in a myriad of major oversight efforts, including the Watergate investigation, the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, and the Iran-Contra affair.” But over time, Kosar writes, “CRS’ role in oversight declined due to various factors, most of which were out of its control. Congress changed. Congressional committees, particularly in the House of Representatives, lost capacity, and hyper-partisanism turned much oversight into political point-scoring rather than an exercise in governing that required expert assistance.”
- See “The Atrophying of the Congressional Research Service’s Role in Supporting Committee Oversi “ by Kevin R. Kosar, Wayne Law Review, vol. 64:149, 2018.
“Technologies are often seen either as objects of ethical scrutiny or as challenging traditional ethical norms. The advent of autonomous machines, deep learning and big data techniques, blockchain applications and ‘smart’ technological products raises the need to introduce ethical norms into these devices. The very act of building new and emerging technologies has also become the act of creating specific moral systems within which human and artificial agents will interact through transactions with …”
“Exploring the relationship between ethics and technological innovation has always been a challenging task for policy-makers. Ethical considerations concerning the impact of research and innovation (R&I) are increasingly important owing to the quickening pace of technological innovation and the transformative potential and complexity of contemporary advances in science and technology. The multiplication of legal references to ethical principles and the mushrooming of ad hoc ethics committees indicate the institutional embedding of ethics into the scientific research process as such, but also into an increasing array of technological trajectories. Yet the rapid development of disruptive technologies means that social and ethical norms often struggle to keep up with technological development. But what if disruptive technologies were to challenge traditional ethical norms and structures?…”
“The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that captures the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices. We reviewed data on who’s incarcerated, for what reasons, and for how long. Urban Institute researchers then created a forecasting tool to predict the impact of reductions in admissions and length of stay on the number of people imprisoned in each state, the racial disparities in their prison systems, and the impact of these reductions on state budgets. In Arizona, for example, where drug possession and distribution account for nearly one out of every three prison admissions, reductions in admissions and time served could lead to 23,023 fewer people in prison by 2025, at a cost savings to the state of over $1 billion. And in Oregon, where harsh mandatory minimums have contributed to a nearly fivefold increase in the prison population between 1980 and 2016, reforms could lead to 6,894 fewer people in prison by 2025, saving the state more than $500 million…”
MarketPlace: “The cost of the learning content was designed so that everybody could take a 30 percent margin three times — the distributor, the wholesaler, the bookstore. What gets taught is based on the curriculum that a school can do based on the professors they have, which is very different than what you want to learn, what you need to learn, the time that you are available to learn it and the price you can pay for it…”
Understanding China’s Role in the Production and Supply of Synthetic Opioids by Bryce Pardo: Testimony presented before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on September 6, 2018. [h/t Mary Whisner]
“The introduction of illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids to U.S. drug markets presents new challenges for contemporary drug policy: The potency of many synthetic opioids increases risk to users and poses challenges for first responders, the development of novel opioids that fall outside existing drug controls complicates regulatory efforts, and their ability to be produced and shipped with ease disrupts traditional supply chains. Today, I will briefly describe our country’s ongoing opioid overdose crisis. Understanding recent developments and the shifting supply of opioids is critical to policy design. I will then describe the emergence of synthetic opioids, which have complicated many of our drug policy efforts. Given the topic of this hearing, I focus most of my testimony on China’s role as a source of synthetic psychoactives and chemical precursors, describing what we know about the manufacture and export of potent opioids, such as fentanyl, to the United States. Although most of these substances appear to come from China, many dimensions of this problem remain unclear. That said, China’s export-led economic strategy and lack of regulatory oversight have created favorable conditions for the production and exportation of synthetic opioids and related chemicals. I conclude with some policy options going forward, aimed at the new challenges posed by these substances…”
Google Blog: “As researchers on the Android team, we spend a lot of time out in the world, listening to our users. To do our best work, we leave our passions behind. Objectivity is key. But it’s hard not to develop empathy, especially when you start to notice that not everything about people’s experience with technology is positive. As early as 2015, we noticed that increasingly, people we talked to were raising a flag about how distracting notifications on mobile devices can be. So we started thinking a lot about the role of notifications on people’s phones, and how we could build a better experience to help people achieve balance. We started with some small changes in Android Nougat, like bundling notifications and making it easier to reply to a message without opening the app. But we knew there was more that we could do to understand how phones might be making it harder for people to disconnect, and the frustration this was generating. So last year my colleague Safia Baig and I embarked on a research project to do that, and we’ve just published the results.
Toward “JOMO”: the joy of missing out and the freedom of disconnecting. MobileHCI ’18 Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and ServicesArticle No. 19. Barcelona, Spain — September 03 – 06, 2018 ACM New York, NY, USA ©2018. table of contents ISBN: 978-1-4503-5898-9. doi 10.1145/3229434.3229468. “We took an ethnographic approach to explore the continuum between excessive smartphone use and healthy disconnection. We conducted a qualitative mixed-methods study in Switzerland and the United States to understand the nature of the problem, how it evolves, the workarounds that users employ to disconnect, and their experience of smartphone disconnection. We discussed two negative behavioral cycles: an internal experience of habit and excessive use, and an externally reinforced cycle of social obligation. We presented a taxonomy of non-use based on the dimensions of time and user level of control. We highlighted 3 potential areas for solutions around short-term voluntary disconnection and describe recommendations for how the mobile industry and app developers can address this issue.”
Making advocacy accessible – 5 Calls make it effortless for regular people to have a voice when it’s needed most
“Calling members of Congress is the most effective way to have your voice heard. Calls are tallied by staffers and the count is given to your representatives, informing them how strongly their constituents feel about a current issue. The sooner you reach out, the more likely it is that your voice will influence their position….5 Calls does the research for each issue, determining which representatives are most influential for which topic, collecting phone numbers for those offices and writing scripts that clearly articulate a progressive position. You just have to call. 5 Calls is a volunteer effort.”
Axios: The Equifax data breach was supposed to change everything about cybersecurity regulation on Capitol Hill. One year later, it’s not clear it changed much of anything.
“Why it matters: A year ago Friday, Equifax — one of the major credit reporting agencies — announced that 145.5 million U.S. adults had their social security numbers stolen in an easily preventable breach. If any data breach was going to be able to shock Washington into enacting sweeping privacy reforms, this should have been it.
But that didn’t happen: “The initial interest that was implied by congressional actions didn’t pan out,” said Michelle Richardson, director of the Privacy and Data Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
What was supposed to happen: After the first of several hearings involving Equifax, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Judiciary Committee, said it was “long past time” for federal standards for how companies like Equifax secure data.
- Data security wasn’t the only anticipated reform. Congress appeared poised to create a national breach notification law governing how and how quickly companies must notify anybody whose personal information is stolen in a breach. Currently, to the chagrin of national retailers, those laws vary state to state.
- Several investigations were supposed to penalize the credit bureau for lax cybersecurity, including failing to patch the vulnerability hackers exploited despite government warnings.
What actually happened: The bills petered out.
What went wrong:
- “A lot of issues fall through cracks in the early days of an administration, especially one with so much controversy,” said CDT’s Richardson.
- Congress often has difficulty focusing on more than one cybersecurity-related topic at a time. Russia and election security are now in the spotlight.
- “Regulation is tough in this political climate,” said Tom Gann, chief public policy officer at McAfee.
- The cybersecurity field averages one “this-changes-everything” event a year, none of which actually changes everything. A year before Equifax, there were attacks on the election. In 2015, China hit the Office of Personnel Management. In 2014, North Korea hit Sony.
- “For people who think of themselves as privacy experts, they keep waiting for the straw that will break the camel’s back,” said Steven Weber, director of UC-Berkeley’s Center for Long Term Cybersecurity. “The fact is these don’t change the public’s view.”..
The Guardian – Stanisław Aronson – “I survived the Warsaw ghetto. Here are the lessons I’d like to pass on. I’m 93, and, as extremism sweeps across Europe, I fear we are doomed to repeat the mistakes which created the Holocaust
“Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel stated this summer that “when the generation that survived the war is no longer here, we’ll find out whether we have learned from history”. As a Polish Jew born in 1925, who survived the Warsaw ghetto, lost my family in the Holocaust, served in a special operations unit of the Polish underground, the Home Army, and fought in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, I know what it means to be at the sharp end of European history – and I fear that the battle to draw the right lessons from that time is in danger of being lost. Now 93 years old and living in Tel Aviv, I have watched from afar in recent years as armchair patriots in my native Poland have sought to exploit and manipulate the memories and experiences of my generation. They may think they are promoting “national dignity” or instilling “pride” in today’s young people, but in reality they are threatening to raise future generations in darkness, ignorant of the war’s complexity and doomed to repeat the mistakes for which we paid such a high price.”
Mentalfloss: “If you don’t spend most of your time on the internet, it can be hard to keep up with the evolving lingo of the digital age. Luckily, the editors at Merriam-Webster have done the hard work of keeping track of the most important new terms to know: The American institution has added over 840 new words to its dictionary, many of which didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. Readers fluent in internet-speak will be familiar with many of the entries on the list, and there are also plenty of new words that are specific to the tech world. Not every word that’s new to the dictionary is necessarily new to language; Merriam-Webster now includes some culinary terms that have been around for a while, and the new list also features abbreviations of common words. Check out a sample of the new entries…”
- I am highlighting this word as I use it frequently in respect to work related research: “10. FINTECH (N.) “Products and companies that employ newly developed digital and online technologies in the banking and financial services industries.”
“A sizable majority of U.S. adults use Facebook and most of its users get news on the site. But a new Pew Research Center survey finds that notable shares of Facebook users ages 18 and older lack a clear understanding of how the site’s news feed operates, feel ordinary users have little control over what appears there, and have not actively tried to influence the content the feed delivers to them. The findings from the survey – conducted May 29-June 11 – come amid a debate over the power of major online platforms, the algorithms that underpin those platforms and the nature of the content those algorithms surface to users. Facebook’s broad reach and impact mean that its news feed is one of the most prominent examples of a content algorithm in many Americans’ lives. When asked whether they understand why certain posts but not others are included in their news feed, around half of U.S. adults who use Facebook (53%) say they do not – with 20% saying they do not understand the feed at all well. Older users are especially likely to say they do not understand the workings of the news feed: Just 38% of Facebook users ages 50 and older say they have a good understanding of why certain posts are included in it, compared with 59% of users ages 18 to 29…”
Google Blog: “What is Dataset Search? Dataset Search enables users to find datasets stored across thousands of repositories on the Web, making these datasets universally accessible and useful. Datasets and related data tend to be spread across multiple data repositories on the web. In many cases, information about these datasets is neither linked nor has it been indexed by search engines, making data discovery tedious or, in some cases, impossible. By providing our users with a single interface that allows them to search across multiple repositories, we hope to transform how data is being published and used. We also believe that this project will have the additional benefits of a) creating a data sharing ecosystem that will encourage data publishers to follow best practices for data storage and publication and b) giving scientists a way to show the impact of their work through citation of datasets that they have produced.. Check out our Frequently Asked Questions about Dataset Search.”
“We launched the new Search Console at the beginning of the year. Since then we have been busy hearing and responding to your feedback, adding new features such as the URL Inspection Tool, and migrating key reports and features. Here’s what the new Search Console gives you: More data:
- Get an accurate view of your website content using the Index Coverage report.
- Review your Search Analytics data going back 16 months in the Performance report.
- See information on links pointing to your site and within your site using the Links report.
- Retrieve crawling, indexing, and serving information for any URL directly from the Google index using the URL Inspection Tool…”
“Just over half of Facebook users ages 18 and older (54%) say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Around four-in-ten (42%) say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while around a quarter (26%) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. All told, some 74% of Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions in the past year. The findings come from a survey of U.S. adults conducted May 29-June 11, following revelations that the former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge. Facebook has separately faced scrutiny from conservative lawmakers and pundits over allegations that it suppresses conservative voices. The Center found that the vast majority of Republicans think that social platforms in general censor political speech they find objectionable. Despite these concerns, the poll found that nearly identical shares of Democrats and Republicans (including political independents who lean toward either party) use Facebook. Republicans are no more likely than Democrats to have taken a break from Facebook or deleted the app from their phone in the past year…”
Gizmodo: “Openly recognizing their companies’ past failures in rare displays of modesty, Facebook and Twitter executives touted new efforts to combat state-sponsored propaganda across their platforms before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, acknowledging that the task is often “overwhelming” and proving a massive drain on their resources. Despite frequent and contradictory remarks by President Donald Trump, America’s top national security officials have continued to warn of ongoing foreign influence operations aimed at the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections. Weeks ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that U.S. officials had been targeted using traditional tradecraft, and that the bureau had detected criminal efforts to suppress voting and provide illegal campaign contributions. Among other tactics employed by foreign rivals, senior officials at FBI, Homeland Security, and U.S. Cyber Command cited open-ended efforts to spread disinformation on social media, directly targeting U.S. voters, as well as ongoing cyberattacks against the nation’s voting infrastructure. “Our adversaries are trying to undermine our country on a persistent and regular basis,” said Wray, “whether it’s election season or not…”
Link to video and statements from the testimony – https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/hearings/open-hearing-foreign-influence-operations%E2%80%99-use-social-media-platforms
Reuters: “…At age 58, [Dale] Kleber had extensive experience working for law firms, as an in-house general counsel and in general management jobs. But he had been out of work since the summer of 2011, when he lost his job as the CEO of a dairy industry trade association. Kleber’s search for senior-level general counsel positions had proved fruitless, so he widened his scope to include more junior positions. But his application for the position at CareFusion, a medical device/services company, had gone nowhere. CareFusion had not called him in for an interview for its senior counsel job, and it ultimately hired a 29-year-old candidate, according to the company’s response to the original U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that preceded the lawsuit. Kleber, who lives in suburban Chicago, thought the seven-year cap on experience described in the job ad violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects the rights of workers aged 40 and older…” [h/t Pete Weiss]