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The Changing Faces of American Drone Warfare Policy

Brief #135 – Foreign Policy
By Reilly Fitzgerald

The issue of drones is one that is coming into further examination in recent weeks as President Joe Biden ordered a drone strike within Afghanistan on August 29th which killed numerous civilians. The Afghanistan debacle has drawn criticism from political circles in the United States, in the international community, and other foreign policy experts; and as it first hit the news in the last few days, the solution of the United States government is to pay the families of the victims for their losses.

read more

Florida Gov. DeSantis Anti-Immigrant Policies

Brief #29 – Florida Gov. DeSantis Anti-Immigrant Policies
By Ibrahim Sultan

In recent months, the United States has seen large numbers of people attempting to cross into its borders from as far away as Afghanistan and as near as Haiti. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken issue with the Biden administration’s handling of the border situations and has accused it of having lax immigration policies that have allowed in too many undocumented migrants. A problem he feels puts Americans and Floridians in danger.

read more

Theranos: A Medical Fraud Case for the Record Books

Brief #138 – Health and Gender Policy
By S Bhimji

Elizabeth Holmes, founder, and CEO of Theranos was on top of the world a decade ago. After just two semesters at Stanford, the dropout partnered with Ramesh Balwani (her BF) to develop a ground-breaking medical device that could run hundreds of medical tests on a tiny amount of blood obtained with a pinprick. She aspired to be the next Steve Jobs and emulated him in every respect. 

read more

Numbers and Power: Congress and News Media

Brief #28 – Elections and Politics
By Rosalind Gottfried

Congress, responsible for policies and legislation, and the news media, responsible for dissemination of information and opinion, are two of the most powerful institutions in the country. How do they fare in terms of parity on race, ethnicity, and gender? The 117th Congress is more diverse than previous Congresses but only slightly more than the 116th. Congress is 77% white while the general population is 60% white. Women comprise 24% of all seats though women are more than half of the American population.

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The Facebook Files Follow-Up: Facebook’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Brief #64 – Technology
By Scout Burchill

Frances Haugen, the whistleblower behind the Wall Street Journal’s hugely-consequential Facebook Files (see Brief #64 for more details) took center stage earlier this month, revealing her identity in a primetime interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes before testifying in front of Congress in a series of high-profile hearings. Haugen’s revelations, coupled with an hours-long complete blackout of all Facebook-owned platforms, added up to one of Facebook’s worst weeks ever.

read more

The Facebook Files: A Clarion Call for Real Accountability and Transparency

Brief #63 – Technology
By Scout Burchill

A remarkable investigative series published last month by the Wall Street Journal reveals the profound, and deeply disturbing, ways Facebook is warping our society. The Facebook Files, as they are called, expose bombshell revelations about the harms the biggest social media company in the world knowingly perpetrates. While much ink has been spilled on this topic before, the Facebook Files are already shaping up to be the most damning scandal to rock the company since Cambridge Analytica.

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Bears Ears National Monument: A Proper Boundary Reestablished

Brief #132 – Environmental Policy
By Tim Loftus

In December of 2016, President Obama issued Presidential Proclamation 9558 – Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument. This relatively new monument is unique. Situated in southeastern Utah, the monument was created largely at the behest of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition composed of five Colorado Plateau tribes who share a longstanding cultural connection to the landscape: Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and Zuni Tribe.

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Supply Chain and Customer Service Shortages: The Real Drivers of Inflation

Brief #126 – Economic Policy
By Rosalind Gottfried

There are some indications that the economy is strong. The US economy is expected to grow at 6% this year and fall to 3.9% for 2022, a greater rate than for most years since the turn of the century. Economists are predicting a steady expansion of the economy for the second half of 2021. The unemployment rate is under 5%, marking only 17 months to recover that rate since the pandemic started. Unemployment is currently at 4.8% which is down from 5.2% in August.

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The Changing Faces of American Drone Warfare Policy

The Changing Faces of American Drone Warfare Policy

Foreign Policy Brief #135 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | October 19, 2021

Header photo taken from: The Print

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Photo taken from: Stimson Center

Policy Summary

Drones have been a weapon of choice for  previous Presidential administrations from George W. Bush to Joe Biden. Drones have been used all across the globe by the United States military and the intelligence community, especially by the Central Intelligence Agency. Drone warfare has tested the rule of law in many instances from surveillance usages for intelligence and law enforcement purposes, to the extra-judicial killing of an American citizen like Anwar Al-Awlaki; who was executed via drone by the Obama administration without his constitutional right to due process of law. 

The issue of drones is one that is coming into further examination in recent weeks as President Joe Biden ordered a drone strike within Afghanistan on August 29th which killed innocent civilians and  numerous civilians. The Afghanistan debacle has drawn criticism from political circles in the United States, in the international community, and other foreign policy experts; and so far the solution of the United States government is to pay the families of the victims for their losses. 

Policy Analysis

According to data published by the Council of Foreign Relations in 2017, in an article by Micah Zenko called “Obama’s Final Drone Strike Data”, President Obama authorized over 500 drone strikes in his time as President of the United States; these strikes were mostly limited to Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. This data shows the number of drone strikes in each country between the years of 2004 (pre-Obama) to 2017. The number of strikes clearly rises on almost a yearly basis.

Documents have come to light regarding the ‘rules’ that President Trump had while in office for his use of drones. According to the ACLU, President Trump changed the policy of using drones in response to a direct attack, to using it as a retaliatory measure against just the mere threat of violence against US interests. According to US News on March 8th of 2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed that the federal government (DOD, White House, etc) were starting to review these policies and attempt to make changes toward a more legal footing regarding the use of drones inside (and outside) of conflict zones and other standards regarding the presence of the target, or the presence of civilians. 

Photo taken from: Voanews

Drones  capabilities and policies  have been the subject of many national discussions since the US left Afghanistan at the end of August. Those within the administration, like Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have touted the United States’ ability to strike “over the horizon” via our extensive drone warfare capabilities. These were the same capabilities that  killed 12 Afghan citizens in a mistaken US drone strike. 

It is unclear if the Biden administration will make much progress toward bringing the drone program towards a more legal footing than previous Presidents. Our ability to conduct these strikes with accuracy in former warzones  (Afghanistan, Iraq, etc) is going to be directly impacted by the lessening of our intelligence collection in these places. 

During the war in Afghanistan, the US intelligence community had an extensive presence throughout the country. Many of these assets are now either out of the country, or unable to conduct  intelligence  due to the lack of American (and allied) personnel in Afghanistan. 

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Just Security (https://www.justsecurity.org/ )

Just Security is based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law. Just Security writes on many issues regarding American foreign policy and international security issues. 

Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan

 (https://www.hrw.org/asia/afghanistan# ) – Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world. We are roughly 450 people of 70-plus nationalities who are country experts, lawyers, journalists, and others who work to protect the most at risk, from vulnerable minorities and civilians in wartime, to refugees and children in need.

ACLU, National Security Project

(https://www.aclu.org/issues/national-security) – The ACLU National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.

Florida Gov. DeSantis Anti-Immigrant Policies

Florida Gov. DeSantis Anti-Immigrant Policies

Elections and Politics Policy Brief #29 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | October 20, 2021

Header photo taken from: Florida Phoenix

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Photo taken from: Getty Images

Policy Summary

In recent months, the United States has seen large numbers of people attempting to cross into its borders from as far away as Afghanistan and as near as Haiti. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken issue with the Biden administration’s handling of the border situations and has accused it of having lax immigration policies that have allowed in too many undocumented migrants. A problem he feels puts Americans and Floridians in danger.

Governor DeSantis has announced three actions being taken to curb what he sees as an immigrant crisis in the U.S. with the first action being that the State of Florida will sue the Biden administration over its immigration policies. The lawsuit alleges that the Biden administration violated a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act, by overstepping its legal authority when deciding not to detain undocumented immigrants arriving. It also alleges that the federal government’s actions violate the law because they are “arbitrary and capricious”. Secondly, the Governor has signed Executive order 21-223, which is also called the “Biden Border Crisis Executive Order”, which prohibits Florida agencies from cooperating with the federal government over certain immigration issues, for example prohibiting state agencies under Governor’s purview from providing support for the resettlement of illegal aliens to Florida… and, encouraging state law enforcement to detain any vehicle suspected of transporting illegal aliens if there is reasonable suspicion it is being used for human or drug trafficking. 

Lastly, Larry Keefe a former U.S. attorney for Florida who was nominated by former President Donald Trump to become a federal prosecutor has been appointed to a new position, as the state’s “public safety czar”. Keefe’s stated purpose in the new role is to help keep Floridians safe from dangerous illegal immigrants who may try to enter the state or are already in it. The governor also recently called on state law enforcement to ‘audit’ private companies to ensure their workers are legally permitted to work in the United States and he has encouraged Florida authorities to detain buses, planes, or cars that they “reasonably believed” to be transporting people who entered the country illegally.

Policy Analysis

Under former president, Donald Trump DeSantis had no quarrels with Florida authorities cooperating with the federal government on issues of immigration. DeSantis and Biden have clashed over many issues in the past year, from lockdowns, to mask mandates and now immigration. 

President Biden has not exactly been “soft” on immigration. He has continued keeping migrants in Mexico to await asylum claims hearings. The administration has also carried on using migrant detention centers used under the Trump administration that was promised would be shut down. They have also deported a large number of Haitians back to Haiti even as the situation continues to deteriorate and it is labeled unsafe for travel.

 Still, DeSantis claims the administration has been far too soft on immigration and continues to implement draconian policies in his state. His new public safety czar will likely pursue new policies targeting immigrants and those Floridians who are suspected of being immigrants.

Photo taken from: AP News

DeSantis has worked hard to brand himself in Trump’s likeness and his Florida policies are examples of what kind of governing he would do at the national level. In further harming and alienating Florida’s large Latino and black citizens, he is gaining the national spotlight and attracting the Right-wing with a growing reputation for being the U.S.’s most rebellious, provocative, and anti-immigrant politician.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Florida immigration coalition- The Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) is a statewide coalition of more than 65 member organizations. We work together for the fair treatment of all people, including immigrants. With staff in six counties and members throughout Florida

ACLU Florida- The mission of the ACLU of Florida is to protect, defend, strengthen, and promote the constitutional rights and liberties of all people in Florida. We envision a fair and just Florida, where all people are free, equal under the law, and live with dignity.

Theranos: A Medical Fraud Case for the Record Books

Theranos: A Medical Fraud Case for the Record Books

Health and Gender Policy Brief #138 | By: S, Bhimji | October 18, 2021

Header photo taken from: ABC News

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Photo taken from: Getty Images

Policy Summary

Elizabeth Holmes, founder, and CEO of Theranos was on top of the world a decade ago. After just two semesters at Stanford, the dropout partnered with Ramesh Balwani (her BF) to develop a ground-breaking medical device that could run hundreds of medical tests on a tiny amount of blood obtained with a pinprick. She aspired to be the next Steve Jobs and emulated him in every respect. 

Just 8 years ago, she was running a company worth $10 billion but today she is on trial with her partner,  Balwani, for running one of the biggest scams in the world of medical testing. 

In 2002, Holmes (19) was in China when she met Balwani (37) and soon they became business partners and lovers. They came up with an idea that they would change medicine for the better by doing two things: 1) develop a small medical appliance that could quickly run hundreds of medical tests within minutes and 2) the machine would only use a tiny amount of blood- that was obtained from a finger prick. 

It is important to note that existing technology requires blood drawn from the arm with a needle and that outside of the most common dozen medical tests that take less than 60 mins, most laboratory tests take days. Holmes and Balwani were offering a technology that was fast, automated, and cheap.

With this idea in mind, Holmes recruited big-time investors to become part of her business. Some of the investors who sat on her board included Henry Kissinger, James Mattis, and George Shultz. Companies like Safeway and Walgreens paid hundreds of millions of dollars to have this technology in their stores to benefit their patients. 

At its peak in 2013-14, Theranos was worth close to $10 billion and Holmes and Balwani were living the good life. Money from investors was pouring in, and both partners were on the front cover of every business magazine. They were hobnobbing with the most famous and richest business people on planet earth. In one email to Holmes, Balwani, said, “They’re not investing in our company, they’re investing in our destiny.” 

Everything was going according to plans- or was it?

Policy Analysis

In 2014, a whistleblower shocked the world by revealing the extent of fraud that was taking place at Theranos. Firstly, Theranos never succeeded in developing a machine that could do all the hundreds of tests that they bragged about. The rates of false positives and false negatives were high leaving investors and patients very unhappy. Further staff revealed that the machine had never been verified for quality control, reliability, and reproducibility. 

Of major concern was that Theranos was using third-party proprietary machines to do the testing and hid these machines when investors came to check the Theranos facility. 

Also of importance was that the finger prick test never worked and Theranos was using blood drawn from the arm- as has been done for nearly a century. Yet, Holmes and Balwani continued to sell their technology and duped more investors; they never mentioned the flaws in their machine. 

Everything at Theranos was surrounded by secrecy and intimidation. No one was allowed to speak about the incorrect medical tests. New lies were created to cover old lies.

The moment the inner workings about Theranos were published in the Wall Street Journal, the company started to spiral down. Initially, Holmes denied the newspaper report about her company. But within 3 years, both Holmes and Balwani were charged with criminal fraud for having allegedly made false claims and misleading investors about the efficiency of their groundbreaking blood-testing technology. 

Photo taken from: Stat News

The case is expected to finish sometime in Dec 2021. If found guilty she faces at least 20 years in prison. Balwani faces a separate trial in Jan of 2022. And it is unlikely that the investors will see any of their money back- Holmes and Balwani lived a lavish lifestyle sparing no expenses.

In 2018, the FBI shut the company down and Holmes is facing numerous lawsuits from investors. Her trial is presently taking place in California and it is expected that she will claim that her boyfriend Balwani abused her, which led her to make all the wrong decisions. 

 

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Numbers and Power: Congress and News Media

Numbers and Power: Congress and News Media

Elections and Politics Policy Brief #28 | By: Rosalind Gottfried | October 18, 2021

Header photo taken from: The Economist

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Photo taken from: Pew Rearch Center

Policy Summary

Congress is more diverse than previous Congresses but only slightly more than the 116th.  Congress is 77% white while the general population is 60% white.   Women comprise 24% of all seats though women are more than half of the American population.  Though 23% of the Congress are racial or ethnic minorities, some groups are closer to proportionally represented than others.  African Americans and Native American Congressional membership closely mirrors their populations with 13% and 1% members, respectively.  The Hispanic population shows a more skewed relationship with 9% Congressional members and 19% in the general population. 

The Asian American/pacific Islander corresponding data is 3% members and 6% general population.  Democrats account for 83% of the nonwhite membership compared to 17% among Republicans.  Although the numbers are growing seemingly larger than in the past, when looking at the relative proportions there is very little change.  In 1981 Congress was 94% white while the population was 80% white, so the level of the gap between the Congressional composition and the general population has remained remarkably consistent.  

Attaining parity is not a simple matter of numbers of Congresspersons, though that is one important aspect of gaining equitable representation.  Eleven percent of top staff are people of color while they comprise 40% of the population.  Congressional offices have a small proportion of African American staff and many have none in the top staff position.  Research and reports by Black congressional organizations suggest a big problem in the composition and attrition with the Congressional staff offices.  Low wages, high living expenses, and an insular culture make the Congressional offices inhospitable to people of color.  

Nancy Pelosi raised the salary of top staffers to potentially $200,000 though the average staffer makes between $30-40,000 and the lowest entry level position pays $29,000.  Median Black household income averages $20,000 less than in the average American Household, suggesting less access to resources.  The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on nonwhite populations, and the threat and fear generated by the Jan 6 riot, have further increased the reluctance of nonwhite professionals to serve in the federal government.  Although the Democrats generally have a more diverse staffing pattern than the Republicans, the Senate offices in the three states with the largest portion of African American voters had only one top staffer who was African American.  

Another arena essential to establishing parity in the culture concerns the news media. The media personnel remain 75% non-Hispanic white and the percentage of people of color who are in leadership position is 13%.  Seventeen percent of newsroom staff are white, according to surveys of research by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR)*.  Newspapers have reduced their workforces by half in the past ten years and many of the first to go are nonwhites.  This against a declaration by the American Society of News Editors that pledged parity by 2000.  Some data from the CJR show that the NPR editorial staff rose from 23% persons of color in 2012 to 25% in 2017.  The WSJ newsroom staff is reported to be 90% white.  Huffpost newsroom leaders are 86% white.  The Washington Post newsroom staff is 69% white.  The NYT newsroom is 81% white, down from 84% 16 years earlier.  There were no people of color hosting prime time shows on

Fox and only one on CNN and MSNBC.

Policy Analysis

Examination of demographic data in politics and media regarding the relatively low presence of people of color, and women, often leads to scrutiny of these groups and can spiral into blaming their paucity on the groups themselves.  A more accurate assessment would consider the structural and cultural barriers faced by these groups.  

Wages and conditions of employment need to be assessed and biases regarding who represents a strong candidate need to be examined.  A bias in favor of ivy league educated persons, as well as people with certain internships and experiences, negates the many assets people of other backgrounds can bring to a position and fails to assess the level of their actual skills.  

Photo taken from: Canadian Institutes of Health

If the powerful institutions which inform civic life are to become more inclusive, no aspect of them can go unexamined; self-examination of those in power is an integral part of bringing equity because no one is in a better position to identify and rectify problem areas.   

The Facebook Files Follow-Up: Facebook’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

The Facebook Files Follow-Up: Facebook’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Technology Policy Brief #64 | By: Scout Burchill | October 18, 2021

Header photo taken from: Delano.lu

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Photo taken from: The New York Times

Policy Summary

Frances Haugen, the whistleblower behind the Wall Street Journal’s hugely-consequential Facebook Files (see Brief #64 for more details) took center stage earlier this month, revealing her identity in a primetime interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes before testifying in front of Congress in a series of high-profile hearings. Haugen’s revelations, coupled with an hours-long complete blackout of all Facebook-owned platforms, added up to one of Facebook’s worst weeks ever.

And that was just the beginning of a long week for Zuckerberg and co. Compounding Facebook’s woes, progressive antitrust hero and seasoned Big Tech critic, Jonathon Kanter, was met with bipartisan plaudits on Capitol Hill, signaling that he will likely be confirmed as the head of the antitrust division at the Justice Department. Kanter’s confirmation will add jet fuel to the burgeoning antitrust movement picking up steam in Washington, which has Facebook high on the list of worst offenders. It’s hard to imagine an all time worst week for a company that has admitted to facilitating a genocide in Myanmar, but all things considered, from Facebook’s point of view, this one is definitely up there.

A big reason for this is Frances Haugen’s testimony, which managed to do something rare in our current political climate; it brought nuance and substance to a difficult and complex issue. The Facebook Files was the true star of the show, the meat of matter, as it were, but it was Haugen’s technical knowledge and formidable experience that might make the difference going forward. Instead of devolving into a carnival of geriatic Luddites performing their predictable political grandstanding and soundbite-level gamesmanship, Haugen’s presence brought sorely needed focus at a critical moment. Her ability to keep the discussion technically-grounded, specifically on the topic of algorithms, helped keep the culture war brain rottage at bay and move the overall conversation in a much more meaningful direction.

Although not all Big Tech reformists share the same ideas about how to go about making Big Tech companies less terrible for society, Haugen’s testimony presented a number of possible avenues for Congress to pursue, which are worth taking a closer look at.

Policy Analysis

It’s no surprise that of all the revelations exposed by the Facebook Files, the one that has gained the most traction in mainstream discourse is the piece about how their business model, which is built around maximizing engagement, is really bad for the mental health of individuals, and particularly young adults. Haugen argued this well, drawing a direct line to Big Tobacco’s infamous history of corporate coverups; 

“In the case of cigarettes, ‘only’ about 10% of people who smoke ever get lung cancer… so the idea that 20% of your users could be facing serious mental health issues and that’s not a problem is shocking.” Indeed, it was hard not to leave Haugen’s testimony without thinking that Facebook was destroying the mental well-being of adolescents and was an all around anathema to informed, thoughtful and compassionate discourse and communication.

While the internal documents Haugen sheperded to the light of day certainly contained a number of new and shocking revelations, Haugen’s policy recommendations have actually been floating around the halls of Congress for some time now. They include stripping social media platforms of their Section 230 protections for content their algorithms promote, greater company transparency that would allow researchers and the public access to Facebook’s data and an independent agency to oversee social media companies. Notably, Haugen did not argue for breaking up the company.

Stripping Section 230 protections would mean Facebook could be held liable for the content users post on it (see Brief #23 for more details). Critics of this approach argue that stripping these protections and not breaking up Facebook would only consolidate even more power in the Big Tech giants.

 Only massive companies like Facebook and Google would be able to allocate the necessary resources to carry out such massive content moderation regimes. In effect, Haugen’s policies reflect her tech background. 

Photo taken from: brainstudy.info

They aim to adjust the architecture of the platform, targeting the algorithmic incentive structure that prioritizes harmful and polarizing content, without addressing the topic of concentrated power.

Advocates of anti-trust view many of the societal harms wrought by Big Tech companies principally as a symptom of their market power. 

Anti-trust advocates argue that a combination of more competitors, as well as clear rules around harmful business practices like surveillance advertising and privacy would go a long way in solving many of the problems exacerbated by the Big Tech giants. While not a panacea in and of itself, breaking up the enormous power these companies have over society, the economy and issues of speech would greatly reduce their ability perpetrate harms and would prevent their power from being weaponized by political actors.

 

Photo taken from: Reuters

Taking a different route altogether, some Big Tech reformists argue that Google and Facebook should be regulated as a public utility, like electricity or water services. Ohio is currently going this route by suing Google, claiming that the company should be declared a public utility and therefore cannot discriminate in how they list searches by prioritizing the placement of its own product, services and websites. In Facebook’s case, the government would treat it as common carrier, which would lead to a whole host of government-set regulations that would dictate how the business operates. 

While the road to reform is long and paved with uncertainty, Haugen’s testimony will certainly help guide the way. As Haugen points out, learning more about how Facebook’s algorithms and business model affects society is the only way to crafting good policy. One point all Big Tech reformists can agree upon is that more transparency is sorely needed.

The Facebook Files: A Clarion Call for Real Accountability and Transparency

The Facebook Files: A Clarion Call for Real Accountability and Transparency

Technology Policy Brief #63 | By: Scout Burchill | October 18, 2021

Header photo taken from: Financial Times

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Photo taken from: The BBC

Policy Summary

A remarkable investigative series published last month by the Wall Street Journal reveals the profound, and deeply disturbing, ways Facebook is warping our society. The Facebook Files, as they are called, expose bombshell revelations about the harms the biggest social media company in the world knowingly perpetrates. While much ink has been spilled on this topic before, the Facebook Files are already shaping up to be the most damning scandal to rock the company since Cambridge Analytica.

According to the Wall Street Journal, who received a wide-ranging cache of internal documents from Frances Haugen, a whistleblower within the company, Facebook has a secretive system of exclusive content moderation rules called ‘XCheck’ that only apply to about 5.8 million specially designated VIP users. A number of the reports, which feature company conducted research, also confirm that Facebook is well aware of the harms its platforms have unleashed on society. For example researchers found that Instagram has had a profoundly negative effect on teenage girls, with close to one-third of teen girls stating that when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram makes them feel even worse. 13% of British teens and 6% of American teens who reported having suicidal thoughts attributed their desire to kill themselves back to Instagram.

Further internal documents reveal that 87% of all platform moderators’ time is spent on content in the United States, a massive inequality considering that 90% of Facebook users live outside the United States and Canada. As a result of their underinvestment, the company knew about drug cartel operations and human trafficking in developing regions, but did little about it. Just as equally damning, internal memos show that Facebook’s 2018 algorithm tweaks, which were made under the guise of incentivizing more meaningful social reactions, actually made the platform a measurably more effective manufacturer  of outrage. Divisive and politically destabilizing content became even more rewarded. In fact, one political party from Poland estimated that the 2018 algorithm tweaks shifted their content from about 50% negative content to about 80% negative content.

If there is one takeaway from the Facebook Files it is the undeniable confirmation that Facebook is well aware of the harms of its platforms, and is either unable or unwilling to fix them. Its own workforce is now raising the alarm, calling for sorely needed accountability.

Policy Analysis

Facebook is increasingly living up to the precedent set by the ‘Big Tech’ moniker. Similar to Big Oil or Big Tobacco, the social media company is extracting massive profits at the expense of the well-being of our society. It is knowingly addicting users to cycles of manufactured outrage, polluting our mental health and poisoning our information ecosystems, all while engaging in sophisticated public relations campaigns and cover ups. The key here is not that Facebook’s business model is adversely affecting society, but rather that Facebook knows a lot more about how its business adversely affects our society than it cares to admit. And worse, the Facebook Files actually contradict a lot of what Facebook has been publicly telling us about its content moderation policies, algorithmic incentives and mental health impacts.

The Facebook Files, taken together with recent developments at Facebook, paints a picture of a company that is trying really hard to appear accountable, trustworthy and responsible, while actively undermining any real efforts to be so. Over the summer, Facebook banned a group of New York University researchers who were attempting to study political advertising on the platform. The researchers were crowdsourcing data on political ads from users through a browser extension called Ad Observer. Facebook claimed that the project puts users’ information at risk by collecting their data, however the open source codes of the extension prove that this is simply not true. The reality is Facebook is prioritizing the privacy of advertisers who pay big bucks for targeted political ads over true transparency.

Photo taken from: Washington Square News

Shortly after this incident, Facebook released a quarterly transparency report that proved to be anything but transparent. Not long after its release, the New York Times revealed that the original transparency report was shelved out of fear it would make the company look bad.

For over a decade Facebook has tricked the public, and probably even itself for a time, into thinking that everything bad about Facebook can be fixed with a tweak of the algorithm. One of the upshots of this thinking is the assumption that Facebook is the best equipped actor to solve the problems of Facebook because at the end of the day the platform’s problems are mainly technical in nature, like a lever gone awry or a dial turned too far up in the algorithmic amplification machine. Facebook itself goes to great lengths to prop up this fantasy, as well, because it allows the company to obscure its real business, which is fundamentally driven by profit, not good intentions. The Facebook Files shed light not only on the myriad ways Facebook’s policies affect society, but also help illuminate the company’s true priorities, which have always been maximizing profits by any means necessary.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

The Center for Humane Technology

https://www.humanetech.com/

The Facebook Files (writer’s source):

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-facebook-files-11631713039

Judge Pitman’s Abortion Ruling Illustrates Flaws of Texas Senate Bill 8

Judge Pitman's Abortion Ruling Illustrates Flaws of Texas Senate Bill 8

Civil Rights Policy Brief #176 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | October 15, 2021

Header photo taken from: ABC

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Photo taken from: Dallas Morning News

Policy Summary

Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB8) bans abortions approximately six weeks after pregnancy. Under the new law any person may sue a Texas health care provider to prevent them from performing an abortion and gives those persons who bring a lawsuit money damages of $10,000 if they are successful in their lawsuit against the health care provider.

On July 13, 2021 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a lawsuit to have the Texas abortion law declared unconstitutional based on existing court precedents such as Roe v. Wade.  Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson eventually made its way to the Supreme Court but the high court instead refused an order for a temporary restraining order against the law and the Texas law was allowed to go into effect on September 1, 2021.

In response to the Supreme Court’s order Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on September 9, 2021 that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would initiate a lawsuit on a different basis. While Whole Women’s Health was brought on behalf of state abortion providers, the suit brought by DOJ – United States v. Texas – was pursuant to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and would be brought because SB8 “illegally interferes with federal interests.”

On October 6, 2021 U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued a 113-page order granting a temporary restraining order prohibiting SB8 from going into effect. However, an immediate appeal was again taken and on October 8, 2021 the United States Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit ordered a stay which blocked Judge Pitman’s order. The end result is that now the SB8 law banning abortions in Texas can continue while the trial on the case moves forward. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis

While Whole Women’s Health and the DOJ case are very similar and have proceeded on an equivalent litigation track Judge Pitman’s sweeping ruling was able to put to paper the rationales as to why Senate Bill 8 is so troubling. The Whole Women’s Health case did not have this opportunity as the appeals process in that case moved rather swiftly and was primarily focused on whether a court could and should intervene with a temporary restraining order.

What DOJ lawyers did was focus on two main points that allowed Judge Pitman to expand on those points and give him a legal basis to temporarily suspend the law. First, the judge noted SB8’s novel enforcement scheme – allowing private citizens to bring lawsuits instead of Texas state officials – by calling it a “contrived” and “unprecedented” scheme to sidestep likely review by a judicial court. 

The officials in Texas knew that SB8 directly contradicted Roe v. Wade and so the law was intentionally written in a way that allowed the state to prohibit abortions without having to take any legal responsibility for the new law. A woman’s right to have an abortion cannot be deprived simply by creating a different enforcement mechanism. Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right for women to have the procedure and that right doesn’t change by trying to sidestep the law by having private citizens instead of state officials bring lawsuits.

 

Photo taken from: Lynnwod Times

And, when the DOJ lawsuit was initiated, Attorney General Merrick Garland stated his concern that SB8 would become a model for other states to pass laws that could prohibit more than just abortion rights. 

In his ruling Judge Pitman emphasized that this was another basis on why stepping in now was so important. He stated his concern that “any number of states could enact legislation that deprives citizens of their constitutional rights, with no legal remedy to challenge that deprivation, without the concern that a federal court would enter an injunction.” Judge Pitman recognized clearly that he needed to step in and, at least for now, push back on how SB8 was constructed. 

 

Photo taken from: WILX

Other states could easily try to model laws after Texas SB8.  The danger as Judge Pitman saw was depriving people of not just abortion rights but other constitutionally guaranteed rights. With a brilliant analysis and ruling by Judge Pitman parties in other lawsuits and courts around the country can now point to Judge Pitman’s order as legal precedent if states try to implement some kind of law that mirrors SB8’s enforcement mechanism.

However, with the reversal in the court of appeals, the case most likely is not finished and appears headed to the Supreme Court. LEARN MORELEARN MORELEARN MORE

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Center for Reproductive Rights – press release on United States v. Texas appeals court decision.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – group’s infopage on Texas’ Senate Bill 8.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Bears Ears National Monument: A Proper Boundary Reestablished

Bears Ears National Monument: A Proper Boundary Reestablished

Environmental Policy Brief #132 | By: Tim Loftus | October 16, 2021

Header photo taken from: Desert News

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Photo taken from: ABC

Policy Summary

In December of 2016, President Obama issued Presidential Proclamation 9558 – Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument. This relatively new monument is unique. Situated in southeastern Utah, the monument was created largely at the behest of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition composed of five Colorado Plateau tribes who share a longstanding cultural connection to the landscape: Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and Zuni Tribe.

San Juan County, where the monument is located, is one of the most scenic areas in the country. For example, the county is home to a large portion of Canyonlands National Park, other national monuments, and so much more. Much of the land features an abundance of archeological and paleontological resources that are well preserved due to the arid climate. Thus, a higher level of protection is warranted amid the area’s growing popularity with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, not all of whom visit with the respect necessary for the special, and sacred to many, nature of this land. 

In the spring of 2017, then-President Trump ordered a review of all national monuments created since 1996. The order was carried out by then-Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke. Months later, one year after Bears Ears was established, Mr. Trump took unprecedented action and with Presidential Proclamation 9681, modified the boundary and reduced the size of Bears Ears by 85 percent. In essence, Mr. Trump abolished the vast majority of a national monument that was legally established by a previous President. This highly controversial, if not illegal, action sparked immediate challenges that remain pending in federal court.

When the Biden Administration came into power and Congresswoman Deb Haaland was appointed Secretary of Interior, an immediate review commenced of actions undertaken by the previous administration including a reduction in the spatial extent of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, established by President Clinton in 1996, and a reduction in protections for a marine reserve that was also established by President Obama.

In April of this year, Secretary Haaland visited both monuments in southern Utah to hear from many of the competing voices on the matter including tribal leaders and Republican leaders including Utah Governor Spencer Cox and U.S. Senator Mitt Romney. Ms. Haaland submitted her report to the White House not long after and while the contents of the report were made public only this month, it was reported in the New York Times on June 14th that Ms. Haaland recommended that Mr.Biden reinstate the original boundaries to both monuments in Utah. It has been widely expected since his inauguration that President Biden would restore the monument boundaries established by President’s Obama and Clinton.

Late last month, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition sent a letter to President Biden expressing their frustration with the delay in taking action to restore and expand Bears Ears National Monument. The Coalition cited evidence of ongoing desecration and an unwillingness by the BLM and USFS to engage the Coalition in management and planning activities. The Coalition requested that the President take immediate action “to restore the protections of the sacred cultural landscape we call Bears Ears.”

Policy Analysis

A president’s authority for establishing new national monuments is found in the Antiquities Act of 1906. As is typical of new designations, monuments encompass existing federal lands such as those managed by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS), or other federal agencies. Thus, a new monument designation includes land that is already under federal ownership. Should any private holdings or state parcels be encompassed by the new boundary, those parcels remain private or in state control as before.

The controversy that sometimes accompanies a new monument designation is usually related to restrictions that will, for example, prevent issuance of new grazing or mineral/oil/gas/timber extraction leases. All-terrain vehicle (ATV) use may also become more restricted. In short, the privilege of using public land in certain impactful ways, often for profit, and by a relatively few individuals is deemed less appropriate than a longer-term conservation of the public land and its resources for all Americans, both current and those to come.

Controversy has long been part of the history of some of America’s most iconic landscapes. The Grand Canyon, for example, struggled for many years to become a national park because of insufficient support in Congress at the time. Using new authority given to presidents under the recently passed Antiquities Act, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. Eleven years later, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. Who among us will argue now that setting aside the Grand Canyon was a mistake?   

Photo taken from: The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (areas in yellow denote land restored by Biden in 2021 to the monument)

Bears Ears National Monument was created for the exact reason(s) that the Antiquities Act exists: to create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features (emphasis added). Furthermore, the promise of acknowledging the wishes of several native-American tribes and using their input going forward for planning and management purposes is in keeping with our nation’s current attempts at giving voice to marginalized or underserved people.

As to the legitimacy of whether a sitting President can unilaterally abolish or materially change a national monument that was established by an earlier President under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, a legal team at Arnold & Kaye Scholer LLP provided an analysis in May 2017. The analysis, performed at the request of the National Parks Conservation Association, was in response to the review order by President Trump that preceded the rollback of the Bears Ears National Monument and nearby Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. 

The analysis found ample and unequivocal evidence that Congress alone has the authority to revoke or materially change a monument’s size once it has been established. This legal opinion occurred outside of any currently pending adjudication.

Photo taken from: Roadtrippers

Happy Ending

On October 8, 2021, President Biden restored the original boundary of Bears Ears National Monument and retained protections on additional acreage added by President Trump in his overall dismantlement of Bears Ears. In doing so, President Biden corrected what many believe to be an unprecedented mistake and unfortunate misreading of the relevant statute by his predecessor. Mr. Biden also restored the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument to the boundaries that were in place on January 20, 2017. Furthermore, protections were restored to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument that was established by President Obama in September 2016.   

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Rebecca M. Robinson. 2018. Voices From Bears Ears: Seeking Common Ground on Sacred Land. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press. 412 p.

The New York Times. June 14, 2021. Deb Haaland Wants to Restore National Monuments Slashed by Trump – The New York Times (nytimes.com) By Coral Davenport. (accessed October 4, 2021)

U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. 2016. STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD – UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR – BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, UNITED STATES SENATE – CONCERNING THE DESIGNATION OF MONUMENTS PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORITY PROVIDED BY THE ANTIQUITIES ACT July 27, 2016 Antiquities Act | U.S. Department of the Interior (doi.gov) (accessed October 14, 2021)

Supply Chain and Customer Service Shortages: The Real Drivers of Inflation

Supply Chain and Customer Service Shortages: The Real Drivers of Inflation

Economic Policy Brief #126 | By: Rosalind Gottfried | October 17, 2021

Header photo taken from: The Economist

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Photo taken from: Getty Images

Policy Summary

There are some indications that the economy is strong.  The US economy is expected to grow at 6% this year and fall to 3.9% for 2022, a greater rate than for most years since the turn of the century.  Economists are predicting a steady expansion of the economy for the second half of 2021.  The unemployment rate is under 5%, marking only 17 months to recover that rate since the pandemic started.  Unemployment is currently at 4.8% which is down from 5.2% in August.  In the previous recovery from the global economic crisis, it took 6.5 years after the official end of the recession to reach a level of less than 5%.  Economists consider this good news and they are optimistic within limits, watching the issues of Biden’s ability to address long term increases in the debt ceiling and to pass an aggressive “rebuild America” infrastructure plan.

So what is the issue which can be viewed as worrisome?  Inflation, which is high, is only one measure of the costs to consumers.  Some economists are referring to the “shadow economy,” where unmeasurable aspects of services are deteriorating and reducing the satisfaction of consumers even when the prices are stable.  They suggest that the measure of inflation cannot be limited to physical measures which, at any rate, are also hard to measure in that an item may have a price increase but it may also have improved functionality.  Think of computer programs with less “bugs” and/or products with better carpentry or glass or other elements.  The consumer price index captures only 237 of 273 components of major services; evidence points to many measures of customer dissatisfaction.  Surveys of customer satisfaction in 60,000 restaurants showed a drop of 4.2% in satisfaction regarding cleanliness of tables, floors and restrooms.  Even among highest rated retailers, consumers are facing long waits for customer service representatives and long waits for major house items such as windows, appliances, and furniture. 

Shortages are jeopardizing the continuing health of the economy.  There are back ups of container ships in major ports such as southern California and Savannah GA. The flow of goods is stymied by lack of port space and a scarcity of truckers.  Merchandise for major retailers is being shipped to outer lying warehouses and being moved by the retailers privately hiring help; this is not an alternative readily available to smaller retailers.  Auto plants are idle as factories wait for semi-conductors to be delivered.  Restaurants and other services are cutting back hours for lack of workers.  Economists say the issue of the late pandemic era is one of pent-up demand and a shortage of supplies and workers.   This is a different story than in the last economic crisis where demand was low and the availability of workers and productivity was high and the mechanisms to address it are elusive.

Policy Analysis

The global economy is experiencing great demands for physical goods which will continue to put pressure on supply chains and transporting goods which could lead to an interruption in economic growth.  

The increase in the debt ceiling is also seen as a crucial mechanism for assuring the solidity of the economy and the administration must assure that there is continued leverage after the early December deadline runs out. 

Photo taken from: Forbes

Photo taken from: TBA

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Shadow Inflation Analysis

Jobs Report: September

Upshot Economy Risk Analysis

Business Supply Chain Crisis Analysis in Savannah 

Screws Tighten on Unvaccinated Healthcare Workers

Screws Tighten on Unvaccinated Healthcare Workers

Health and Gender Policy Brief #137 | By: S. Bhimji | October 16, 2021

Header photo taken from: Yahoo

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Photo taken from: The Associated Press

Policy Summary

By now most people in the country are fed up with unvaccinated individuals. For whatever reason, there are still a significant number of Americans who are still refusing to be vaccinated against Covid. And sadly a great many of these unvaccinated individuals are healthcare professionals that include doctors, nurses, pharmacists, EMS technicians, nursing assistants, and lab technicians. 

First, these healthcare workers refused the vaccine citing that it was unsafe. After numerous clinical trials done both in the US and abroad, showing minimal risk to vaccination, these healthcare workers still remain unconvinced. Now, despite overwhelming data showing that vaccination against Covid prevents serious infections and death, these individuals have refused the shot citing all kinds of beliefs. 

It is estimated that anywhere from 10%-25% of healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. There has always been a belief in these unvaccinated healthcare workers that they are essential in the fight against Covid and will not be terminated. In addition, many of them feel that even if they are fired, they can always go work in other healthcare institutions, clinics, or even start their own practice. Well, many US states are about to change the work options for these  workers.

Policy Analysis

Already many hospitals have started to fire healthcare workers who have not been vaccinated and if these healthcare workers think they will get another job, they are seriously wrong. State licensing boards in some states have stepped in to help fight the Covid pandemic and they have stated that healthcare workers who refuse to be vaccinated may lose their license to practice. Others may face suspension, revocation, and non-renewal of their license, which will make it very difficult to get a job in their profession anywhere in the continental USA. And once a license is lost, it is not only difficult to get it back but it is an expensive endeavor.

Photo taken from: The New York Times

And to make matters worse, for those who refuse to be vaccinated and do not have a religious or disability exemption, and are fired, they may not be eligible for unemployment compensation.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

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