Law and Legal
“Even familiar birds at risk of extinction, new study finds. The 2018 State of the World’s Birds report, which provides a comprehensive look at the health of bird populations globally, has found that the extinction crisis has spread so far that even some well-known species are now in danger. A number of well-known bird species are now at risk of extinction. This is the chief conclusion of State of the World’s Birds 2018, a new report from BirdLife International which looks at the health of bird populations worldwide. Instantly recognisable and beloved bird species including Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus, Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica, and European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur are all now globally threatened with extinction. The report, which was five years in the making, is BirdLife International’s flagship science publication. The major global assessment uses the health of bird populations to “take the pulse of the planet”. Unfortunately, the global picture painted in the report is a dire one for many birds around the world. Overall, it shows that 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline, and one in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction. These statistics aren’t just bad news for birds, they are also warnings for the planet as a whole. The health of bird species is a good measure of the state of ecosystems in general. Because birds are so widespread, being found in nearly every type of ecosystem, and one of the most studied groups of animals, they are excellent indicators of the state of the environment. “The data are unequivocal. We are undergoing a steady and continuing deterioration in the status of the world’s birds,” said Tris Allinson, BirdLife’s Senior Global Science Officer, and Editor-In-Chief of the report. “The threats driving the avian extinction crisis are many and varied, but invariably of humanity’s making.”
- The study relied on income and asset data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the most comprehensive survey of older Americans in the country, and on spending data from the Consumption and Activities Mail Survey (CAMS), a supplement to HRS. All numbers are measured in 2015 dollars. The study shows that retirees generally exhibit very slow decumulation of assets.
- More specifically, within the first 18 years of retirement, individuals with less than $200,000 in non-housing assets immediately before retirement had spent down (at the median) about one-quarter of their assets; those with between $200,000 and $500,000 immediately before retirement had spent down 27.2 percent. Retirees with at least $500,000 immediately before retirement had spent down only 11.8 percent within the first 20 years of retirement at the median.
- While some retirees do spend down most of their assets in the first eighteen years following retirement, about one-third of all sampled retirees had increased their assets over that period.
- Pensioners were much less likely to have spent down their assets than non-pensioners. During the first 18 years of retirement, the median non-housing assets of pensioners (who started retirement with much higher levels of assets) had gone down only 4 percent, compared to 34 percent for non-pensioners.
- The median ratio of household spending to household income for retirees of all ages hovered around one, inching slowly upward with age. This suggests that majority of retirees had limited their spending to their regular flow of income and had avoided drawing down assets, which explains why pensioners, who had higher levels of regular income, were able to avoid asset drawdowns better than others…”
World Economic Forum: “One of the most unique aspects of blockchain is its high number of evangelists – people who believe blockchain can solve everything from global financial inequality, to the provision of ID for refugees, to enabling people to sell their houses without an estate agent. The enthusiasm to (over) promote the technology is also damaging its long-term prospects. This level of evangelism is both unwarranted and damaging to the overall development work required to reap the benefits of distributed ledger technologies (DLT), of which blockchain is the best-known example. Truly innovative deployments of blockchain require a match between blockchain’s specific benefits and use cases that enable realization of these benefits, followed by dedicated hard work to get it right and embed in organizations and industries. It is not meant to be a workaround. Based on our analysis of how blockchain is used in a variety of projects around the world and following interviews with selected chief executive officers, we found there are 11 questions, at most, that businesses need to answer to see if blockchain is a solution to some of their problems…”
See also the report by WEF: Blockchain Beyond the Hype – A Practical Framework for Business Leaders
Find out how your state stacks up: “Vermont is doing the best at loving Mother Earth and West Virginia is doing the worst, according to a new survey by WalletHub that ranked all 50 states based on the current health of the environment and residents’ environmental-friendliness. “Without a doubt, the bar for being eco-friendly is higher in Vermont than any place I’ve lived,” said Drew Simmons, president of Pale Morning Media. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and also has lived in Seattle, Washington, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. WalletHub, a personal finance website owned by Evolution Finance, Inc., compared the states across three key measurements: environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors, and climate-change contributions. Using 23 relevant metrics, the researchers graded each state on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the highest level of eco-friendliness…”
Jeff Green, Bloomberg: “Even as women have begun speaking out about sexual harassment at work, the number of official complaints to state and federal regulators hit a two-decade low in 2017. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its state-level counterparts received just over 9,600 complaints in 2017, according to data obtained by Bloomberg, down from more than 16,000 in 1997—a 41 percent drop.But few experts think the decline means people—women, mostly—are facing 41 percent less sexual harassment, only that the complaint and resolution process is getting more private. Ninety-five percent of companies now have an in-house complaint process, the Society for Human Resource Management said in a January report. Eighty-two percent have an investigation protocol in place. “It creates a false illusion that we’ve sort of solved the problem because we have the hotlines, we have systems in place, we’ve done the training,” said Orly Lobel, a labor and employment law professor at the University of San Diego. “There’s a public price we’re paying for not knowing what’s going on in our workplaces.” Every U.S. state saw the rate of sexual harassment per 100,000 women in the workforce fall over the last 20 years, but the drops weren’t uniform. Complaints in Maine fell by 96 percent, the biggest single-state drop. Michigan had the smallest, at about 19 percent, according to the EEOC data. It’s hard to compare, though, because state laws vary significantly, as do their enforcement. For example, Alabama has no state laws regulating harassment. California has a strict law…”
Center for Data Innovation: “A research collaboration between Adobe and Georgia Tech has published a free data visualization tool called Data Illustrator that allows users to create visualizations in a graphical interface without having to know how to code. Additionally, Dutch data visualization firm Vizualism has published a tutorial for Data Illustrator to walk users through how to create a visualization using data about life expectancy in Dutch cities.”
You have precious little privacy on the web – whether you are browsing, using Facebook or Gmail, public WiFi, disk cleaning applications, or using the same “strong” passwords on multiple sites. USAToday reports – Many of us think we’re taking the right precautions, when in fact we’re putting our info at risk. The following are five such misconceptions, the truth behind them, and what to do about it…”
Remember this? I sure do…Wired: “1993: NCSA Mosaic 1.0, the first web browser to achieve popularity among the general public, is released. With it, the web as we know it begins to flourish. The web in the early 1990s was mostly text. People were posting images, photos, and audio or video clips on web pages. But these pieces of “multimedia” were hidden behind links. If you wanted to look at a picture, you had to click on a link, and the picture would open in a new window. A team of students at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications, or NCSA, decided the web needed an experience more stimulating and user-friendly than that, so they set to work to build a better browser. Borrowing design and user interface cues from some other early prototype browsers, they went through a handful of iterations before arriving at the final 1.0 release April 22, 1993. The result, NCSA Mosaic, was the first web browser with the ability to display text and images inline, meaning you could put pictures and text on the same page together, in the same window…”
WSJ – Though technology is making our lives ever more convenient, it also may be having the unintended effect of lowering our skill set. Gregg Easterbrook reviews “The Efficiency Paradox” by Edward Tenner.
“‘Big Data” is the Big Bad of our moment. Companies and governments amass enormous troves of information about our online and offline activities, so they can understand them better than we do. Recently we learned that creepy firms like Cambridge Analytica mine Big Data from websites such as Facebook, using “psychographic microtargeting”— Orwell would have considered the term extreme—to alter public opinion, spread falsehoods and influence elections. Facebook itself seems increasingly creepy, grounded in lying to the public about what happens to the data it collects. In the future, will Big Data help physicians cure diseases or help health insurers deny claims? Make factories and products safer or accelerate layoffs? Ultimately spawn some kind of hostile artificial intelligence? Right now it’s fair to suppose that many people would favor putting the Big Data genie back into the bottle. Such questions set the stage for “The Efficiency Paradox,” a skillful and lucid book by Edward Tenner, a technology commentator best known for his 1996 volume “Why Things Bite Back.” Mr. Tenner’s specialty is the unintended consequences of scientific, engineering and electronic developments. Authors cannot control the current-events environment into which their works are launched, but the timing for “The Efficiency Paradox” seems propitious. The book arrives as the boomerang-and-backfire effects of Big Data are in the papers, or on your phone, as the case may be…”
JURIST Guest Columnist Chris Hoofnagle of Berkeley Law, discusses the policing of Facebook’s privacy policies and FTC enforcement: “Are our institutions up to the challenge of protecting users from information-age problems? This is the high-level question emerging from the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debate. While on one hand Facebook and similarly-situated companies will pay some regulatory price, our public institutions are also in the crosshairs. In the U.S., the much-praised and admired Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) approach is suffering a crisis of legitimacy. Facebook’s European regulator, the Irish data protection commissioner, is losing both control over its supervision of American companies and the respect of its regulatory colleagues. In a recent press release, the Article 29 Working Party announced that it was creating a working group focusing on social media, never mentioning the Irish in its statement. In this essay I explain the challenges the FTC faces in enforcing its 2012 consent agreement against Facebook and suggest ways it could nonetheless prevail. In the long run, everyone wins if our civil society institutions can police Facebook, including the company itself. While Facebook’s privacy problems have long been dismissed as harmless, advertising-related controversies, all now understand Facebook’s power over our broader information environment. After Brexit, the 2016 U.S. election, and violence in Myanmar, if consumer law fails, we risk turning to more heavy-handed regulatory tools, including cyber sovereignty approaches, with attendant consequences for civil society and internet freedom…”
“EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the release of the unredacted Facebook Assessments from the FTC. The FTC Consent Order. required Facebook to provide to the FTC biennial assessments conducted by an independent auditor. In March, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the 2013, 2015, 2017 Facebook Assessments and related records. EPIC’s FOIA request drew attention to a version of the 2017 report available at the FTC website. But that version is heavily redacted. EPIC is suing now for the release of unredacted report. EPIC has an extensive open government practice and has previously obtained records from many federal agencies. The case is EPIC v. FTC, No. 18-942 (D.D.C. filed April 20, 2018).”
“Financial inclusion is on the rise globally, accelerated by mobile phones and the internet, but gains have been uneven across countries. A new World Bank report on the use of financial services also finds that men remain more likely than women to have an account. Globally, 69 percent of adults – 3.8 billion people – now have an account at a bank or mobile money provider, a crucial step in escaping poverty. This is up from 62 percent in 2014 and just 51 percent in 2017 From 2014 to 2017, 515 million adults obtained an account, and 1.2 billion have done so since 2011, according to the Global Findex database. While in some economies account ownership has surged, progress has been slower elsewhere, often held back by large disparities between men and women and between the rich and poor. The gap between men and women in developing economies remains unchanged since 2011, at 9 percentage points. The Global Findex, a wide-ranging data set on how people in 144 economies use financial services, was produced by the World Bank with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Gallup, Inc.”
Discover: “How long is the U.S. coastline? It’s a straightforward question, and one that’s important for scientists and government agencies alike. The U.S. Geological Survey could give you an answer, too, but I’m going to tell you right now that it’s wrong. In fact, no one could give you the right answer, and if you look around, you’ll find a number of estimations that differ by seemingly improbable amounts. One government report [U.S. International Borders: Brief Facts] lists the number as 12,383 miles. The same report admits that a different government agency says the figure is actually 88,612 miles. That’s an almost eight-fold disparity for a fact that seems simple to obtain. We all know how to use a ruler, right?…”
The New York Times: “The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into potential coordination by AT&T, Verizon and a telecommunications standards organization to hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers, according to six people with knowledge of the inquiry. In February, the Justice Department issued demands to AT&T, Verizon and the G.S.M.A., a mobile industry standards-setting group, for information on potential collusion to thwart a technology known as eSIM, said two of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details are confidential. The technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. AT&T and Verizon face accusations that they colluded with the G.S.M.A. to try to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology…”
StateScoop: “Four years ago, Christina Ho led an effort through the U.S. Treasury Department to help Americans track the federal government’s spending of public funds. Now, she’s left government and embarked on a new project: aggregating data from the country’s more than 30,000 municipalities to help citizens shape local policy. On Monday, Ho launched a beta version of her latest project, PolicyInsights. The open source platform collects annual census information, budget data and performance metrics from local governments. Users can then compare the data from two locations side-by-side. The platform seeks to arm citizens with actionable information — in part gathered through crowdsourcing — that can be used to mold local policies. Ho was inspired to create the program when she discovered just how difficult it was to navigate the sites of individual municipal governments. “They create them from their perspective,” said Ho, in reference to municipal websites. “What’s missing is the citizen. We want to empower people to objectively evaluate the data, but also to improve the quality of questions that they pose to their local governments.”
Union of Concerned Scientists: “Newly released documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists under three separate Freedom of Information Act requests and first reported on by POLITICO demonstrate that the Trojan horse “secret science” proposal being floated by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is entirely driven by politics. POLITICO writes:
“Since Pruitt announced plans for the new policy last month, researchers and public health proponents have raised alarms that it could restrict the agency’s ability to consider a broad swath of data about the effects of pollution on human health. But documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that top EPA officials are more worried the new restrictions would prevent the agency from considering industry studies that frequently support their efforts to justify less stringent regulations.”…
News release: “US Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduc[ed] the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. The new legislation merges two parallel efforts into one unified, bipartisan bill. In August of 2017, Senators Tillis and Coons introduced the Special Counsel Integrity Act, S. 1741, and Senators Graham and Booker introduced the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act, S. 1735. The bipartisan legislation introduced today harmonizes the Coons-Tillis bill and the Graham-Booker bill. The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act:
- Codifies existing Department of Justice regulations to ensure that the Special Counsel can only be fired for good cause by a senior Justice Department official, and the reason must be provided in writing.
- Provides the Special Counsel a 10-day window in which he can seek expedited judicial review of his removal to determine whether the firing was for good cause. If the firing is ultimately determined to have violated the good-cause requirement, the removal will not take effect.
- Preserves the staffing, documents, and materials of the investigation while the matter is pending…”