Beijing Builds a Wall | SCOTUS and Religion | Drugging Rats and Discovering Facts
July 9, 2020
“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” ― George R.R. Martin
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” ― Harry S. Truman
Objection to Contraception
The US Supreme Court handed down two major decisions Wednesday, undercutting requirements in the Affordable Care Act and federal employment laws to rule in favor of religious institutions and businesses.
The first case involved President Trump’s move to let more employers opt-out of the Affordable Care Act mandate, which guaranteed no-cost contraceptive services for women. A 2018 regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services exempted any employer with a religious or moral objection to contraception from including such coverage in an employee’s health insurance plan.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the 7-2 majority opinion, concluding that the administration has “virtually unbridled discretion” to decide what counts as required coverage and any religious or moral exemptions that may be necessary. The case returns to a lower court, which SCOTUS has ordered to lift an injunction which was preventing implementation of the exception.
The second opinion involved cases brought before the court by two fifth-grade teachers fired from their jobs at Catholic parochial schools in California. One, a veteran of 16 years at her school, contended her firing was a case of age discrimination. The other said she was fired after telling her superior she had breast cancer and would need some time off — a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both schools denied the allegations but maintained that regardless, the federal fair employment laws do not apply to their teachers because they all teach religion from a workbook 40 minutes a day in addition to other academic subjects.
The 7-2 majority ruled that employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers whose duties include instruction in religion at schools run by religious institutions, thereby carving out a giant exception to the nation’s fair employment laws.
- The Study That Debunks Most Anti-Abortion Arguments: For five years, a team of researchers asked women about their experience after having—or not having—an abortion. What do their answers tell us? (New Yorker, $)
- Supreme Court’s “ministerial exception” decision strips thousands of teachers of their civil rights (Vox)
- Why conservative justices are more likely to defect (WaPo, $)
- Supreme Court ruling on Trump’s tax returns, financial records to come Thursday (WaPo, $)
- This Is the Real John Robert: He is a judicial minimalist who seeks to avoid sweeping decisions with disruptive effects. (NYT, $)
Beijing Builds a Wall
(NurPhoto via Getty Images)
- Last week’s expansion of Hong Kong’s police powers over internet usage, which accompanies Beijing’s contentious new national security law targeting “subversive” materials, left internet giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google scrambling to review their policies regarding providing user information to the government.
- The tech companies used to provide local law enforcement with user data on a regular basis, but announced a hold on delivery of that data while they studied the nuances of the vaguely written national security law, which criminalizes certain types of political speech, brands some forms of vandalism terror crimes, and imposes significant fines and harsh sentences.
- What set Hong Kong apart from mainland China — where the government can inspect data as well as block IP addresses and domain names — was its free and open internet. (Facebook, Twitter, Google and most major foreign news sites are blocked in the mainland.)
- Experts point out that China’s Great Firewall can’t be replicated immediately in Hong Kong because it has several private internet service providers and internet exchanges. But many Hong Kong residents feel that the Great Firewall has already begun descending, and they’re rushing to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the last year of protests.
- “We had freedom before and now it is being taken away. It is extremely painful for me to experience that,” said a digital rights activist. “There will be a loss of information available to the public …. It’s very dangerous.” (Guardian)
- China’s Leash on Hong Kong Tightens, Choking a Broadcaster: RTHK, a government-funded news organization, has a fierce independent streak that has long angered the authorities. (NYT, $)
- Teachers face threats, and books are banned as China pushes party line in Hong Kong schools (WaPo, $)
- Children in China locked up for as long as 10 days at internet addiction camp (CNN)
Russia Czechs the Press
- Ivan Safronov, a former journalist who works as an aide to the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, was arrested by security agents Tuesday after being accused of passing military secrets to the Czech Republic. Dozens of others, including journalists, were also detained by Moscow police for protesting Safronov’s arrest.
- At a closed hearing, the court ordered Safronov to be held in custody for two months. One of Safronov’s lawyers said the hearing was unusual as the state investigator had not presented any evidence.
- On Monday, another journalist was found guilty of justifying terrorism in a court in the city of Pskov, adding another high profile case to the growing list of prosecuted journalists. Several journalists demanding Safronov’s freedom were photographed Wednesday staging one-person pickets in various cities.
- Russian journalists fear the case against Safronov is bogus and that media figures are being increasingly persecuted; the journalists have launched a petition demanding the treason allegations against Safronov be made public. Nearly 7,500 people have signed so far. (Reuters)
Additional World News
- Serbian leader backtracks on lockdown amid chaotic protests (ABC)
- Egyptian women flood Instagram with #MeToo stories as suspect arrested (Reuters)
- Macron’s New Cabinet Stirs Ire of French Feminists (NYT, $)
- Black Lives Matter protests spark debate over racism in the Arab world (WaPo, $)
- Brazil’s Bolsonaro Sued For Unmasking As He Announced Positive Test For COVID-19 (NPR)
- How Germany Fell Back in Love With Angela Merkel (NYT, $)
- Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Ivory Coast Prime Minister, dies at 61 (CNN)
- U.S. first lady Melania Trump statue set on fire in Slovenia (Reuters)
- Entire rare bird colony vanishes, baffling New Zealand scientists (Guardian)
- U.S. hits 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases as some states see surge of infections (CBS)
- Warning of serious brain disorders in people with mild coronavirus symptoms (Guardian). While we all might be getting used to the world of COVID-19, we seem to still know very little about the virus. As more people are infected, scientists are finding more long-term effects of the virus, from post-COVID fibrosis to a rare syndrome affecting children’s hearts.
- Brazil’s Bolsonaro Hails Hydroxychloroquine Even as He Fights Coronavirus (NYT, $)
- China’s workers and graduates fear for their future (BBC)
- Fujitsu announces permanent work-from-home plan (BBC)
- How California went from a coronavirus success story to a worrying new hot spot (Vox)
- The Pandemic Experts Are Not Okay (Atlantic, $)
A Class(room) War
(Borja B. Hojas via Getty Images)
- Last May, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a list of social distancing recommendations for schools that President Trump sees as complicating his pressure campaign on state and local officials to reopen school campuses this fall.
- On Wednesday the president tweeted: “I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Two hours later, Vice President Pence held a televised COVID-19 task force briefing. “It’s absolutely essential that we get our kids back into classroom for in-person learning,” Pence said at the outset.
- A parade of other officials argued that the health risks to children were outweighed by the disadvantages of keeping them at home, including stunted academic growth. Pence went on to say the CDC’s guidelines might be “too tough” and the agency would be issuing new recommendations that would provide “more clarity.” “We don’t want the guidance from CDC to be a reason why schools don’t open,” he said.
- At times during the briefing, the vice president struggled to explain what the president meant by his Wednesday tweets, including one that threatened withholding federal funding from schools refusing to open their campuses. 90 percent of school funding comes from states and localities, and the president has limited ability to curtail congressionally-approved appropriations.
- Despite Trump’s threatening federal intervention, Pence stressed the importance of local decision-making, even suggesting that in COVID-19 hot spots, officials could decide to curtail school openings in limited cases. (CDC, WaPo)
A College Deport Card
- Federal officials announced Monday that college students studying in America on F-1 visas will not be permitted to stay in the US or reenter the country if their school opted for entirely remote learning in the fall. Two days later, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed suit in federal court, seeking to have the “arbitrary and capricious” decision by the US Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency reversed and declared unlawful.
- The schools contend the policy would effectively strand hundreds of thousands of international students studying in the US and create chaos in plans for a return to class amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They say the move “reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes,” regardless of what’s best for community safety.
- “The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” the universities said. The lawsuit names ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, among the defendants, as well as acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf.
- President Trump has been pushing hard for schools to reopen in the fall, despite a surge in the spread of COVID-19 that has seen a number of states recently reporting record caseloads. Trump criticized Harvard’s decision to deliver all course instruction online for the coming school year as “ridiculous,” saying “I think it’s an easy way out and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.” (NPR)
- Ivy League rules out playing all sports this fall due to coronavirus pandemic (ESPN)
Additional USA News
- A top Tulsa health official said Trump’s campaign rally ‘more than likely contributed’ to the county’s surge in coronavirus cases (Business Insider)
- Trump granted another 45-day extension to file annual financial disclosure (CNN)
- Pandemic looms over Trump trade day with Mexican president (Politico)
- Vindman to retire from military. His lawyer blames White House ‘campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation’ (CNN)
- Susan Collins Battles for Survival in Maine (NYT, $)
- The human cost of a $20 burger during a pandemic and beef supply chain in crisis (WaPo, $)
- George Floyd: Officer told dying man to ‘stop yelling’ (BBC)
- What the ‘black-on-black crime’ fallacy misses about race and gun deaths (WaPo, $)
- I’m a U.S. Citizen, Where in the World Can I Go? (NYT, $)
Drugging Rats and Discovering Facts
- It turns out that humans aren’t the only ones who take considerable cues from a crowd. Researchers have proven that — just like us — rats fall victim to the classic pitfalls of bystander apathy. It’s been shown that humans are less likely to intervene in a dangerous situation when surrounded by others, and by dosing rats with anti-anxiety medicine, the same has been found in rodents.
- Commonly known as the “bystander effect,” neurobiologists at the University of Chicago investigated whether this social weakness was exclusive to humans. By placing one rat in a transparent trap and releasing another rat into the same enclosure, they were able to prove that, when alone, individual rats will work diligently to free their trapped counterpart.
- However, once the same experiment was conducted in the presence of heavily sedated rats (who represented passive bystanders), the same individual rat would follow the lead of the crowd and do nothing to help the trapped rat. This, researchers concluded, reveals that rats can fall into a state of social groupthink just as easily as humans.
- The bystander effect was first popularized by human psychologists after the notorious 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, in which 30+ pedestrians witnessed the murder of a young woman and did nothing. As the number of bystanders increases, it is believed that the personal efficacy of humans in a crisis situation decreases significantly. But don’t feel bad, it’s not just human nature, it’s rat nature too! (NPR)
- Her shocking murder became the stuff of legend. But everyone got the story wrong.: “High-profile assassinations aside, Kitty Genovese’s murder is one of the most famous in modern American history…Her death reverberated. It left an impression. Does it matter, then, that most people have the story wrong?” (WaPo, $)
- For Henri Bergson, laughter is what keeps us elastic and free (Aeon).
- NASA’s TESS Helps Find Intriguing New World (NASA)
- Rabbi David Wolpe explains how to make sense of suffering (Vox)
- ‘Hamilton’ and the Historical Record: Frequently Asked Questions (NYT, $)
- Here’s How to Properly Read an Election Poll (Wired, $). While the 2016 election made us wary of polls, polling results can still tell us important stories and give good insights on elections. Just treat them with caution and a grain of salt.
- Uncovering the Spark of Life (Nautilus)
- These survival tips might actually get you killed (Popular Science) If you’re planning a COVID-19 camping getaway, make sure to do your research and preparation before braving the great outdoors.
- Fashion’s Racism and Classism Are Finally Out of Style (Atlantic, $)
- How surgeons learned to operate on beating hearts (BBC)
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