Worst Punishment Possible
January 25, 2021
The Good News
“Whether people care enough about local news to pay for it is, sadly, an entirely different question than whether our democracy requires a strong watchdog function at the local level to ensure safeguards against abuse, chicanery, and outright dishonesty.” — Eric Alterman
Google Threatens To Make Australians Use Bing
(Alex Tai via Getty Images)
Local news content on Facebook pages, or appearing in Google search results, is an important driver of traffic for those platforms. In Australia, media outlets complained for years that their revenues dropped because advertisers moved from newspapers to publishing on tech platforms. The government responded by trying to get tech companies to voluntarily share their advertising revenue with local media outlets.
Covid-19 exacerbated an already precarious situation for news outlets globally, forcing dozens of smaller publishers to suspend printing, or shut down completely. When the voluntary approach didn’t work, Australia’s government announced in April 2020 it would introduce legislation requiring tech giants like Google and Facebook to begin paying media outlets for Australian news content displayed on their platforms.
A draft mandatory code of conduct was unveiled in July 2020 under which Google and Facebook would have to negotiate with Australian media companies over payment for news content and notify them of algorithm changes. During the comment period, the dispute escalated. The US submitted objections to the mandatory law, suggesting among other things it could violate the US-Australian free trade agreement.
Last Friday, representatives of the two tech giants appeared before an Australian senate committee. Google threatened to remove its search engine from the country entirely, and Facebook reaffirmed its threat to block Australian users from posting or sharing links to news if the bill passed. However, it doesn’t seem as though paying for journalism is the primary issue. Shortly before Google threatened Australia with taking away its search engine, the company made an agreement with France to pay for news publications there, and that agreement could lead to deals elsewhere in Europe.
Rather, the battle the tech companies have Down Under appears to center on power — who gets to decide the payments, what prompts a charge for the tech companies, and when they must reveal changes in their algorithms. Unlike in France, Australia’s proposed legislation calls for an independent arbitration body to resolve disputes over how much to pay for news content. Tech companies complain arbitration could lead to jacked-up prices, while critics argue tech companies just want to continue being the ones determining what news is worth. “It’s about the external process being imposed on them by legislation,” says an independent research group. “It shifts the balance of power from their hands to a third party, and that’s what they can’t countenance.” (NYT, $)
It’s An East Asian Staredown And The US Isn’t Blinken
(Sam Yeh via Getty Images)
- Beijing has been sending almost daily reconnaissance flights — just one or two aircraft — over the waters in the southern part of Taiwan and nearby islands. On Saturday, Beijing accelerated its antagonism of Taiwan by sending 13 warplanes — eight nuclear-capable bombers, four fighter jets, and an anti-submarine patrol aircraft — into the island’s southwestern air defense zone.
- Taiwan responded by launching missiles to monitor the flights. Tony Blinken, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, said that President Trump was right to take a tougher approach on China, which considers Taiwan a rogue province.
- Blinken said the Biden administration is committed to “making sure that Taiwan [has] the ability to defend itself against aggression.” (MSNBC)
In Portuguese Election, President Isn’t Sousa-Phoning It In
- Portugal has the world’s highest rates of new daily coronavirus infections and deaths, and its public health system is under a huge strain. The country is currently in lockdown; regardless, restrictions on movement were lifted Sunday for its presidential election.
- The clear front-runner was incumbent president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 72, a popular former law professor and television personality with a consistent 60% or more approval rating.
- Even so, with seven challengers, Rebelo urged his supporters not to stay home; receiving less than 50% of the vote would force him into a runoff election in February. If the exit polling is accurate, Rebelo has emerged as the likely winner. (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- ‘Social justice and work’: Tunisians rise up again (Al Jazeera). Must an Arab Spring and freedom Summer be followed by a Fall?
- Capitol Riot Puts Spotlight on ‘Apocalyptically Minded’ Global Far Right (NYT, $)
- Covid: New Zealand reports first case in the community in months (BBC)
- China authorizes coast guard to fire on foreign vessels (Al Jazeera)
- Jewish leaders use Holocaust Day to decry persecution of Uighurs (Guardian)
- Pro-Navalny Protest Photos: Wave of Anger Rolls Across Russia (NYT, $)
- Kremlin hits out at West as it downplays rallies (BBC)
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Two Systems of Justice
- Federal officials estimate that roughly 800 pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol Building on January 6th. As of Saturday, 179 had been arrested and charged with crimes.
- Several rioters who’ve already had their initial court appearances — including a man accused of striking an officer and another pictured wearing a Camp Auschwitz shirt — were allowed to go home to their families while awaiting trial. And now, although Justice Department officials promised a relentless effort to identify and arrest those who stormed the building that day, an internal debate is being waged over whether they should charge some of the individuals at all.
- It’s a politically loaded proposition, and one aware of the practical concern that hundreds of such cases could swamp the local courthouse. Besides, most of the individuals arrested so far have no criminal record, and some defense attorneys have implied they’ll be using the “Trump made me do it” defense — which wouldn’t prevent their client from being brought to trial, but which sure might get him acquitted. (Yahoo News; WaPo, $)
- When he took office last week, Biden promised sweeping, bipartisan legislation to solve the coronavirus pandemic, fix the economy, and overhaul immigration. Bipartisanship is a nice pipe dream, one that Democrats always say they want, and one Republicans have often stymied.
- Now that Democrats have a chance to get their party’s legislation passed in the Senate, the inveterate veteran of cagey Congressional partisanship, former majority leader Mitch McConnell, is at it again, this time as minority leader. Two days before Biden was sworn in,
- McConnell notified his Republican colleagues in the Senate that he would deliver incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a sharp ultimatum: agree to preserve the legislative filibuster — the one requiring a 60 vote majority to end debate and advance legislation — or forget about any semblance of cooperation, starting with an agreement on the chamber’s operating rules. Sure enough, less than a week into the Biden administration, the Senate has ground to a halt, with Democrats and Republicans unable to agree on even basic rules for how the evenly divided-body should operate.
- McConnell knows preserving the filibuster is something Republicans can unify around, and something that divides Democrats, who are under enormous pressure to discard it in favor of a simple majority vote to advance their governing agenda.
- McConnell spent six years using the filibuster rule to block President Obama’s legislation and nominees, and four years exempting Trump’s nominees from the filibuster rule. Now, Democrats face a decision: give Republicans some of their own medicine, or sit by and watch the gridlock derail their bold agenda. (WaPo, $)
Additional USA News
- Interested in learning more about the filibuster? Read more about what it is and what Democrats should do about it.
- State Republicans push new voting restrictions after Trump’s loss (Politico)
- Intelligence Analysts Use U.S. Smartphone Location Data Without Warrants, Memo Says (NYT, $)
- Biden Wants to Raise Taxes, Yet Many Trump Tax Cuts Are Here to Stay (NYT, $)
- Virginia moves toward banning capital punishment, in a shift for prolific death penalty state (WaPo, $)
- Joe Biden urged to commute sentences of all 49 federal death row prisoners (Guardian)
Did Someone Say Four Party System?
- Arizona Republicans Censure Party Leaders At Odds With Trump (NPR)
- Civil rights leaders vow to keep up pressure on Biden (WaPo, $)
- Portland protests: Here’s why they’re gathering (CNN)
Nicaraguan Fishing Prospects Have Taken A Dive
- The northeast Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is an impoverished region whose mostly Indigenous population depends on fishing for their livelihood. Spiny lobster pays well and is among the most sought-after sea creatures, along with delicacies like conch and sea cucumbers. Most of this ocean-deep catch winds up on plates in the US.
- In years past, lobster harvesting could be done on free dives, without the aid of breathing equipment. But as overfishing stripped near-shore habitats, competition for the remaining crustaceans has intensified; fishermen have been forced to explore ever-deeper waters, to dive more often and stay under longer, relying on substandard and poorly maintained scuba gear or breathing hoses attached to air compressors at the surface.
- Very few divers have gauges that measure depth or the remaining air supply in their tanks. Typically, they receive no formal dive training, instead picking up the trade through on-the-job instruction from relatives and friends. It’s a stunningly deadly pursuit, and it’s becoming even more dangerous. In the past 30 years, scores of fishermen have died from decompression sickness, and hundreds more have been paralyzed.
- One fisherman’s wife begs her 33-year-old husband to stop after he nearly died a year ago; a doctor has repeatedly warned him not to go in the water again as the next dive could kill him. But his answer is always the same: there’s no other work. “Because of our economic need, there’s no other way,” the man’s wife said, sitting on the porch of the small, wooden house where the couple lives with 14 other family members.
- Little official will exists to enforce Nicaraguan regulations or international conventions designed to safeguard the fishermen. “There’s a chain of corruption,” one lawyer said. “Officials at the highest levels have investments in the industry.” (NYT, $)
- Native Americans occupied DC’s Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972 to protest ‘Trail of Broken Treaties’ (WaPo, $)
- Urban clickbait? Why ‘iconic architecture’ is all the rage again (Guardian)
- How India calculates the value of women’s housework (BBC). It’s about time.
- Facebook Oversight Board Co-Chair On Determining The Future Of Trump’s Accounts (NPR)
- D&D Must Grapple With the Racism in Fantasy (Wired)
- SpaceX sets new record for most satellites on a single launch with latest Falcon 9 mission (TechCrunch). To low orbit and (hopefully) beyond!
- Wet and wild: There’s lots of water in the world’s most explosive volcano (Phys)
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