April 13, 2021
The Good News
- Water-worried Vegas wants useless grass a thing of the past (AP)
- 195 arrested in vast international human trafficking sweep (AP)
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses” — Malcolm X
More Than Just A Few Bad Apples
(David Ryder via Getty Images)
The criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin entered its third week Monday, and a recent national tracking poll conducted April 2-4 found that 77% of American voters are consuming “a lot” or at least “some” news coverage of the trial. Reasons given for not closely tracking the over whether Chauvin is guilty of killing George Floyd have — as might be expected — wide partisan gaps.
So it’s unclear whether the fatal shooting over the weekend of an unarmed Black man by a White Minnesota police officer would make any difference to those uninterested in the Chauvin trial. 20-year-old Daunte Wright was driving with his girlfriend Sunday afternoon when he was pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. The police chief said Wright gave officers his name and exited his car. Bodycam video showed Wright then getting back into his car — apparently, he had an outstanding warrant, which he may not have known about.
Immediately thereafter an officer is heard shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!” But instead of a Taser, the officer fires a gun at Wright, and is heard screaming “Holy sh*t! I shot him.” Wright drives a few blocks before hitting another vehicle and dying.
The police chief said the shooting appeared to be “an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.” Yet according to Taser International, Tasers are built to feel and look different than guns.
Even so, such ‘mix-ups’ aren’t new. In 2015 a 73-year-old White volunteer sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma said he meant to use his stun gun, but accidentally grabbed his personal handgun and shot into the back of an unarmed Black man restrained on the ground. The volunteer deputy was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison.
In 2009, a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer kneed a Black 22-year-old in the head and forced him to lie prone on the platform with his hands behind his back. Another BART officer then drew his pistol and shot the man in the back. That event was also captured by numerous cellphone and bodycam videos. The shooter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison, but served just 11 months.
Daunte Wright is the sixth person killed by Brooklyn Center police since 2012. Five of the six men were people of color. (KNSI News, Morning Consult, CNN, NPR, Star Tribune)
The Manipulation Corporation
- The Guardian’s analysis of Facebook’s internal documentation has revealed how the company handled more than 30 cases of politically manipulative behavior — world leaders and politicians using the platform to deceive the public or harass opponents — differently from country to country.
- The investigation showed that Facebook allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small, and/or non-western countries — like Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico, and much of Latin America — in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect wealthier countries, such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea, and Poland.
- After 2016’s election fiasco, when Russian agents used bogus Facebook accounts to deceive and divide American voters, the company pledged to combat state-backed political manipulation of its platform. However, despite political leaders around the world providing evidence of rampant manipulation and abuse of its tools, Facebook has repeatedly failed to take timely action.
- “There is a lot of harm being done on Facebook that is not being responded to because it is not considered enough of a PR risk,” said a former data scientist who worked within the company’s “integrity” organization to combat inauthentic behavior. “The cost isn’t borne by Facebook [but] by the broader world as a whole.” (Guardian)
Getting In Shape With Joint Exercises
- China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, steamed into the South China Sea on Saturday after completing a week of naval exercises around Taiwan. The Liaoning entered the area just as a US Navy expeditionary strike group, fronted by the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, conducted exercises in the South China Sea a day earlier.
- The two flat-top US warships carried hundreds of Marine ground forces from the 15th Marine Expeditionary and were joined by a cruiser, destroyers, and smaller amphibious ships. “This expeditionary strike forcefully demonstrates that we maintain a combat-credible force, capable of responding to any contingency, deter aggression, and provide regional security and stability in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a naval officer said in a statement.
- One Chinese military expert was quoted as calling the exercises a provocation. Meanwhile, on Monday, more than 1,700 US and Philippines troops began two weeks of military exercises. The drills will focus on testing the readiness of the countries’ troops to respond to events such as extremist attacks and natural disasters. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Abductions and Torture Rattle Uganda (NYT, $)
- France bans air travel that could be done by train in under 2.5 hours (ArsTechnica). A slow effort to re-train the population with greener options.
- Alibaba shares jump after record $2.8bn anti-monopoly fine (Guardian)
- Blaming Israel, Iran Vows Revenge for Blackout at Nuclear Site (NYT, $). So begins the international game of finger-pointing.
- In Denmark, Fears Grow Among Syrian Asylum-Seekers As Residence Permits Are Revoked (NPR)
- Banker Lasso wins surprise victory in Ecuador election (Al Jazeera)
- ‘This Is Freedom’: London Reopens After Months of Lockdown (NYT, $)
- India overtakes Brazil to become the second-worst hit country as Covid cases soar (CNBC)
- In Peru’s Presidential Election, The Most Popular Choice Is No One (NYT, $)
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The Supreme Court Is Doing All Right
(Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images)
- In 1990, the Supreme Court held in Employment Division v. Smith that religious objectors must follow “neutral law[s] of general applicability.” In other words, when someone with a religious objection to a state law sought an exemption from that law, the simple rule was that as long as the law applied equally to everyone, religious or not, then everyone had to comply with the law.
- However, since Amy Coney Barrett began her lifetime appointment last fall, the Christian right has been racking up huge victories and rapidly dismantling the Smith precedent. On Friday, a new 5-4 decision was announced in Tandon v. Newsom that, while not expressly overruling Smith, may sound its death knell. The ruling says people of faith who want to gather in relatively large groups in someone’s home must be allowed to do so, despite the fact that California limits all in-home gatherings to just three households.
- California intended its law to apply equally to religious and secular activities, which made it legal under Smith. By giving churches and other religious actors an exemption from public health regulations intended to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Court is showing it is serious about granting religious conservatives broad immunity from the law, even if it endangers people’s lives in the process.
- And while the Tandon decision theoretically should apply to all religious objectors, in practice the Court has been much less protective of people of faith who are unpopular in the Republican Party — namely Muslims. (Legal Information Institute, Vox)
Calling ‘Good Trouble’ Bad
- Republican lawmakers in 29 states are moving to introduce draconian anti-protest laws in the wake of an abundance of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. At the end of March, Florida’s House passed legislation that critics say infringes on free speech rights and potentially disproportionately targets people of color. The controversial Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting, and Law Enforcement Protection Act increases penalties for participating in broadly defined “violent” protests and makes it a felony to deface monuments if damage is more than $200.
- It’s expected to be passed by Florida’s Senate soon and be signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. The vast majority of BLM protests have been peaceful, but the law’s broad definition gives prosecutors wide discretion. Other states have pursued anti-protest bills which could prevent anyone convicted from receiving public benefits.
- In January, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a new law that increases penalties for protests near “critical infrastructure.” Last month, Kentucky’s Senate passed a bill similar to Florida’s new statute. Oklahoma lawmakers are working on legislation featuring prohibitive penalties for protesters blocking traffic and taking part in broadly defined “unlawful assemblies.” It also has new restrictions on protests taking place near the state capitol. According to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, those 29 states have 71 bills pending at the state and federal level which would impinge on Americans’ right to protest. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- US colleges divided over requiring student vaccinations (AP). Because schools don’t already require multiple vaccinations…
- Maryland just repealed its police bill of rights. Here’s what it means for reform. (Vox)
- Semiconductor Summit Held At White House Amid Shortages (NPR)
- National Parks Should Belong to Native Americans (Atlantic)
- Tucker Carlson: call for Fox News to fire host after anti-immigration tirade (Guardian)
- Paint It Black: His Fence Says ‘Black Lives Matter.’ His City Says Paint Over It. (NYT, $)
- Why the US needs universal childcare (Fast Company)
- White Lives Matter Marchers Despondent After Failure: ‘I Was the Only Person To Show Up’ (Newsweek)
- ‘No community should suffer this’: Florida’s toxic breach was decades in the making (Guardian)
- The (census) plot thickens: You’ve Heard About Gerrymandering. What Happens When It Involves Prisons? (NYT, $)
Companies Are Psyched About Hallucinogenics’ Potential
- Author and podcast host Tim Ferriss has genuine bona fides when it comes to supporting and promoting research on psychedelic drugs. Not only has he invested millions of his own, he organized half the $17 million in commitments it took to start up the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research.
- Besides illustrating the reality that psychedelic therapy, like any other medical treatment, requires significant amounts of money for research, Ferriss recently tweeted his apprehension about a side effect of the growing money-generating psychedelic market. “I am very concerned by the patent land grab warming up in the for-profit psychedelic world,” he wrote.
- Ferriss is referring to the burgeoning phenomenon of psychedelics appearing in patent applications for things like Philip Morris e-cigarettes, periodontal disease, hair loss, weight loss, and food allergies. He made a public plea for any pro-bono lawyers who could intervene “when companies attempt to secure broad patents that could hinder scientific research, reasonable competition…and so on?”
- A patent gives an individual or company ownership over an invention, and then prevents others from using their invention without licensing it. In many respects the for-profit psychedelic field is behaving the same as other biotech companies have before — they’re taking notice of potentially beneficial compounds and research, and trying to patent “novel” uses to build profitable patent libraries.
- Because psychedelics have been criminalized and pushed underground by the federal government, there is little scientific literature or prior patents to act as resources for the Patent Office to use in determining whether an invention should be given a patent. But as researchers continue to show promising results from academic trials on a myriad of mental health disorders, there’s valid concern about psychedelics becoming price gouged or monopolized through intellectual property (IP).
- There’s notable disagreement about how to move forward from the field’s major players. Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), said MAPS “has recently engaged patent attorneys to assist in strengthening our anti-patent strategy for uses of MDMA, and to prepare easily accessible information for patent examiners so patents will not be issued in the first place.”
- The counterargument comes from deep-pocketed psychedelics investor Christian Angermayer, who believes that biotech will be one of the best performing asset classes of the next 20 years. “What tech was the last two decades, the next two decades will be biotech,” he said. “50% of my entire portfolio is in biotech.”
- Bottom line: Since patent applications are secret for 18 months, what’s been seen so far is likely just the tip of the psychedelic patent iceberg. (Vice)
- New Measurements of Muons Might Rewrite Particle Physics (Smithsonian Magazine)
- What TikTok reveals about the future of education (Fast Company)
- The month’s best albums (Guardian)
- Pandemic Lockdowns Did Cut Air Pollution—but With a Catch (Wired)
- Why Is the World So Loud? (Atlantic). And why are there so many frisbees on my lawn?
- NFT, SPAC, and the Future of Money (Intelligencer)
- Co.Design Why NFTs have such a massive carbon footprint (Fast Company)
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