Week In Review
La-Vaughnda A. Taylor, Esq. Edited by Elissa D. Hecker
Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Arts, Sports, Media/Technology, General News, and Coronavirus:
New York City Awards Arts Groups $47 Million
The Department of Cultural Affairs announced that more than 1,000 of the city's cultural organization would receive $47 million in grants. The grants include $12.6 million in new investments, nearly $10 million of which is designated for coronavirus pandemic relief and arts education initiatives. Funding will increase over the prior year for grantees, including larger increases for smaller organizations. The allotment includes a $3 million increase for 621 organizations in low-income neighborhoods and those most affected by the pandemic. The Apollo Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the Museum of Chinese in America will be among the 93 organizations to receive some of the largest grants, in excess of $100,000 each.
If It's Fiction, Can It Be An Invasion of Privacy?
Emmanuel Carrére's latest novel, Yoga, has stoked debate in France after the author's ex-wife, Héléne Devynck, accused him of writing about her without her consent. The French literary world has been grappling with the questions what happens when someone no longer wants to appear in an ex-partner's work. One of France's most celebrated writers came under question about gaps in the mostly autobiographical narrative because he is legally barred from writing about his ex-wife without her consent and she alleges that he broke that agreement in Yoga. The dispute has divided many in France, where artistic freedom is seen as sacrosanct. Literature has been its fair share of legal wrangling over nonfiction and autobiographical fiction in recent years. American readers will have to wait to read the novel.
Canadian Fashion Mogul is Charged with Sex Trafficking
Peter Nygard, the former CEO of a Canada-based fashion line, has been arrested and charged with racketeering, sex trafficking, and other crimes after authorities in Manitoba acted on a U.S. request for his extradition. Nygard, 79, is accused of using the influence of his now defunct company, Nygard International, employees, and funds to "recruit and maintain adult and minor-aged female victims" over a period of at least 25 years for the "sexual gratification" of himself and "his friends and business associates." He allegedly targeted women and minors from "disadvantaged economic backgrounds," including those with a history of abuse.
Supreme Court Says It Will Hear Case Challenging NCAA's Athlete Compensation Rules
The Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal from the NCAA and 11 of its top-level conferences in a case that challenges teh NCAA's restrictions on the compensation that athletes can receive for playing college sports. This decision adds a momentous element of uncertainty to an enterprise that has been shaken by state and Congressional legislative efforts concerning not only athletes' abilities to make money from their names, images and likenesses, but also the fairness of their overall treatment by the schools for which they help generate billions of dollars annually.
After Years of Protest, Cleveland's Baseball Team Will Change Its Name
After years of protests from fans and Native American groups, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change the team name, which has long been criticized as racist. The baseball team's process is being lauded by many rights groups for its thoughtful reconsideration of the name "Indians". Over several months, the organization, led by the team's controlling owner, Paul Dolan, conducted research and held interviews with what it called stakeholders - fans of the team, Native American groups, religious and civic leaders from a variety of backgrounds, researchers, historians, and psychologists. The move follows a decision by the Washington Football Team of the National Football League in July to stop using a name long considered a racial slur and is part of a larger national conversation about race. It is not immediately clear what Cleveland's exact steps will be beyond dropping the name. The transition to a new name involves many logistical considerations. Cleveland spent much of the year before the 2019 season phasing out the logos and imagery of the cartoon mascot Chief Wahoo. The team has been known as the Indians since 1915.
Major League Baseball Officially Elevating Negro Leagues to Major League Status
Majoe League Baseball (MLB) officially elevated the Negro Leagues to "Major League" status, "correcting a longtime oversight in the game's history." Heading forward, MLB will recognized the "statistics and records" of approximately 3,400 players who partook in the seven leagues between 1920-48. MLB credits all of the baseball research community for discovering additional facts, statistics, and context that exceed the criteria used by the Special Committee on Baseball Records in 1969 to identify six "Major Leagues" since 1876. It is the MLB's view that the Committee's 1969 omission of the Negro Leagues from consideration was clearly an error that demands today's designation. The following leagues are being elevated: the Negro National League (1920-31); the Eastern Colored League (1923-28); the East-West League (1932); the Negro Southern League (1932); the Negro National League (II) (1933-48); and the Negro American League (1937-48).
To Protect Players, Soccer Looks at Concussion Substitutes
Soccer leagues and tournaments around the world will be allowed to experiment with concussion substitutes starting in January, the body that oversees the sport's rules announced last week. The change is the most tangible action to be taken by soccer leaders amid growing concerns about the effects of head injuries at all levels of the game.
University of South Carolina Tries to Avoid Sports Cuts Amid $40M in Losses
School President Caslen said that the school's board of trustees met to discuss cutting sports, namely men's soccer, men's and women's swimming, diving, and equestrian. However, that was not a path he wanted to take. Calsen also said that in his ideal situation he would like to expand athletics, but the department opened the year facing a projected budget deficit of more than $40 million. It is expected to take on some kind of loan to make ends meet this fiscal year.
Court Reduces Russia's Ban to a Largely Symbolic Two Years
Russia's four-year ban from global sports was halved last week by a court in Switzerland, a decision that could signal the end of its yearslong battle with antidoping regulators who had accused the country of running one of the most sophisticated doping schemes in history in pursuit of sporting glory and Olympic medals. The decision, issued by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, the final arbiter on global sports disputes, means that Russia will not be able to enter teams in the next two Olympics - the rescheduled Tokyo Games next summer and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing - or have its anthem or its flag represented at other high-profile competitions. However, it left open the possibility that many Russian athletes will still compete at those events, as so-called neutral competitors.
Russians Hack U.S. Agencies in Bold Attack
In "one of the most sophisticated, and perhaps among the largest, attacks on federal systems in the past five years," U.S. federal agencies and ministries, including the Treasury and Commerce departments, were spied upon by the hackers suspected to work for the Russian government. The hackers had free access to internal email traffic and the breach was serious enough to prompt a meeting of the National Security Council at the White House. The breach may be related to the hacking earlier this year of cybersecurity firm FireEye, a company with major business and government contracts.
The Pentagon, intelligence agencies, nuclear labs, and Fortune 500 companies also use software that was found to have been compromised by Russian hackers. The sweep of stolen data is still being assessed. About 18,000 private and government users downloaded a tainted software update that gave Russian hackers a foothold into victims' systems, according to SolarWinds, the company whose software was compromised. Investigators are trying to understand the extent of the damage in what could be a significant loss of American data to a foreign attacker.
Range of Tools In a Vast Hack Elevates Fears
Federal officials issued an urgent warning that hackers who targeted American intelligence agencies believed were working for the Kremlin used a far wider variety of tools than previously known to penetrate government systems, and said that the cyberoffensive was "a grave risk to the federal government." The discovery suggests that the scope of the hacking, which appears to extend beyond nuclear laboratories and Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department systems, complicates the challenge for federal investigators as they try to assess the damage and understand what had been stolen.
Suit Accuses Google Tech of Monopoly
Last week, a group of 38 attorneys general announced a bipartisan lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company has engaged in "illegal, anti-competitive conduct" to create a monopoly in search and search advertising. The state of Colorado is co-leading the lawsuit with Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Compared to the Texas-led suit against Google announced earlier, the second lawsuit represents a broader coalition of 35 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The new lawsuit will run in parallel with the Justice Department's own federal suit, which also alleges that the company has abused its power to create and maintain a monopoly.
Google's Legal Peril Grows in Face of Third Antitrust Suit
More than 30 states, including Massachusetts, added to Google's mushrooming legal woes last week, accusing the Silicon Valley titan of illegally arranging its search results to push out smaller rivals. One day after 10 other states accused Google of abusing its dominance in advertising and overcharging publishers, and two months after the Justice Department said the company's deals with other tech giants throttled competition, a lawsuit said that Google downplayed websites that let users search for information in specialized areas, like home repair services and travel reviews. The prosecutors also accused the company of using exclusive deals with phone makers, like Apple to prioritize Google's search service over rivals, like Bing and DuckDuckGo. That suppression, the states said, has locked in Google's nearly 90% market dominance in search and has made it impossible for the smaller companies to grow into formidable competitors.
Tech Giants Shift Posture on Legal Shield
As tech companies face intensifying attacks from political leaders, a number of industry leaders have said in recent weeks that they are open to changes to the law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The shifting rhetoric comes as both Republicans and Democrats have threatened to make major changes to the legal shield or repeal it entirely. The law, passed in 1996, limits companies' legal exposure of the words, photos and videos posted by users of their sites. Trump has threatened to veto a critical defense funding bill because it did not include a repeal of the protections. President-elect Biden has called for the shield to be "revoked." Lawmakers in both parties have proposed major trims to it.
Major Outage Stops Work Across Globe
Internet users worldwide suffered a major outage Google outage for about an hour, sending many of its most popular services, including Calendar, Gmail, Hangouts, Maps, and YouTube offline. The crash halted productivity and sent angry users to Twitter to vent and students struggled to sign into virtual classrooms. Google tools were failing to load for users in the U.S., the U.K., and across Europe. The service disruption came from a technical flaw in services that requires users to log in to online accounts. The company said it was not caused by a cyber-attack.
Pinterest Settles Gender Bias Lawsuit for $22.5 Million
Pinterest has agreed to settle a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by its former chief operating officer, Francoise Brougher, for $22.5 million. The settlement includes a $2.5 million investment "to be used towards advancing women and underrepresented communities in the tech industry." Pinterest did not admit to liability as part of the settlement. The settlement brings to an end one of the most high-profile gender discrimination cases in Silicon Valley in recent memory. The lawsuit, as well as allegations of racism and discrimination from two other former employees rattled the staff, which is known for being a feel-good online destination.
U.S. Charges China-Based Zoom Executive
U.S. prosecutors charged a former China-based executive at Zoom Video Communications Inc. with disrupting video meeting commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown at the request of the Chinese government. Xinjiang Jin, 39, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of conspiring since January 2019 to use his company's systems to censor speech.
Alibaba Showed Clients How to Identify China's Uyghurs
Alibaba says that is has stopped trying to identify faces by ethnicity after the company was accused of creating a facial recognition system to detect Uyghurs. The system was built by Alibaba's clout computing team, and allegedly included the example: "Is this a Uyghur?" in an algorithm. It also reportedly included code to recognize if someone was a "minority" or "Asian". Alibaba has since said that it was "dismayed to learn that Alibaba Cloud developed a facial recognition technology in a testing environment that included ethnicity as an algorithm attribute for tagging video imagery.
Japan's 'Twitter Killer' to be Executed for 9 Murders That Shocked a Nation
Takahiro Shiraishi, dubbed the "Twitter killer," murdered nine people after contacting them on Twitter and has been sentenced to death, in a high-profile case that has shocked Japan. The 30-year-old admitted to murdering and dismembering his victims - almost all of whom were young women he met on the social media platform. He used Twitter to lure suicidal women to his home, saying he could help them die, and in some cases, claimed he would kill himself alongside them. The serial killings triggered debate over how suicide is discussed online. Public support for the death penalty remains high in Japan, one of the few developed nations to retain capital punishment.
An Honor Becomes an Ordeal as Harried Electors Finally Meet
Casting votes in the Electoral College has been a routine part of election mechanics, but this year, electors have been thrust into the cross hairs of President Trump's extraordinary effort to overturn the results. For decades, Electoral College voters have served as the rubber-stamping bureaucrats of American democracy, operating well below the political radar as they provided pro forma certification of a new president. The role has long been considered an honor, but as small-town electors face harassment and more prominent figures adapt to increased security measures, a duty long considered a privilege has also become a headache.
Government Can Pursue Immigrant Census Plans
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit to block Trump's plan to exclude immigrants living illegally in the U.S. from the population count used to allocate congressional districts to states. The 6-3 ruling on ideological lines, with the court's six conservatives in the majority and three liberals dissenting, gives Trump a short-term victory as he pursues his hardline policies toward immigration in the final weeks of his presidency. The unsigned decision said that "judicial resolution of this dispute is premature" in part because it is not clear what the administration plans to do. The decision noted that the Court was not weighing in on the merits of Trump's plan.
Barr, Who Tied Justice Dept to Trump, Will Resign as Attorney General
Attorney General Barr, who served as President Trump's most effective shield and advocate for broad presidential authority, will resign as the administration draws to a disputed close. Trump previously lauded Barr but recently turned on him after the attorney general declared that there was no widespread evidence of voter fraud in the presidential election and resisted Trump's public pressure to prosecute President-elect Biden and other former Obama officials on unsubstantiated claims. In his resignation letter, Barr thanked Trump and offered a forceful defense of his boss.
Senate Leader Seeks to Avoid Vote Challenge
Senator Mitch McConnell congratulated Biden and pleaded with Republicans privately not to join an effort by the House members to throw out the results. This act broke with Trump's drive to overturn his election loss. Although McConnell waited until weeks after Biden was declared the winner to recognize the outcome, his actions were a clear bid by the majority leader, who is the most powerful Republican in Congress, to put an end to his party's attempts to sow doubt about the election. He was also trying to stave off a messy partisan spectacle on the floor of the House that could divide Republicans at the start of the new Congress, forcing them to choose between showing loyalty to Trump and protecting the sanctity of the electoral process.
Federal Reserve Joins Climate Network, to Cheers From the Left
The Federal Reserve (the Fed) is joining a network of central banks and other financial regulators focused on conducting research and shaping policies to help prepare the financial system for the effects of climate change. The board in Washington voted unanimously to become a member of the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System. The central bank began participating in the group more than a year ago, but its formal membership is something that Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for and that Republicans have eyed warily. The Fed's halting approach to joining underlines how politically fraught climate-related issues remain in the U.S.
More Than Others, Trump Judges Show Penchant for Dissent
As Democrats look to the incoming Biden administration to reverse much of President Trump's work, the conservative imprint he has left on the federal courts is only deepening. An analysis of decisions by the country's appellate bench - where nearly all contested federal litigation ends - shows the transformation of the judiciary under Trump. In reviewing more than 10,000 published decisions and dissents during the first three years of the administration, the New York Times found that the president's picks for the appeals courts were more likely than past Republican appointees to disagree with peers selected by Democrats, and more likely to agree with their Republican colleagues, suggesting they were more consistently conservative.
Biden Makes History by Picking Native American for the Cabinet
In an historic first, Biden will nominate Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Dept. of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, would be the country's first Native American Cabinet secretary. Fittingly, she would do so as head of the agency responsible for not only managing the nation's public lands, but also honoring its treaties with the Indigenous people form whom those lands were taken.
Biden Adds Buttigieg to His 'Cabinet of Barrier-Breakers'
Biden's Cabinet introduced yet another of his history-making nominations: Pete Buttigieg as his pick to lead the Department of Transportation. If confirmed, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first openly gay member of a presidential Cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate. Biden's other "precedent-busting" picks include VP-elect Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman to serve in that role; Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, who would be the first Latino in that role; and retired Army General Lloyd Austin as defense secretary, who would be the first Black American in the role.
For Trump, a Cloudy Future With a $60 Million Consolation
When Trump departs from the White House, he will have a huge pile of cash to fuel his future ambitions. He can hold rallies, hire staff, and even lay groundwork for a potential 2024 run. Deflated by a loss he has yet to acknowledge, Trump has cushioned the blow by coaxing huge sums of money from his loyal supporters, raising roughly $250 million since Election Day, along with the national party. More than $60 million of that sum has gone to a new political action committee, which Trump will control after he leaves office. Those funds far exceed what previous outgoing presidents had at their disposal and will provide him with tremendous flexibility for his post-presidential ambitions.
Police Faulted Over Protests in New York
An 115-page Department of Investigation report details a pattern of excessive use of force by improperly trained officers who at times escalated conflict when de-escalation was required. Black protesters were disproportionately arrested on the most serious charges. Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized to New Yorkers after a city report found that too many police officers were underprepared and went overboard in policing the largely peaceful demonstrations across the five boroughs last spring and summer after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Former Aide Says Cuomo Harassed Her for Years
Lindsey Boylan, a candidate for Manhattan borough president, claims that she was harassed for her looks while she was working for Governor Cuomo and that "many saw it." The former Cuomo adviser alleges that the behavior went on for "years." She disclosed the allegations in a series of tweets, but did not provide details or more specific allegations. A Cuomo spokesperson said "there is simply no truth to these claims."
Flaws Found, Minnesota Commutes Man's Life Term
A man serving life in prison for the shooting death of a Minneapolis girl in 2002 was released after the Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted his life sentence to 20 years. Myon Burrell was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison as a teen in the high-profile case that has raised questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system. The case made headlines earlier this year after new evidence uncovered serious flaws in the police investigation into the 2002 killing of an 11-year-old girl who was hit by a stray bullet while doing homework at her dining room table.
China Takes Rivalry With U.S. One Step Farther: To the Moon
China may have been a latecomer to the moon, but when its capsule full of lunar rocks and soil returned to Earth, it set the stage for a new space race over the coming decades. This time, it will be a competition over resources on the moon that could propel deeper space exploration. The U.S. and the Soviet Union competed for supremacy in an epic space race in the 1960s and '70s. Now China is in the fray, and today's competition - once seemingly the realm of science fiction - could be equally intense and more mercantile.
As Toll Nears 300,000, First Doses of Vaccine Race Across the Nation
Scrambling to make up for lost time after a halting start, the Trump administration is rushing to roll out a $250 million public education campaign to encourage Americans to take the coronavirus vaccine, which reached the first patients this week. Trucks and cargo planes packed with the first of nearly three million doses of coronavirus vaccine fanned out across the country, as hospitals rushed to set up injection sites and their anxious workers tracked each shipment hour by hour.
'Healing is Coming': U.S. Vaccinations Begin
The largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history is underway with health workers getting the first shots on the same day that the nation's COVID-19 death toll hit a staggering 300,000. Some 145 sites around the country, from Rhode Island to Alaska, received shipments, with more deliveries set for the coming days. High-risk health care workers were first in line. Nursing home residents also get priority.
The Food and Drug Administration Panel Recommends a Second Vaccine
In an overwhelming 20 to zero vote, with one abstention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) advisory committee recommended that the agency authorize the second Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the country. The FDA will now decide whether or not to take the committee's advice. This second vaccine, mRNA-1273, made by Massachusetts-based biotech Moderna, uses the same technology as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and in trials showed similar efficacy in protecting against Covid-19. Moderna's vaccine is 94% effective at preventing symptomatic illness and appears to prevent the spread of the virus as well. The findings mean that Americans could soon have two highly effective Covid-19 vaccines.
Rush by Rich Countries to Reserve Early Doeses Leaves the Poor Behind
The U.S., Britain, Canada, and others are hedging their bets, reserving doses that far outnumber their populations, as many poorer nations struggle to secure enough. Wealthy countries are fueling an extraordinary gap in access around the world, laying claim to more than half the doses that could come on the market by the end of next year. While many poor nations may be able to vaccinate at most 20% of their populations in 2021, some of the world's richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.
Supreme Court Rejects Religious School's Challenge to State Order
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a religious school in Kentucky that is challenging the state's decision to limit in-school instruction as part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The decision by the justices is a loss for Danville Christian Academy. The school said the order violated its religious rights under the First Amendment, which guarantees the free exercise of religion. The justices said that the school closing order "effectively expires this week or shortly thereafter, and there is no indication that it will be renewed," but indicated that the school could renew its legal challenge if another closure is announced in the new year. Two conservative justices, Alito and Gorsuch, dissented.
Evictions Looms as Millions in Aid Goes Unspent
More than 400 state and local governments are scrambling to allocate funding from the federal CARES Act intended to provide at least $4.3 billion in rental assistance. The money could save some tenants from eviction and help landlords pay their mortgages. However, with just two weeks left to distribute it, jurisdictions have more than $300 million left. They blame bureaucratic hurdles, competing budget demands, and reluctance among landlords to take part. To better dole out aid, many states and cities are simplifying applications and moving money from nonprofits that cannot process aid fast enough to those that can.
At-Home Covid Test Gets Green Light
The FDA has issued an emergency authorization for the country's first coronavirus test that can run from start to finish at home without the need for a prescription. People as young as two years old are cleared to use the test, which takes just 15 to 20 minutes to deliver a result. Unlike many similar products, this test is authorized for people with or without symptoms.
A Waiver, for Their Protection
While social gatherings are curtailed in many states, many people are still trying to gather. Coronavirus waivers that must be returned with R.S.V.P.s are becoming a new norm for social events this season, including holiday parties, birthdays, weddings, proms, large-scale celebrations, and even family reunions. Hosts say that they do not want to be held legally responsible in case guests get infected at their events, while larger outfits say that the waivers are just an extension of existing polices. Employees who work at social events are also being asked to waive their rights to sue. The waivers vary widely in scope and length. It is not clear whether the waivers offer any legal protections or are enforceable in court. Nonetheless, citing the proverbial "abundance of caution", that has become a pandemic cliché.
$1 Billion Spent on Virus Gear, Now New York Wants a Refund
As the coronavirus ravaged the state this spring, the state rushed into $1.1 billion in deals for supplies and equipment. Now, New York wants much of that money back. State officials are trying to get at least partial refunds on a third of that spending, by clawing back millions paid to vendors that they said failed to deliver on time, and working to extricate the state from deals now that stockpiles are sufficient. The same is true in New York City, where officials have canceled $525 million in agreements for virus-related goods - more than a quarter of the total virus spending for the city's primary procurement agency - and are trying to recover nearly $11 million from vendors they said did not deliver.