Week In Review

By Travis Marmara Edited by Elissa D. Hecker

Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Entertainment, Arts, Sports, Technology/Media, and General News (including the Coronavirus):


Director of Amazon India Drama Cuts Scenes Amid Outcry From Hindu Nationalists

Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of Amazon web series "Tandav", has agreed to cut scenes viewed as insensitive to Hindu nationals. Pressure from members of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., have accused Zafar of "insulting Hindu deities and stirring up animosity between Hindus and Muslims and between upper castes and lower castes." Defenders of the show claim that the opposition is merely pretext, consistent amongst "an increasingly intolerant atmosphere in India that affects even Bollywood." Such action comes as streaming giants Netflix, Hulu, and others compete for viewers in the growing Indian market.

Pixar's 'Soul' Has a Black Hero. In Denmark, a White Actor Dubs the Voice

Joe Gardner, the main character in "Soul", is Pixar's first Black protagonist. Many are applauding the steps taken by the studio to "accurately represent African-American culture" and installing a "cultural trust" to safeguard the story's authenticity. These steps have been dampened, however, by the use of white actors who dub over the movie in many other European language versions. While some view the use of dub actors as an artform, using anyone capable of mimicking most closely the actors in the original version, irrespective of race, others believe that systemic racism in the dubbing industry prevent many underrepresented communities from participating.


Second Circuit Rules Landlord Liable for Contributory Counterfeiting Based on "Willful Blindness"

In a recent opinion by the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Omega SA v. 375 Canal, LLC, the court found a commercial landlord liable for contributory trademark infringement as a result of "turn[ing] a blind eye to ongoing sales of counterfeit merchandise on their leased premises." The jury awarded Omega $1.1 million in statutory damages under the federal Trademark (Lanham) Act. The case hinged on whether Omega had to establish the identities of the parties engaging in counterfeiting the watches or whether the company had to prove that the landlord's "actual knowledge of prior trademark counterfeiting activity occurring at its Canal Street property" was sufficient. The case serves as an important reminder of a landlord's continued obligations to monitor the property for use of illicit activities and the consequences for turning a blind eye.

For Diversity Leaders in the Arts, Getting Hired Is Just the First Step

In the wake of the George Floyd protests and the heighted awareness of social justice issues brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement, cultural institutions around the country are hiring their own diversity officers to "increase the number of people of color on the staff and board, broaden their programming and address a widely acknowledged pattern of systemic racism," ensuring that there is more representation in the world of arts.

A Theater Serves as a Courthouse, Provoking Drama Offstage

In a sign of the times, Covid restrictions in Britain have created a backlog of cases. To address the issue, "the country's courts service has been renting suitable spaces -- like theaters, but also conference centers and local government buildings -- then turning them into temporary courtrooms." While proponents point to the move as spurring business for the theaters, many of which have closed as a result of the pandemic, opponents claim the "courts and the police have historically targeted communities of color, and that theaters should be kept as spaces for creativity" for underrepresented populations where many theaters are located.

For Peter Nygard, Alone and Jailed, Rags-to-Riches Story Turns Upside Down

Peter Nygard, a multimillionaire who built a fashion empire from scratch, is seeking release on bail due to Coronavirus running rampant in the correctional facility where he is located. Nygard faces charges of "sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and other crimes, involving dozens of women and teenage girls."


Sexual Assault Cases in the Sports World

This week saw a number of high-profile and international cases of rape and sexual abuse involving famous individuals in various sports.

As a result of a popular podcast named "Where Is George Gibney" that investigated abuse claims of 18 former swimmers of George Gibney, a former head coach of Ireland's national and Olympic swimming teams, Irish police confirmed they were investigating Gibney after two more former child swimmers came forward with fresh allegations against him. Gibney previously avoided trial in 1994 on "27 charges of rape and sexual abuse, against young male and female swimmers, when an Irish appeals court ruled in favor of his claim that the charges, relating to alleged incidents between 1967 and 1981, were too old and lacking in detail to allow him to defend himself properly."

Conor McGregor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship star, has been sued in Ireland by a woman who accused him of raping her in a hotel penthouse in 2018. The suit seeks "a sum of 1,475,110 to 1,759,850 euros, or about $1.79 million to $2.13 million." The incident stems from a December 9, 2018 rendezvous at a Dublin hotel between McGregor and the woman, who alleges she was forced to perform lascivious acts on McGregor against her will. McGregor "categorically rejected" the claims and states he is "confident that justice will prevail" in the civil case.

Jared Porter was recently hired by the New York Mets as General Manager, but was fired as a result of sexual harassment towards a female reporter during his time with the Chicago Cubs. Porter sent the reporter a "photo of a penis, another of a bulging crotch, and a barrage of 62 texts without an answer." Many applaud the Mets for taking swift action against Porter, but the story has prompted similar allegations and highlights what many women in similar positions view as a systemic problem within baseball.

An Olympic sailing champion, Sofia Bekatorou, has accused a top sporting official in Greece of sexual abuse. A medalist in both the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bekatorou claims that she was sexually assaulted by the official 23 years ago, when she was 21. While the statute of limitations has since expired, Bekatorou hopes by speaking out she can help others who have undergone similar experiences in a country where "studies suggest sexual harassment is prevalent."

Lastly, this week, former South Korean national speedskating coach, Cho Jae-beom, was sentenced to more than a decade in prison on charges of raping Shim Suk-hee, "a two-time Olympic gold medalist in short-track speedskating who said he had sexually assaulted her repeatedly starting when she was 17." The conviction marks a stain on the South Korean short-track speedskating program, which has "produced more Olympic gold medals for South Korea than any other nation."

Family Reaches $3.5 Million Settlement in Death of Maryland Football Player

The University of Maryland has reached a $3.5 million settlement agreement with the family of former student, Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman on the football team who collapsed from heatstroke during a practice in 2018 and died two weeks later. McNair's death sparked an investigation into the "toxic culture" of bullying and humiliation that was alleged in the university's football program.

'I Let You Down': Klete Keller's Path From Olympics to Capitol Riot

Amongst the most famous individuals facing charges and possible prison sentences for invading the Capitol is former Olympic swimmer Klete Keller. Known for medaling in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing games, Keller became radicalized in part due to retiring from the sport in which he gained notoriety. This marks a stark contrast from those who describe him as "nonconfrontational, quiet, [and] relatively passive."

Despite Virus Surge, International Olympic Committee Pledges Summer Olympics in Tokyo Will Happen

As the Coronavirus rages, the president of the International Olympic Committee tried to suppress doubts that the Olympic Games will take place this summer. Originally scheduled for 2020, the summer Olympics in Tokyo were rescheduled to this summer because of the pandemic. One factor promoting such confidence: "The Olympics would stand to lose $1 billion or more in television revenue should the Games be canceled."

Players in a New Super League Would Be Barred From the World Cup

UEFA, European soccer's governing body, has been in discussions to alter the format for the popular Champions League beginning in 2024. The new plan would create a league called the "Super League" amongst some of the most popular clubs in the world, including Real Madrid and Manchester United. Viewing the new league as a threat, however, FIFA announced in retaliation that "top players will be barred from playing for their national teams in events like the World Cup if their clubs join a breakaway league," like the Super League.

How Climbers Reached the Summit of K2 in Winter for the First Time

Located in Central Asia, K2, the second-tallest mountain in the world, had never been climbed in both the summer and winter. Recently, however, a team of 10 Nepalese climbers conquered the feat. K2, is also known as Savage Mountain due to its propensity for causing deaths. As a comparison, "for every four climbers who reach its summit, one dies. In contrast, the death rate on Mount Everest has been around 1 percent since 1990."


Judge Declines to Force Amazon to Resume Hosting Parler

In the wake of the assault on the Capitol, Amazon removed Parler, a site hosting far-right conservatives and conspiracy theorists, from its platform. In response, Parler then sued Amazon, accusing the company of "not giving proper warning before ending its services, and asked the court to force Amazon to host the social network." Citing public interest reasons and Parler proffering only "faint and factually inaccurate speculation," the federal judge overseeing the case refused to compel Amazon to continue hosting Parler on its cloud-based platform.

Behind a Secret Deal Between Google and Facebook

In yet another anticompetition case involving Google and Facebook, 10 state attorneys general filed an antitrust suit against the Silicon Valley companies relating to Google's grant of a "sweetheart deal" to Facebook in the digital advertising space. With an alliance of other companies, Facebook previously supported a process called "Open Bidding" that was seen as a direct threat to Google's alternative platform for purchasing digital ad space using automized bidding processes. Facebook's sudden pivot in 2017 leading it to partner with Google's technology has led some to believe that nefarious motives are to blame.

Fox Settled a Lawsuit Over Its Lies. But It Insisted on One Unusual Condition.

On October 12, 2020, Fox News agreed to settle for millions of dollars with the family of Seth Rich, a murdered Democratic National Committee staff member who the network repeatedly claimed, falsely, was responsible for leaking Democratice National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. One provision insisted upon in the agreement was to keep the settlement confidential until after the November 3rd election, a tacit acknowledgement by the network of the impact news of the settlement may have had in the minds of potential voters.

The Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission Announces His Plans to Step Down

After taking on multiple enforcement actions against Facebook, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Joseph Simons, said he will leave the position on January 29th. The cases against Facebook resulted in a record $5 billion fine for the company.

Investors Push Home Depot and Omnicom to Steer Ads From Misinformation

Shareholders in Home Depot and the advertising giant Omnicom have filed resolutions asking the companies to authorize independent investigations into whether internal advertising policies "contribute[d] to the spread of hate speech, disinformation, white supremacist activity, or voter suppression efforts." Such an inquiry stems from whether dollars contributed from shareholder investments were used to spread misinformation through the purchase of advertisements on sites that promote radicalized theories.

When Joe Biden Took the White House, He Also Took @WhiteHouse

In contrast to prior administrations, Twitter did not carry over the followers of @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS, and @VP as President Biden assumed control. The change means that President Biden will have to build new followings from the beginning.

Intelligence Analysts Use U.S. Smartphone Location Data Without Warrants, Memo Says

According to an unclassified memo written by Senator Ron Wyden, the Defense Intelligence Agency purchased "commercially available databases containing location data from smartphone apps and searches it for Americans' past movements without a warrant." The memo highlights a loophole in privacy law as discussed in the landmark ruling known as the "Carpenter decision." The Supreme Court held in Carpenter that the government requires a warrant to compel phone companies to turn over location data about their customers, but if the information is obtained through a broker, then the absence of a warrant does not prevent the government from using that data.

Russia Pushes U.S.-Funded News Outlet Toward Exit

Russia's government is threatening Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with "multimillion-dollar fines and possible criminal charges against its employees," drawing ire that the American-funded news organization is being forced out as the new Biden administration takes over. In a tit-for-tat response, the Biden administration may impose similar measures against Russian news outlets, like RT and Sputnik.

Biden Administration Removes Trump Allies From U.S.-Funded News Outlets

The acting chief of the United States Agency for Global Media, Kelu Chao, has fired the leaders of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network in a sweeping purge of Trump-appointed officials. Many feared that the agency, whose purpose is to combat "disinformation in places like Russia, China, Hong Kong, North Korea, Iran and Belarus" and was led by Michael Pack, a Trump ally, was being used as a "mouthpiece for the Trump administration."

An Australia With No Google? The Bitter Fight Behind a Drastic Threat

In a new piece of legislation in Australia, "if media companies and platforms like Google cannot agree on a price for news content, an independent arbitration body will resolve the dispute." Tech companies argue that they already help the media industry by sending it traffic. Critics, however, argue that tech companies are only trying to keep their dominant positions as determiners of news. In response to the proposed legislation, Google threatened to remove the search engine from the country if the law is enacted.

General News

Biden Inaugurated as the 46th President Amid a Cascade of Crises

This week, Joseph Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. President Biden takes over a country fighting a deadly pandemic, deep partisanship, a dire economic crisis, and a social awakening. In part, Biden was elected for his restraint in words and tone, a marked difference from his past and the prior president.

With a 50/50 tie in the Senate, Biden thus far has used executive orders as a means to address these policy concerns. In his first days in office, Biden signed roughly 30 executive orders. The orders include: "Restoring the country's commitment to funding the World Health Organization; rejoining the Paris climate accords; reversing Mr. Trump's ban on immigration from several predominantly Muslim nations and halting immigration enforcement in the country's interior; stopping construction of the border wall; ensuring protections for L.G.B.T.Q. workers . . . ; killing the Keystone XL pipeline permit; reimposing the ban on drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge; imposing new ethics rules and tossing out Mr. Trump's "1776 Commission" report." Biden also signed two executive orders to "increase the amount of money poor families get for food each month and provide additional meal money for needy students." That said, executive orders come with a price: they can be swept aside by an incoming president, just like Biden did with many of President Trump's executive orders, which have largely been erased.

Why Kamala Harris and 'Firsts' Matter, and Where They Fall Short

The Biden administration's choices for cabinet members, many of which will be historic firsts, will also serve as examples of the "role model effect," wherein, "seeing someone like yourself attain high office can spur you to participate in politics or pursue a leadership position." Researchers say, however, that more work is required to "change institutions and paths to power, so that more people from underrepresented groups can follow."

Senate Confirms Austin, Installing First Black Defense Secretary

Lloyd J. Austin III was swiftly sworn in as Secretary of Defense and marks the first African American to hold the position. As a civilian, Austin had to be granted a waiver, which was similarly granted to Jim Mattis, Trump's first defense secretary, four years ago.

Senate Leaders Agree on Impeachment Trial Delay, Giving Biden Breathing Room

Senate leaders agreed to delay Trump's impeachment trial for two weeks. The trial, which will start February 9th, allows Trump time to gather a defense team and prepare for trial while providing Biden with time to install his cabinet and to make policy decisions.

A 'Nerve Center' for Climate in the Biden White House

In strong opposition to the stance taken by the former administration, Biden has curated the largest team ever to address global warming and has "installed policy experts at the State Department as well as the National Security Council, the president's top advisory body for all foreign policy decisions." Biden has also begun to address the crisis by reacceding to the Paris Agreement, showing an intention to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit, and signing a series of executive orders. Opponents have criticized the appointments, claiming "increased energy innovation and 'not the appointment of countless unchecked czars' would be best for both the economy and the environment."

Such climate change-inspired moves come amongst the backdrop of the Supreme Court deciding the scope of the court's authority in related state litigation and a federal appeals court striking down the Trump administration's view that the Clean Air Act of 1970 should be interpreted as not granting the federal government with the authority to set national restrictions on emissions.

Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump

In the waning days of the Trump presidency, allies close to and in the administration created a lucrative market for pardons. Using their connections to the office of the President, allies collected fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency. As the Trump presidency drew to end, 143 pardons and commutations were handed out, including the "son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; . . . a Manhattan socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme," hip-hop artists, a famous art dealer, health care executives, and drug smuggler, Jonathan Braun. While granting pardons and commutations is not unusual, those in law enforcement and prosecutors' offices around the country view the decisions as "an incredible kick in the teeth to [those] who toil away every day under very difficult circumstances to achieve justice and some restitution to the taxpayers."

National Security Agency Installs Trump Loyalist as Top Lawyer Days Before Biden Takes Office