Citizen Quartz

17 Dec 18
Tenacious Hellpussy

I Played Make-Believe with the Pakistani Military. Yes. You read that correctly. In the summer of 2010, I was teaching at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan. When I was not teaching, I was conducting research for my book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War. Pakistan’s army and various intelligence […]

16 Dec 18
Hercules

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16 Dec 18
Quartz
On June 5, 2017, Raphael Bostic became the 15th president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. This also made him the first African American president of any regional Fed in the US central bank’s 100-year history. The Atlanta Fed is the main seat of the Federal Reserve’s sixth district, which covers all of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, as well as parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Bostic’s role is to study trends in the economy, and oversee monetary policy activities and bank regulation in the region. This year he also became a voting member of the Fed’s main interest rate-setting body in Washington DC, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The symbolism is stark. The states of the sixth district were at the heart of the country’s civil rights movement, culminating a little over half a century ago, in the Civil Rights Act affording black Americans the same rights as their white peers. Progress since has been achingly slow. The gulf between the economic lives of black and white Americans is still staggeringly wide. For example, average household wealth for a black family is about $17,000, one-tenth of white household wealth. In some respects, racial inequality has gotten worse. Bostic isn’t the first black person to be a member of the powerful FOMC, which sets US interest rates thereby influencing everything from government borrowing costs to mortgages rates. The first was Andrew Brimmer, a sharecropper’s son from Louisiana, who was educated in racially segregated schools. In 1966, Brimmer was appointed by president Lyndon Johnson to an eight-year term on the Fed’s board of governors. In the intervening 43 years, just two other black people have served on the FOMC, both men—Emmett J. Rice and Roger W. Ferguson Jr. Two other men of color, Narayana Kocherlakota and Neel Kashkari, both of Indian descent, have served as heads of the Minneapolis Fed. That makes six non-whites out of a total of 235 people who have served on the Fed’s Board of Governors or been president of a regional Fed since it first met in 1914. It’s worth adding that just 16 women have ever been on the rate-setting committee, which is made up of the members of the board and a rotating schedule of regional Fed presidents. This is part of Remaking Economics, a series exploring foundational changes to a field that shapes how we understand the world. This lack of diversity at the very highest echelons of economic policymaking reflects a similar lack of diversity across the economics profession as a whole. It’s one that leads to a lack of attention to issues that specifically affect minorities in everything from economic research to the macroeconomic models used to understand the world to public policy decisions. But it also deprives economics, in general, of its best chance to serve the public most effectively. A narrow pipeline of economists has created a profession vulnerable to groupthink. Lacking the widest possible range of perspectives, life experiences, and expertise, the profession stands to miss crucial information, and make poor decisions. This is a charge that was laid on the Federal Reserve after the 2008 financial crisis. How different would US economic policy be if people from ethnic minorities more consistently took part in policymaking? How different would policies be if the macroeconomic models they were founded on more fully reflected people’s lived experiences? A black man living in the US doesn’t need a research study to tell him his chances of good employment and decent credit are worse than for his white peers. But maybe a policymaker does. The Fed’s blindspot Bostic is an expert in housing and unfair lending practices. In the late 1990s, he worked at the Federal Reserve, where he won an award for his work on the Community Reinvestment Act. The CRA was introduced to reduce the discriminatory lending practices that resulted from redlining, a 1930s federal policy that marked areas that housed minorities as hazardous and restricted their access to mortgages. The CRA made banks lend money to the low- and moderate-income communities in which they were based. Bostic produced a major report on the CRA for Congress, based on a national survey that showed that these loans weren’t unduly high risk and were often also profitable. Bostic spent most of his career after that at the University of Southern California honing his expertise on real estate and on how government policy affects access to mortgages. In 2009, in the aftermath of the bursting of the US housing bubble and the loss of 10 million homes to foreclosure, Bostic was appointed assistant secretary for policy development and research at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help the Obama administration respond to the crisis. In his own words, he says he’s spent his career “focused on issues of getting access to capital, credit, and services to communities that haven’t had them.” Limited access to credit is an issue that resonates amongst black people in the US. Decades of official discriminatory practices have forced many into the arms of opportunists and predators, who target black people with unsuitable and high-interest loans. Subprime mortgages were a recent catastrophic example. Even today, black-owned businesses find it harder to access credit than their white-owned counterparts. The 1913 act that created the Federal Reserve system was keenly aware of the need to be representative. That’s why there are 12 regional Feds and why people on their boards had to represent the interests of agriculture, commerce, industry, services, labor, and consumers. Legislators understood that the experience and needs of different states and different facets of the economy required varied insights and policies to steer their future growth and development. About a century later, that focus on diversity hasn’t extended to racial diversity. Kocherlakota, the former president of the Minneapolis Fed, said in 2016 that the Fed’s structure is designed to enforce diversity but doesn’t achieve this goal. Race, which is a major source of disparity in US economic life, was often missing from conversations. In 2010, when the unemployment rate of black Americans was several percentage points higher than white Americans during the recession, Fed meeting transcripts showed no evidence that this particular problem was discussed, Kocherlakota wrote in a blog post. The lack of diversity among Fed officials might have been part of the reason the central bank didn’t spot the financial crisis brewing, according to William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University. “If the Fed had noticed in the latter half of 2007 that Latino and African American unemployment rates were rising, it might have understood a significant problem was on the horizon,” Spriggs said in a statement to a congressional committee (pdf) in late 2016. Subprime mortgage lenders targeted the black community and later the collapse in home values, consumption, and employment among this group, who were hit hardest and fastest, should have served as a warning of what was to come. https://www.theatlas.com/charts/SymsKzbxN After the financial crisis, a clause of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law attempted to enforce more diversity by requiring certain institutions—including the Federal Reserve—to set up offices for minority and women inclusion. More recently, Janet Yellen, the Fed’s first female chair, regularly spoke about the issue and introduced the central bank’s first diversity and inclusion plan in 2016. Her successor, Jerome Powell, affirmed the importance of diversity during his Senate confirmation hearings in November last year. But a subsequent wave of appointments to senior Fed positions have all been white. Donald Trump appointed Richard Clarida as vice-chairman and Michelle Bowman to another open position on the board. Powell approved the appointment of central bank insider John Williams to lead the New York Fed, the most powerful of the regional central banks, continuing a 108-year tradition of white male leadership. Regional Fed presidents are chosen by search committees made up of board members, but their recent choices have focused minds on the opaque recruiting process for these top roles. These important positions have to be filled from the top of the economics profession where the pool of non-white people is sparse. A Freedom of Information request by Bloomberg to the Richmond Fed found that when they were looking for a new president they reached out to 70 community groups focused on diversity and inclusion but it delivered “minimal direct results.” The culture of economics Half a century ago, the American Economic Association, a prestigious 133-year-old society dedicated to encouraging the careers and research of economists, set up the Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession in response to concerns that minorities were underrepresented. These concerns are just as relevant today. Estimates suggest that less than 8% of full-time faculty in university economics departments come from ethnic minorities. The numbers go on in this manner, persisting across all academic stages of economics from undergraduates to doctorates. About 15% of economic bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded in 2016 went to minorities, and just 10% of doctorates. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Hispanics earning degrees in the US, and specifically economics degrees, has risen as their population has increased. Not so for African Americans. The black proportion of the US population has remained relatively stable over the past two decades, at about 13%, but the proportion of black students studying economics has fallen over this time, from 6.4% to 5.1%, even as it increased for other subjects. (The proportion of black students taking STEM subjects has stagnated at about 7%.) Of the 539 economics doctorates awarded in 2017 to US citizens or permanent residents, just 18 went to African Americans, according to data from the National Science Foundation. Though the economics profession is bigger than just the ranks of PhDs, it is a good measure of trends in the field. Cecilia Elena Rouse is the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and served as chair of the AEA’s committee on minority groups for nine of the past 13 years. She said the profession is finally waking up to the fact that women and minority groups are making gains in other fields, but not in economics. And it shows that the problem can’t be because they don’t have the right math or technical skills. “There’s something about the culture of economics,” she said. As a prominent black female economist, Rouse is not one of many—just 52 black women earned economics doctorates between 2006 and 2015, according to the New York Times citing data from the National Economics Association. This is barely more than the 46 black women who earned them in the previous decade, according to the same research. In the past 15 years, more than twice as many people have visited the International Space Station. https://www.theatlas.com/charts/HJI4HV-e4 The trickle of black people in America earning doctorates in economics is precisely why Raphael Bostic and Cecilia Rouse are in such small company. This problem can be traced back to Econ 101, the popular introductory economics class in college, according to Ebonya Washington, an economics professor at Yale and currently co-chair of the AEA’s minority committee. “Our problem in economics is the perception of what economists do and are,” Washington said. “For undergraduates, they are thinking Wall Street, they are thinking stocks and bonds. They are not thinking if I’m interested in education policy actually a background in economics would be a very good thing.” Economics’ image problem spilled into wider public view last summer when the senior thesis of Alice Wu, then an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, laid out the rampant sexism in the economics profession. It sparked countless columns on why there aren’t more women in economics and testimonies from female economists who have persevered in the profession, despite facing routine humiliation, harassment, and aggression. Mary Daly, the new head of the San Francisco Fed, recently told an audience in London about one of her first major presentations at the central bank. Daly, who despite dropping out of college at 15 went on to earn a doctorate and joined the San Francisco Fed’s research team in 1996, said that after the presentation a senior male leader at the bank said to her: “That was amazing—I didn’t expect that. You’re such a little, tiny woman. Who knew?” Far from just building up a pipeline of diverse economists, there also needs to be a fundamental change to the culture of economics, Daly said. So far, it has failed to be inclusive. Since the very public PR disaster Wu’s thesis created for economics there have been some high-level changes. In April, the AEA set up a new Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Professional Conduct. Daly said the Fed’s board of governors hired an outside consultancy to teach them how to run “safer” meetings and policy discussions so that all voices can be heard. Changing the narrative Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC and an expert in education policy, is exploring a different approach to research about race and economics. Right now, too much of the research he sees within the broader economics profession on race embodies what he describes as a “deficit narrative,” which focuses on the disparities between white people and people of color. This approach can create assumptions that somehow black people are to blame for their lack of equality, he argues. The prevailing narrative about inequality doesn’t inspire much hope or aspiration because the aggregate numbers are so bleak. In addition to the disparities in household wealth, the median household income for whites is almost double that of blacks, while the homeownership rate is 30 percentage points higher. Perry believes the deficit narrative can portray black communities as in need of being saved or not worthy of investment. His latest research aims to encourage investment in black communities for the simple reason that they are assets worth investing in. “There are aspects in these communities that investors need to build upon, for all the other reasons why people invest,” he said. Perry’s research discards comparisons to white people and focuses on what’s happening in majority-black cities in the US. He found there are 1,200 places in the US with a majority African American population. About 700 of these are small rural locations but the rest are larger cities and almost all of them are on the east coast or in the south. In 124 of these places, the median household income for a black family is higher than the national average for all races. He’s also mapped out the areas with a high proportion of black residents with STEM degrees, for example in Atlanta, around Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and the areas surrounding New York City. There is evidence that racial bias has deterred investment in majority black areas. While the federal policy that led to the segregation has officially ended, in reality segregation still persists. Perry’s latest research with other colleagues from Brookings found that owner-occupied homes in black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home, on average. Homes in neighborhoods where the population is 50% black are valued at roughly half the price as homes in neighborhoods with no black residents. A white woman in a town just south of Atlanta has been so distressed by the lack of business investment into her majority black town that she’s been leading a movement to create a breakaway municipality of whiter wealth (she says it’s because she wants a Cheesecake Factory to open there). The areas aren’t worthy of investment simply because they are majority black, but being majority black is part of the reason why they have been starved of investment. Perry’s approach is a win for companies looking for people and places to invest in. And it’s a win for underserved black communities that can use the investments to revitalize and grow their cities. “While we have a greater ability to look at differences across racial lines, we haven’t advanced our ability to see assets in black communities,” Perry said. Perry grew up in Wilkinsburg, a small city adjacent to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. More than 60% of the population is black and less than 40% of the households in Wilkinsburg own the houses they live in. “I want to make a case for Wilkinsburg,” Perry said. “There are a lot of positive things in it. This city does not get the capital investment of other cities, quite frankly, because it’s majority black.” Even though the research Perry is undertaking is rare, we can occasionally catch glimpses of a future of economics that is more diverse and gives more consideration to inclusive ways to sustain economic growth and global well-being. Many students are demanding to learn more about the real economy and less about abstract theories. Raj Chetty, an economics professor and expert in economic mobility, offered a course at Stanford called “Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems” and drew more women and minority students to his global, socially minded approach than the total number of students who signed up for Stanford’s introductory economics class. But before this promising future is reached there’s still the present to contend with. As Bostic of the Atlanta Fed noted in a speech in September, there are fewer than 25 African American economics doctoral students on the market for junior academic economic positions in the US this year. Twenty five. In the whole country. This obviously cannot make even a dent in the longstanding shortfall, he said. A lot still has to change.
15 Dec 18
Witches Of The Craft®

Six Days to Yule ************* History of Yule The Pagan holiday called Yule takes place on the day of the winter solstice, around December 21 in the northern hemisphere (below the equator, the winter solstice falls around June 21). On that day, an amazing thing happens in the sky above us. The earth’s axis tilts […]

15 Dec 18
Ma'at

Citizen Women’s Eco-Drive EW2282-52D Gold Stainless-Steel Japanese Quartz F – Buy – Citizen Women’s Eco-Drive EW2282-52D Gold Stainless-Steel Japanese Quartz F

15 Dec 18
Hathor

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15 Dec 18
ResearchBuzz

NEW RESOURCES Cancer .gov: Researchers create record-sized, integrated cellular cancer database. “An international team of researchers have created a powerful new database that consolidates data on a record number of cancer drugs and cell lines. The freely available tool, called CellMinerCDB, can be used to explore connections between drugs and various features of cancer, such […]

14 Dec 18
The Daily Office

If you missed tonight’s service, it’s available now: Click here. Jesus said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Watch, for you do not know when the master of […]

14 Dec 18
Quartz
It’s very possible there are more unpleasant things in your tap water than you realize. Government watchdogs are slow to find them, and even when they do, it’s often too late. Even the fastest municipal responses to a water crisis take time, and by nature only happen once contaminants have been detected in the water, which is to say, likely only after residents have been exposed. For those interested in taking precautions, a water filter is the most direct solution. But not all water filters are created equal—in fact, there’s about a zillion different kinds. Here’s how to pick one out. Step One: Find out what the hell is in your water. Get a quality report The US Environmental Protection Agency requires your water supplier to mail you a water-quality report, also known as a “Consumer Confidence Report,” once a year. You can find these in an EPA database (or at least get a phone number to call to request one). But the Environmental Working Group, a health advocacy non-profit, has compiled roughly 28 million water records from nearly 50,000 American water utilities reports into an easier to use database here. The EWG database compares detected contaminant levels to state and national averages, as well as to health guidelines. It makes it pretty clear that in the US, most people are drinking water that is legally “safe” but isn’t actually risk-free. Every zip code turns up some form of contamination. And of course, pay attention to public water supply notices. If your water supplier sends a letter, open it. Check your pipes In many cases, there may be nothing wrong with the water supply itself. The problem, if there is one, could be coming from your pipes. In the case of Flint’s ongoing lead crises, for example, the problem wasn’t that the water supply was leaded; it was that Flint’s service lines were made of lead, and the government failed to add enough anti-corrosion agent to the water. Follow these tips for checking if you have lead pipes in your home. Older buildings may have sediment build-up in the pipes. This might not be technically dangerous, but it is kinda gross. A New York City plumber once showed me a quick way to check for sediment: Stop up your kitchen sink, fill it with water, and then darken the room (easiest to do this at night). Shine a flashlight at an angle into the water, and you should see any sediment. You can also momentarily drape a clean, unfolded sheet of paper towel over the surface of the water so it floats and lift it off carefully. Check the paper towel under a bright light for specks of material. Do either method shortly after filling the sink so the sediment doesn’t settle. Step Two: Find out what else might be in your water At the end of the day, a water-quality report will only take you so far. “The reality is, most contaminants are not tested for,” says Judith Enck, who served as a regional EPA administrator under President Obama. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is responsible for determining when a chemical needs to be regulated in the US water supply, but it hasn’t added a new toxin to its list since 1996. (Even the Government Office of Accountability thinks that’s a sign of a broken system.) Enck advises people to not expect the government to find something wrong with their water in a timely fashion. “Do not wait. Cobble the money together. Do the testing yourself,” she says. “You have to be a little bit of a detective. What might you be downwind from? Where is your public water near?” One way to do this is to find out where your water supply comes from, and then look in its general vicinity on the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory map to see what, if any, facilities are nearby, and what toxic materials they are permitted to release. Citizen efforts have uncovered major emergencies in recent years. In Hoosick Falls, New York, for example, Michael Hickey knew his water wells were not far from a factory that manufactured Teflon. He bought several $400 testing kits, and sparked an investigation that uncovered major contamination from a chemical called PFOA that’s used in manufacturing Teflon. His town had likely been drinking PFOA in its water supply for decades. PFOA is not presently regulated by the EPA despite evidence linking it to heightened cancer risks, infertility, developmental delays, and other health problems. Ultimately, Hickey’s discovery led the area being declared a federal Superfund site. A note about private wells If your water comes from a private well, the government is not required to do any testing at all; that is entirely up to the homeowner. Homeowners will typically use these tests to look for naturally-occurring contaminants like arsenic and radon, depending on where you live, as well as bacteria (this is especially relevant if you have a septic system onsite, to be sure it isn’t leaching into your water supply). Check what any nearby manufacturing plant makes, and if it involves hazardous materials. If you live near a farm, testing for pesticides may also be advisable. There are many ways to find water testing labs, and the Water Systems Council keeps a directory. If lead is your primary concern, some states offer free lead testing. Step Three: Decide how big you want to go. Do you live alone? You might opt for a pitcher filter. Are there five people in your household? An in-line system under your kitchen sink might make sense—or you could buy a refrigerator with a water filter built in. Are you willing (or permitted) to cut into your plumbing? Then a whole-house filter might be for you. If you have done your due diligence in finding out what might be in your water and found no major red flags, the filter that comes with your refrigerator might be enough. Step Four: Check which filter is certified for the contaminant most likely to be in your water Contrary to popular belief, just buying whatever Brita pitcher is on the shelf in your local supermarket doesn’t always cut it. There is no one-size-fits all water filter; what you should buy depends on what’s in your water. (You can see what Brita does and doesn’t filter out here—only two of their products filter lead, for example). In the US, look for certification from NSF International, a product-testing organization. Another tip, says Rick Andrew, director of water-systems development at NSF, is to check whether or not a product can be shipped to California. California has a rule that requires water filters that make health claims to register with the state as passing certification tests—so “if you see a product that isn’t shipping to California you might want to be wary,” Andrew says. (Wisconsin and Iowa have similar programs, but California is known to enforce theirs most.) Also look for the NSF certification on the filter website or packaging to know that they’ve been through a testing protocol. The NSF has a slightly clunky database for checking which filters have passed their testing programs for each contaminant. Here are a few entries for common ones: PFOA and PFOS: Countertop filters connected to sink faucet Countertop filters, manual fill Refrigerator filters Under the sink filters Reverse osmosis systems Lead: Filtration Reverse Osmosis Radon Bacteria: Microbiological Purifiers Ultraviolet Disinfection You can also search filters by manufacturer name here to see what they’re certified to remove. The NSF operates a consumer info hotline, where they’ll talk you through questions about filters or contaminants in water: info@nsf.org +1800 673 8010 Another option is to use the Environmental Working Group’s water-filter database. Step Five: Don’t get scammed. Water-filter scamming is a big business—particularly refrigerator-filter replacement cartridges. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) says up to one-third of the filters in people’s homes are probably frauds. They’re often sold online with the exact same labeling as a legitimate filter—and may even bear the NSF seal, claiming to be certified. One way to tell if a filter is counterfeit is the price: “If you try to order one and it’s like $5, and the one on the manufacturer’s site is like $50, that’s probably a fake,” says NSF’s Andrew. “If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Some fake filters might be stuffed with newspaper or other useless material instead of the typical cake of activated charcoal. Even if the activated charcoal block is where it should be, they often don’t work as well, or for as long, in the knockoffs. AHAM tested dozens of these, and found some worked for a short time at removing contaminants like lead or arsenic, but then failed far sooner than they should have. In some cases, they actually introduced contaminants into the water. Most of them clogged quickly, which can cause problems like flooding. “Not only are these things not removing lead, some of these filters are leaching chemicals into the water. Actual manufacturers are using food-grade plastics. But the counterfeit plastics are just random white plastic,” says Jill Notini, the vice president of communications at AHAM. Step Six: Change your filters!!!! Seriously. Do it. If you don’t change your filter cartridge according to instructions, you might as well not bother getting a filter. They don’t work as intended after whatever time period they’re certified for. This is for very reasonable physics reasons; contaminants will built up in the cartridge until the cartridge can’t hold any more. Skeptical? Here’s why you should care In 2018, large parts of the US woke up to the fact that water contamination is a widespread problem. The country had been building to this for a while: The Flint, Michigan lead-contamination crisis is in its fourth year. The lead crisis in Chicago’s East Side broke in 2016. This year, Newark, New Jersey added itself to the list of major urban lead emergencies. Lead is known to impact children at lower doses than adults—and there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. But lead is far from the only villain, as far as water contaminants go. Slowly but surely, PFAS is becoming a household name and emerging as the DDT of this generation. Compounds that fall under the PFAS umbrella—like PFOA (the Teflon ingredient) and PFOS (used in firefighting foam)—have cropped up in water supplies in West Virginia, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Martha’s Vineyard, the ritzy island community off of Massachusetts, is the latest US municipality to be added to the lengthening PFAS contamination list. And then there are the trihalomethanes: These are byproducts of the chlorination process that include chloroform and have been linked to a number of health problems.Towns in US states like New York, Florida, Michigan, and Canadian provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador all found high levels of trihalomethanes in their municipal water this year. As contamination sites proliferate, water users are growing wary—but few are changing anything about the water they drink. According to a survey by NSF, the group that certifies water filters, 71% of people in the US drink tap water, and 55% are concerned about what might be in it—but 42% don’t take any steps to do anything about it. But hey, it’s about to be a new year, when everyone musters the will to achieve tedious but beneficial things. And like they say: Nothing changes if nothing changes. So maybe go get yourself a filter.
14 Dec 18
Daily Office Asia-Pacific

Jesus said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, […]

13 Dec 18
Quartz
In the last two years, there’s been a cascade of lawsuits in the US against public officials who have blocked people on social media and deleted critical comments. The list starts with the highest one in the country, president Donald Trump, and goes all the way down to a county board chair. As officials use social platforms more and more to communicate with their constituents, bypassing traditional media channels, the question of how they treat these avenues is becoming increasingly important. In the last week, there were notable developments in three lawsuits. Two women in Maine, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), settled on Dec. 7 with the state’s governor Paul LePage; on Dec. 4, a federal judge in a case against Kentucky governor Matt Bevin ordered him to turn over screenshots of blocked users’ comments; while an appellate court in New Orleans heard arguments on Dec. 6 in a case against the sheriff’s office for Hunt County, Texas. There are two other cases currently in federal appeals courts looking at the same issue. A question of free speech At issue is the definition of a public forum and the constitutional right to free speech. Public officials at all levels of government have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, which they use to inform citizens of what is happening in their jurisdictions. But social media platforms are not simple bulletin boards, and constituents can comment on the officials’ posts, and express their criticisms. Facebook itself is a private company, and can censor speech as it pleases. But in the US, officials blocking constituents is a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of expression, and deleting their public statements is a form of government censorship, lawyers argue. The “ability of social media platforms such as Facebook to serve as forums for direct communication between constituents and public officials is analogous to speech that, until recently, was only attainable for people who were physically gathered in the same space, such as in a public park or town hall,” plaintiffs in the Maine lawsuit said. Officials are not allowed to discriminate or censor people’s speech based on their point of view in a public setting, Vera Eidelman, staff attorney for the ACLU, which is representing plaintiffs in several of these cases, told Quartz. Her organization also warned multiple other government figures about similar conduct. “We care about that rule applying on social media and online because so much of our interaction now happens in the online space,” Eidelman said. “There’s no reason that the rules that we’ve clearly established in the analog world shouldn’t extend to the digital one.” It’s not clear why there’s been an increase in these types of cases in the last two years. Government agencies have been using social media as a way to communicate with citizens for much longer than that. Eidelman hypothesized that it could be because the use of Facebook or Twitter by officials is only increasing. Ashley Kissinger, a First Amendment attorney at law firm Ballard Spahr, had another theory. After all, one of these cases is against Trump, who uses Twitter as a personal megaphone, and blocked seven people from interacting with him after they criticized him on the platform. (A judge sided with the users, and they were unblocked, but the Trump administration has appealed the decision in federal court). “Maybe in the general kind of era that we’re living in, Trump is emboldening [other officials] to do things that otherwise maybe would have seemed obviously not appropriate,” she said. (Trump also notably spoke about “opening up” libel laws to make defamation lawsuits easier during the presidential campaign.) What are the cases? Although the central arguments in these lawsuits are similar, the tone of the posts and the situations vary. In the Maine case that was settled this week, as the posts in question were rather measured. According to the complaint, one of the plaintiffs commented on a post from the governor about how the media were falsely reporting that he had taken a vacation: Gov. LePage, it was members of your own party who told reporters that you had said you were taking a vacation. Perhaps you should direct your anger and frustration at those who talked to the media, not at the media for reporting it. In the settlement, the administrators of the governor’s page agreed to unblock the users in question and said they would not block anyone else based on their viewpoints. In the Texas case, the backdrop was much more contentious. Deanna Robinson, the defendant, was arrested in 2015 after officers arrived at her home to take custody of her small child, but refused to show a legal order to do so, and an altercation ensued. She filed a lawsuit against the officers, who can be seen hitting Robinson, visibly pregnant, in video footage. Later on, she took to Facebook to criticize the department, after it said it would be deleting inappropriate content from its official page. “HCSO [Hunt County Sheriff’s Office] is a bunch of idiots, led by the biggest idiot in the entire country – if your moderators delete comments or ban people, you’re just setting yourselves up perfectly for a First Amendment rights violation law suit,” she wrote, as part of a post where she also called a deceased cop “a terrorist pig,” according to the lawsuit. Soon after she was banned from the page, and subsequently filed precisely the type of lawsuit she threatened. What exactly are they fighting over? Every time a case like this arises, a court has to find that the page was an official forum used to conduct government business. Sometimes this isn’t completely straightforward, as a Virginia district court acknowledged in an earlier case like this, Davison v. Randall. If, for example, the official—in this case a chair of a county board—actively encourages constituents to interact with her, the Facebook page is a “tool of governance,” the court said, and not just a private page, as the defendant argued. The defendants generally bring up two kinds of arguments, Eidelman said. One is that their pages are not actually public forums, and that since it’s private speech, they have a right to censor, like any other Facebook page. The other is a more convoluted one, where they essentially claim that the government can say what it wants, and this extends to being able to ignore criticism. But the argument doesn’t actually look at the Facebook page as a whole, Kissinger said, it doesn’t consider the back-and-forth interaction with citizens. “It’s like putting a square peg into a round hole,” Kissinger added. In the Kentucky case, a judge initially agreed with this reasoning. But generally, courts have been siding against government officials. It will be important to watch the three appellate cases unfold, but Kissinger says that she wouldn’t expect the courts to rule against the plaintiffs, since the law is clear on the subject. If there’s a split in these decisions, however, the issue could end up being debated by the Supreme Court.
13 Dec 18
Quartz
News headlines are dominated by large countries, but there are over 70 countries with fewer than 1 million citizens. And in an increasingly connected, globalized world, such places can find it difficult to control their own destinies. Consider the tiny nation of Palau, a group of Pacific islands with a total population of just 20,000. (That’s about as many residents as a dozen or so city blocks in Manhattan.) Being so small, Palau has to depend on its large neighbors for the tourists and foreign investment they provide. But visitors arriving by the tens of thousands from such behemoths as Japan, South Korea, and China, put considerable stress on Palau’s environment and economy. Snorkeling sites can seem to have as many people as fish. Price increases—the result of demand from tourists outstripping the humble local supply—have made everyday items unaffordable for locals. Globalization is here to stay, and Palau doesn’t want to kick everybody out. But it also doesn’t want to just become a getaway for foreigners. Quartz News went to Palau to find out how the country is trying to assert itself, even in the face of the world’s superpowers, in order to maintain its unique culture and values, protect its environment, and promote its people. The answer, it turns out, involves growing marijuana and chewing betel nut. Quartz News is a weekly video series bringing you in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates one story, breaking down the often unseen economic and technological forces shaping our future. Click here for previous stories.
13 Dec 18
pulsepublicnews

Anthem, Inc. News Facebook, Chick-fil-A, Salesforce ranked among best companies for women 12/12/2018 USA Today Online Tobin, Ben When it comes to workplace issues, some companies are putting gender equality at the top of their priority lists. Facebook, Chick-fil-A and Salesforce are among the best large companies for women, according to compensation, culture and career […]