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Week In Review

By Eric Lanter
Edited By Elissa D. Hecker


America Votes in the Midterms

The Democrats secured the House of Representatives and the Republicans increased their majority in the Senate, but there were nuances and there remain elections to be called. In the Senate, Democrat incumbents Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp of Missouri and North Dakota, respectively were unsuccessful in their re-election bids. In Georgia and Florida, the races for governor are still too close to call, and recounts are underway in Florida as required by law in such a close election result. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was re-elected and a record 117 women won office. With the House of Representatives shifting to Democratic control, it is likely that Nancy Pelosi will take the gavel of the Speaker of the House, and it is also expected that Democrats will begin using their investigative powers, including the subpoena power, soon after being sworn in.







Jeff Sessions Forced Out and Acting Attorney General Has Baggage

The day after the midterm elections, President Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. Then he appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, a move that some have called illegal and unconstitutional without the Senate's consent. Whitaker comes into the position with baggage: He was on the board of a Florida company that a federal judge shut down last year and fined nearly $26 million after the government accused the company of scamming customers. Whitaker has also publicly disputed the need for an investigation. Before Sessions was forced to resign, he signed a memorandum "sharply curtailing the use of so-called consent decrees" that are between the Justice Department and local governments and foster changes in law enforcement and related institutions. The decrees were used during the Obama administration to combat police abuses.





Trump Suspends Some Asylum Rights, Calling Illegal Immigration 'A Crisis'

President Trump issued a proclamation suspending asylum rights for all immigrants who attempt to enter the United States illegally, which officials said was a policy aimed to prevent several thousand migrants traveling north through Mexico in caravans from entering illegally and then applying for asylum. Within hours of the proclamation being issued, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit urging a federal judge in San Francisco to prohibit Trump from moving ahead with enforcing the proclamation, as it would be "in direct violation of Congress's clear command that manner of entry cannot constitute a categorical asylum bar."



Appeals Court Rules Against Trump on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Immigrant Policy

The 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked President Trump from immediately ending an Obama-era program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, calling the administration's move one based on a flawed legal theory. While the federal government argued that the program was unlawful in that Obama did not have the authority to adopt it, the 9th Circuit panel disagreed, finding that there was a long history of the federal government using its discretion to not enforce immigration law against certain categories of people stretching back to the Eisenhower administration. The matter may ultimately end up being decided in the Supreme Court.


Inside the Trump Administration's Fight to Add a Citizenship Question to Census

The Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has pushed to add a question to the 2020 census asking whether respondents were American citizens. Backlash began immediately: state attorneys general, cities, and advocacy groups filed lawsuits, and Ross has had to explain how the decision came about. Initially, he said the question was added solely due to a Justice Department request for data to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but it turned out that he requested the Justice Department to add the question. While he has not had to testify (because the Supreme Court blocked the testimony), a trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, which could decide not only the existence of the question but impact how political districts are remapped after the census carrying consequences to the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.


Kentuckian Felons Fight to Restore Right to Vote

Across the country, approximately 6.2 million citizens cannot vote or hold office because they have felonies on their record. Kentucky, Iowa, and Florida impose lifetime bans, and Kentucky has one in 10 of its adults with a felony record. Among African-Americans in Kentucky, one in four have a felony, which prevents them from voting for the rest of their lives and is the highest rate of black disenfranchisement. This situation is due to the "tough-on-crime ethos" of the 1980s and 1990s as it resulted in nonviolent violations such as low-volume drug sales and failure to pay spousal support being the sole cause for disenfranchisement. Efforts are underway in Kentucky and Florida to change the law and reverse the lifetime ban.


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized

After taking a fall in her office, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized with three broken ribs. At 85 years old, she is the court's oldest member and "the linchpin of the four-member liberal minority" on the court. The next session of the Supreme Court begins on November 26th, and given her history of returning soon after injuries or illness, it would not be a surprise to see her hearing cases on the first day.



Amazon Plans to Split HQ2 Between Long Island City and Arlington

Amazon appears set to announce that it will establish a second headquarters in two location on the East Coast: Long Island City in Queens and Crystal City near Arlington, Virginia. The two locations will house a total of 50,000 employees. It is rumored that New York State has offered hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the company.


Industries Turn Freedom of Information Act Requests on Their Critics

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and its analogs in states, have long been tools for individuals and companies to hold government institutions accountable. Recently however, they have become used as weapons "in legal and business disputes". For example, when a law professor at the University of California, Davis, criticized H&R Block and Intuit about their making a deal with the Internal Revenue Service for free tax filing services, the companies filed requests with the university. They sought the professor's communications about the companies resulting in dozens of hours and 1,189 pages of documents sent to the companies, and a clear message sent to the professor. The tactic has spread to other industries as well, including activists and industry groups, who have used the requests to undermine the work of researchers in controversial fields.


The Girl Scouts Sue the Boy Scouts

The Girl Scouts organization has sued the Boy Scouts organization for infringing its trademark, engaging in unfair competition, and causing "an extraordinary level of confusion among the public." The cause for the allegations was the Boy Scouts announcing that it will drop "boy" from its program name and welcome girls into the ranks of the organization. The Boy Scouts released a statement, which explained the changes as responding to requests by parents over many years and simply an expansion of programs accommodating girls that have existed within the organization since the 1970s.


Schneiderman Will Not Face Criminal Charges

Prosecutors have announced that they will not charge former New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman. The potential for charges emerged when Schneiderman resigned amidst accusations that he had assaulted four women. The district attorney in Nassau County said that the accusations were credible but that there were legal hurdles to bringing charges against Schneiderman, but the district attorney did not explain the nature of the hurdles other than that the statute of limitations had expired for some of the charges.


Ex-Guard at Nazi Camp Tried in German Juvenile Court

A former guard in Hitler's SS, Johann Rehbogen, is facing trial on charges of assisting in the murder of hundreds of the 60,000 people at the Stutthof concentration camp. The 94-year-old is being tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison, and he has been charged with knowing of various methods of killing prisoners and working to enable those methods of killing. The trial is expected to last for the next couple of months, and Rehbogen's attorneys indicate that their client will testify at some point.


Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into Entertainment, Arts, Sports, and Media:


Cox Cannot Relocate Impending Music Piracy Showdown

Several major labels, including Sony and Warner Bros. Records, have sued Cox Communications, accusing it of deliberately refusing to disconnect persistent music pirates. A federal judge has issued a decision refusing to transfer the case from the Eastern District of Virginia. The case will move forward on the allegations, which include Cox having devised a system that never permanently bars any users from using its internet service to illegally download music, even after hundreds of infringements.


Pharrell Williams Sends Trump Legal Threat Letter for Playing "Happy"

The artist Pharrell Williams has sent a cease and desist letter through his lawyer to President Trump for the latter's playing Williams' song "Happy" at a rally just hours after the shooting at a Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh. In the letter, Williams' attorney confirms that Williams did not provide Trump with permission to publicly perform or disseminate his music, including "Happy", and Trump's actions constitute copyright and trademark infringement.


Led Zeppelin Urges 9th Circuit to Undo "Stairway" Ruling

The band Led Zeppelin is pressing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to undo a ruling last month that revived a copyright lawsuit over the intro of its hit song "Stairway to Heaven". An earlier case ended in a favorable decision for the band at trial, but on appeal, the court determined that the judge during the trial gave misleading information to jurors.


9th Circuit Denies CBS Rehearing on Pre-1972 Songs

On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it will not reconsider its decision that remastered versions of old recordings are not entitled to new copyright protections, despite CBS's vigorous arguments. The trial court in the case had sided with CBS in holding that music owners could enjoy perpetual copyright because each remastered version of a song was independently copyrightable. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision and opened up remastered versions of songs to not be copyrightable despite arguments by CBS that the older recordings were almost invariably distributed in vinyl format and would currently be in a remastered format and eligible for copyright protection.


Cloud Lingers Over Jan Fabre's Show Amid Sexual Harassment Complaints

Former members of Jan Fabre's company have accused him of "demanding sex for solos, asking a dancer to masturbate in front of him, and generally running a performing arts company where 'humiliation is a daily bread.'" Activists have demanded that New York University do more to address the allegations of sexual harassment as the company continues to prepare performances there. The university has stipulated with Fabre that he would not appear publicly in conjunction with the show and offered refunds to all who wished them.



The Supreme Court Will Not Hear Digital Millennium Copyright Act Safe Harbor Case

The United States Supreme Court disclosed that it will not hear a controversial case dealing with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) "safe harbor" clause. The clause provides a safe harbor to Internet Service Providers for unlicensed user uploaded content, and in this case, the adult film industry sought to bring the DMCA to be reviewed by the Supreme Court for the first time in its 20-year existence. The industry argued that the lower courts had scattered results on applying the safe harbor clause.


Judge Refuses to Let Notorious Media Foe Redact 'Copyright Troll' From Ruling

Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York has denied a request by attorney Richard Liebowitz to redact the phrase "copyright troll" from a ruling issued earlier this year. The ruling came after Liebowitz filed a lawsuit and then withdrew it for lack of proof of jurisdiction over the defendant. The defendant moved for attorneys' fees and costs, which Judge Cote denied, but she cautioned Liebowitz against filing any other actions in the Southern District of New York with a frivolous basis for jurisdiction. She then labeled him a copyright troll.


Robert Indiana Estate to Sell Art Valued at Up to $4 Million

Two major pieces of art from the collection of artist Robert Indiana are scheduled to be offered at auction in New York this month. The proceeds will help pay for Indiana's estate's mounting legal fees and repairs to his home. The works to be sold are by Ed Ruscha and Ellsworth Kelly and are expected to bring in around $4 million, according to Christie's. There have been significant legal fees resulting from his business agent accusing a caretaker and publisher of isolating Indiana and selling fake artworks attributed to the artist.


The Satanic Temple Sues Over Statue

The Satanic Temple (ST) has filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. and Netflix alleging that the new "Sabrina" series infringes a copyright protected goat-headed statue belonging to ST. The plaintiff is claiming damages of at least $50 million for each alleged infraction and an injunction barring the companies from distributing the series with the image of the statue. ST is based in Massachusetts and defines its mission to "reject tyrannical authority" and to "encourage benevolence and empathy among all people." The statue it is seeking to protect was designed approximately five years ago and was going to be publicly displayed at the Oklahoma Capitol to counter a Ten Commandments statue that ultimately was outlawed from being displayed.


Jeff Koons Again An Infringer

A Jeff Koons work known as "Fait d'hiver" is a sculpture that bears a striking resemblance to a 1985 advertisement for French clothing brand Naf Naf. The creator of the advertisement, Franck Davidovici, sued Koons in 2015 and attempted to have the work seized. He was not successful in having the work seized, but the court has agreed that there was copyright infringement and awarded Davidovici $170,000.


Chicago Pulls Painting From Auction Following Criticism

Kerry James Marshall's "Knowledge and Wonder" was scheduled to be sold in Chicago at Christie's on November 15th for between $10 million and $15 million. The mayor, Rahm Emanuel, announced that the city of Chicago would sell the work with proceeds going to upgrading the library. The artist criticized the move, and public arts advocates unleashed fierce criticism. The city has cancelled the auction.


China Grants Ivanka Trump Initial Approval for New Trademarks

Ivanka Trump has recently received 16 preliminary trademark approvals from the Chinese government, renewing questions about the Trump family's business commingling with President Trump's public office. The trademarked items included shoes, shirts, and sunglasses, which would appear to be related to her fashion brand that closed in July after Trump announced that she would focus exclusively on her role in the White House. Last year, President Trump had dozens of trademarks preliminarily approved after he told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he would maintain the United States' policy toward Taiwan.


Shadow and Support of Government Follows Hungarian Opera

The Hungarian State Opera and National Ballet brought hundreds of members to New York for six productions, but their arrival was tainted by their government's right-wing Prime Minister, Viktor Orban. Hungary's ambassador to the United Nations, Katalin Bogyay, greeted the audience during the opening series with an attack on the Hungarian president but expressed thanks to Orban for his support of the opera and ballet companies. The government's funding and support of the productions comes from Orban's view of the pieces as a "means to achieve prestige and assert national identity."


Neighbors Take Tate Modern to Court Over Privacy

The Tate Modern's Blavatnik Building opened in London in 2016 and has been popular with visitors. One of the enclosed walkways in the building, however, looks into private homes of residents in luxury apartments. In 2017, four residents sued the museum, and a court has begun to hear their case for "relentless" invasion of privacy by the gallery. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would require the gallery to restrict access or erect a screen.


Writer's Invitation is Pulled, Causing Concern For Hong Kong as a Refuge

Exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian was scheduled to speak at the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts in Hong Kong, but the organization abruptly canceled the event and released a statement: "We do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual." They are now seeking "a more suitable alternative venue," but some see the actions as just the latest troubling sign of eroding freedoms in the city. Jian is a well-known author and critic of the Chinese government who just released a book that has been called a "biting satire of totalitarianism that reveals what happens to a nation when it is blinded by materialism and governed by violence and lies."


Scientists Discover Oldest Figurative Painting in the World in Borneo Cave

For over 40,000 years, in a cave nestled in the jungles of Borneo has sat a work of art depicting a "thick-bodied, spindly-legged animal, drawn in reddish ocher." It has recently been discovered and is presently the oldest figurative art known in the world. The findings shows that ancient humans had made a creative transition to art, demonstrating a shift in how humans saw and thought about the world surrounding them. Until now, the oldest figurative artworks were approximately 40,000-year-old ivory figurines. A new dating method was used in determining the age of the cave art: whereas radiocarbon dating is the standard, it has its limits. In the cave, water trickles down and leaves a translucent "curtain of minerals called a flowstone," which contains uranium, an element that decays at a predictable rate into thorium. The method provided precision into dating the art and confirming it as the oldest in the world.



2nd Circuit Delivers Blow to National Football League and Associated Press in Copyright Spat

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the National Football League's (NFL) request to reconsider a decision to revive a copyright suit by photographers with the Associated Press (AP). The case was dismissed for failure to state a claim, but the Second Circuit revived the claims as the NFL has used photographs without licenses from the photographers or AP including, in some cases, on promotional materials.


Documents Discovered at USA Gymnastics Headquarters

USA Gymnastics officials, in the wake of leadership changes, have found a trove of documents that are "central to a sexual abuse investigation and long sought by investigators." The United States Olympic Committee has moved to seize control of the organization, as there is growing alarm about the management. The recently discovered documents are expected to show the extent of knowledge in the organization of the pervasive sexual abuse by team doctor Lawrence Nassar.


PSG Confirms That It Used Racial Profiling in Recruiting Players

At the pinnacle of French soccer, Paris St.-Germain recruits some of the best players in the world, and it has acknowledged that for the previous five years, its scouts have used racial profiling in recruiting. The announcement was made just as an investigative journalism outlet, Mediapart, was preparing a report on the profiling of several top European soccer clubs. In the case of PSG, recruiters evaluated physical and technical skills and then checked a box noting the players' "origin," and the club has announced that it is beginning an internal investigation into the profiling.


Maryland Fires Two Trainers Who Treated Jordan McNair Before His Death

Two University of Maryland athletic trainers have been terminated by the university after their tending to the football player who died of a heat stroke during spring practice. This is only the latest development relating to the player Jordan McNair's death in the spring: last week, the university president fired the head football coach and the board's chairman resigned. An outside medical report regarding McNair's death found that cold-water immersion was not conducted, and more than an hour elapsed before anyone called for emergency personnel.


Thousands of Greyhounds May Need Homes as Florida Bans Racing

Florida voters passed a measure that ended greyhound racing by the end of 2020, after years of efforts by animal activists calling for an end to the sport. The greyhounds were said to be mistreated and subjected to harsh living conditions. Track owners and trainers argued that no such harsh conditions existed, but Florida voters still backed the measure with 69% of the vote. Regardless, there are thousands of greyhounds in Florida, and while many may become pets, it is expected that many will go race somewhere else.


National Hockey League (NHL) Concussion Lawsuit Reportedly Near Settlement

The lawsuit involving more than 100 former players suing the National Hockey League (NHL) with claims of negligence in dealing with head injuries appears to be near settlement totaling $18.9 million. The settlement would compensate each player approximately $22,000 each if the reported terms are consummated. The lawsuit has been pending since 2013, and in July 2018, the judge denied class-action certification for the players, prompting settlement negotiations between the parties. The substance of the allegations is similar to those NFL players have made: the league knew the danger of the conditions and concealed those dangers, which include concussions and the brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.



Facebook and Google to Drop Forced Arbitration in Harassment Cases

Facebook has announced that it will no longer force employees to settle sexual harassment claims in private arbitration just one day after Google announced similar plans. Approximately a year ago, Microsoft made a similar move, and Uber followed suit six months later. The use of arbitration clauses in contracts is pervasive as corporations strive to keep disputes, particularly inflammatory ones, away from public scrutiny.



Booksellers Protest Amazon's Move to Drop Stores From Certain Countries And Win

Amazon's subsidiary bookstore, AbeBooks, announced that it would drop all sellers from several nations, including South Korea, Hungary, and Russia. Within hours, hundreds of antiquarian book dealers in over two dozen countries removed their books from the website. The acrimony shows the power of Amazon but also the increasing attention that Amazon receives. The company's statement chalked up the scaling back to it no longer being viable "to operate in these countries due to increasing costs and complexities." It then changed its policy in light of the protest.



Media Giants Stop Running Trump Caravan Ad Criticized as Racist

Facebook, NBC, CNN, and Fox News refused to air one of President Trump's political ads characterizing the caravan of asylum seekers in Mexico as the ad came under fire for being a racist and misleading spot. Trump claimed to not know of the ad but said to reporters, "We have a lot of ads, and they certainly are effective, based on the numbers that we're seeing." Some saw its prohibition as getting it a larger audience simply because of the controversy. In the days leading up to the midterms, the ad was "spreading like wildfire - for free" on the internet as networks refused to air it.


Sean Hannity Erased a Line by Taking the Stage with Trump

Sean Hannity, a prime-time star on Fox News, posted on Twitter that he would not be on the stage campaigning with President Trump. Hours later, he was on stage campaigning with President Trump in Missouri. Trump welcomed Hannity onto the stage as someone who was "with us since the beginning" and pointed toward reporters in the back calling out, "By the way, all those people in the back are fake news." Hannity's decision to join a subject of news coverage on stage complicates the relationship between the news network and Trump's presidency.


Twitter Said It Was Ready for the Midterms, but Rogue Accounts Weren't Letting Up

Despite Twitter having a team dedicated to rooting out suspicious activity and working with the Department of Homeland Security, it still was not enough to stop false content from being spread on the site. Last week, researchers found that Twitter had 5% more false content than during the 2016 presidential election. While the correlation between false information on social media and the ballot box is difficult, if not impossible to discern, there remain significant numbers of accounts that are posing as state Republican officials and spreading false information to unknowing followers.


Russian Trolls Were at It Again Before Midterms, Facebook Says

Facebook announced that in the days leading up to the midterm elections, it blocked more than 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts for being linked to the Internet Research Agency, an arm of the Russian government that has had more than a dozen members indicted for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The agency has used social media platforms to spread false or misleading information in an effort to influence voters and election results.


Trump Administration Uses Misleading Video to Justify Barring CNN's Jim Acosta and Warns of More Retaliation to Reporters Who Don't Show 'Respect'

The Trump administration's attacks on the media continue. Jim Acosta, a CNN journalist, attempted to ask a question of President Trump at a press conference when a White House intern tried to take his microphone away from him and causing "brief, benign contact" between the two. He said, "Pardon me, ma'am." Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted a 15-second video clip that had been edited to zoom in and repeat several frames, having the effect of exaggerating the contact between the two. The White House has removed Acosta's credentials for "placing his hands on a young woman," and President Trump has warned other journalists: "You have to treat the presidency with respect."



World Leaders Echoing Trump's Words and Policies

From Nigeria to Syria to Brazil to Turkey and Europe more broadly, world leaders have adopted many of President Trump's techniques in dealing with the media and events in their countries. In Nigeria, for example, the army has justified deadly shootings on protesters when Trump said that if migrants threw rocks at members of the military, the military should consider those rocks to be rifles. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has said, "We are living in a fake-news era," after his government has been under attack for gassing its own citizens amidst a civil war.



Facebook Admits It Was Used to Incite Violence in Myanmar

While Facebook touts itself as a tool for bringing people together in an effort to make the world a better place, it has acknowledged that the site was used to "foment division and incite offline violence" in Myanmar. While its top-level management agrees the site "can and should do more" to prevent violence as a result of use of the site, human rights activists and analysts do not see the site making an earnest effort to do so. In Myanmar, the violence resulted in not just political and social divisions but ultimately ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya minority.


Husband of Freed Pakistani Christian Woman Pleads for Asylum

From Pakistan comes a plea from a husband of a Christian woman who was acquitted after spending eight years on death row facing blasphemy charges. The plea from Ashiq Masih is to President Trump for refuge given the danger to the family's lives. The Islamist party in Pakistan blocked major roads in the country's big cities for three days and called for the Supreme Court judges that acquitted Asia Bibi to be killed. The blasphemy charges stem from accusations that Bibi made derogatory remarks about Islam when "neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim."


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 12, 2018 3:03 PM.

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