As natural gas bans go national, can cities fill the gap?

In July, a climate task force convened by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden embraced a 2030 goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions from all new buildings. The plan followed a wave of climate activism targeting buildings, which are often the biggest source of urban emissions as they draw electricity from the grid and guzzle natural gas for heat. Dozens of cities in California and Massachusetts have sought to restrict the use of gas in new structures, provoking pushback by oil and gas associations, utilities, and other groups. But efficiency researchers say activists’ favored alternative to natural gas — electric heat — is still a costlier option for consumers. Mass adoption of electric heating could overload the grid without significant infrastructure upgrades, other analysts warn. And an all-electric push would drag gas utilities into an existential fight, experts say, creating risks to ratepayers and company workforces…California cities have faced their own headwinds enacting bans. Berkeley has been sued by the state restaurant association — a group backed in part by gas utilities — saying chefs depend on “the intense heat” provided by a natural gas flame. This spring, a union representing employees of Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), the nation’s largest gas distributor, managed to postpone a vote over a gas ban in San Luis Obispo by threatening to bus in attendees without observing social distancing, the Los Angeles Times reported. Caitlin McCoy, a staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Program, said recent battles over gas bans remind her of the conflicts over hydraulic fracturing, in which local and state officials vied for the upper hand in deciding where drillers should be allowed to operate. “All of that has come roaring back with these different natural gas ordinances,” she said.

Running deeper than race: America’s caste system

An article by Kenneth MackThe air was hazy on a January night in 2018 when Isabel Wilkerson, the journalist and author of a much-lauded narrative account of the Black migration out of the American South, arrived in Delhi. Wilkerson’s visit had been prompted by a book she was writing that used the Indian caste system to illuminate America’s racial hierarchy. It was her first trip to India, but one aspect of what she saw there seemed instantly familiar. She quickly discovered that, as an African American woman schooled in the folkways of race in her home country, she could easily distinguish upper-caste Indians from Dalits, or Untouchables. In turn, “Dalits . . . gravitated toward me like long-lost relatives.” Patterns of deference and social performance marked caste onto her hosts’ bodies, even when Indians did their best to shake them off. Wilkerson spent much of the 2010s researching and writing her book, just as the United States was moving in a direction that seemed to validate its thesis. A series of killings of African Americans, often by police officers, helped birth a new anti-racist social movement. Athletes knelt, monuments to slavery began to come down, reparations for enslavement and its long aftermath became a mainstream idea, and the politics of White grievance took over the White House. When she finished her book, she titled it “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Wilkerson’s thesis is that Americans’ current obsession with race is somewhat misplaced, for there is a deeper and more intractable system that hides behind the chimera of race, and that system is properly called American caste.

They Belong with Taylor Swift™

An article by April Xiaoyi Xu ’21American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has always been a phenomenon, from becoming the youngest artist to be signed by Sony/ATV Music, to maintaining her status as one of the world’s most popular singers for more than 10 years consistently, to frequently receiving top music awards, to developing a reputation for serial-dating famous men, to audaciously taking her entire catalog off Spotify to protect her copyrights, to being openly vocal about politics despite previously insisting on being “a good girl” who does “what everyone else wants” her to do…As a Bloomberg article boldly declares, “Taylor Swift Is the Music Industry.” However accustomed the world is to perceiving Swift as a trailblazer, the Internet exploded again when Swift filed a number of trademark applications with the United States Trademark and Patent Office (“USPTO”) for phrases from some of her popular song lyrics, having already trademarked her full name and initials “T. S.,” as well as the term “Swiftie(s)”—the nickname for her fans. These phrases include “Nice to meet you. Where you been” and “could show you incredible things” from the song Blank Space, and “cause we never go out of style” from the song Style. Both of these love songs are from the album 1989, which, in itself, is not only the year of Swift’s birth, but also the subject of another phrase that Swift trademarked: “party like it’s 1989.” After releasing her new albums Reputation (Big Machine, 2017) and Lover (Republic, 2019), Swift continued her “trademark play” by applying for trademarks for phrases including “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” from Look What You Made Me Do and the word “Lover” from her 2019 album. Although not all of her applications succeeded, a sizable number of them were approved by the USPTO, making Swift perhaps the first musician to trademark lyrics.

The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy

Members of the One Percent, such as former restaurateur Andrew Puzder, have urged Congress to not renew the $600 a week unemployment supplement Congress enacted as part of the CARES Act. They argue, in Puzder’s words, that “this $600 per week bonus is discouraging work” for low-wage earners. No one receiving unemployment benefits will make themselves rich on unemployment. The $600 is not a huge incentive to stay home.  Even in the states with higher base benefits, the minimum unemployment benefits plus the supplement, leave unemployed people earning less than a living wage far below the U.S. median income. But as low as unemployment benefits are, they are higher than the U.S. paltry minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which is tantamount to a starvation wage, leaving working families significantly food insecure…The long-term systemic reason that working people are willing to accept jobs that cannot provide enough income to cover basic needs is because they are unable to organize and demand higher wages. Unionization is clearly tied to higher and more equal wages. The real disincentive working people face is that if they try to assert their right to collective bargaining,  they often are quickly fired even though such firing is technically illegal…But working people need more than enforced protections for union organizing, we need their voices and expertise at the center of the  Coronavirus recession recovery efforts. Harvard Law School’s Clean Slate for Worker Power project and the Roosevelt Institute have put forward detailed proposals on how to include worker voices during the Covid-19 recovery.  With worker solutions at the table and workplace, the economic recovery will be safer, stronger, and quicker. Working people’s voices need to be heard and followed daily, not just every four years during an election cycle. Democracy, particularly economic democracy, lives in the workplace.

Smart Collaboration with Dr. Heidi Gardner

Collaboration has become essential in today’s complex world, and research-based strategies can help you do it better! Dennis & Tom welcome Dr. Heidi Gardner to discuss her practical experience and academic research on collaboration and how lawyers can benefit from her insights into the legal profession by becoming a more effective team…Heidi K. Gardner, PhD, is a Distinguished Fellow and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

Federal appeals court vacates Tsarnaev death sentence, orders new penalty-phase trial

Forcing open a painful chapter of Boston’s history, a federal appeals court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted five years ago of collaborating with his brother to plant two bombs near the Boston Marathon’s finish line, and ordered a new trial to determine whether he should be put to death. In a 182-page ruling that infuriated some victims, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that George A. O’Toole Jr., the judge in Tsarnaev’s 2015 trial, “did not meet the standard” of fairness while presiding over jury selection. “A core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” wrote Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, who also called the bombings “one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks since the 9/11 atrocities.” The ruling does not impact Tsarnaev’s convictions in the 2013 bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others… But the ruling, which drew divided reactions from legal experts, raised the specter of another painful and protracted ordeal for the families of the injured and the dead, some of whom had warned against precisely this outcome…In challenging his death sentence, lawyers for Tsarnaev had argued that holding the trial in the city that endured the terrorist attack deprived him of his right to an impartial jury. Nancy Gertner, a former federal district court judge who now teaches criminal law at Harvard Law School, said, “The notion that a jury from Boston could fairly judge someone who made us all vulnerable seemed to me to be absurd.”

‘The Swamp’ looks at political reform through the eyes of an unlikely hero: Rep. Matt Gaetz

Washington wasn’t built on a swamp — but try telling that to American voters or the politicians they keep electing to metaphorically drain it. This facile fixation long ago turned into a catchphrase (“Drain the Swamp”), but for the most part, it’s all promise and no follow-through. President Trump is only the latest in a long line of bellicose, would-be reformers — of all ideological stripes — who campaign on the idea of a sickened, murky, ethically inhospitable U.S. capital in need of a deep cleanse. The only thing this long-held bias achieves is to keep Washington’s taxpaying residents in an ironic limbo of second-class citizenship, unrepresented in Congress. Oh well — you’ve seen our license plates, you know D.C.’s drill. Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme’s intriguing documentary, “The Swamp” (premiering Tuesday on HBO), makes a good-natured and often compelling attempt to explain some of the endemic, deep-seeded dysfunctions of Congress (a.k.a. “Washington”), while also doing its best to not seem so naive as to present old outrages as fresh news…The “where to begin” aspect of fixing Washington is as much a hurdle for the film as it is for the representatives, while the history of partisan gridlock and big-money influence is more easily traced to the rise of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1994 midterm elections, when Republicans won a long-sought majority. Seeding dissent between voters and widening the rift between conservatives and liberals turned out to be a powerful moneymaker and a point of no return for both parties — “the perpetual campaign,” says Harvard professor and government reform advocate Lawrence Lessig.

Instacart shoppers are battling order-grabbing bots

Lisa Marsh’s job shopping and delivering groceries for Instacart during the past three years has been unforgiving. Company tipping policies cut into earnings while boycotts and other labor strife created confusion, she said. Then the global pandemic hit, transforming once mundane trips to Los Angeles grocery stores where she lives into a palpable health risk. In recent weeks, another problem has emerged: bots that snatch the largest, most lucrative orders out of the hands of other shoppers. Here’s how it works. Instacart pays contract workers to shop for groceries and deliver them to customers. Normally, the shoppers open the Instacart shopping app and, as orders flash by, click on the ones they want to fulfill. But in order to gain an edge, some shoppers are paying software developers who have created bots—in the form of third-party apps—that run alongside the legitimate Instacart app and claim the best orders for clients. In this way, the app tilts competition between shoppers but is invisible to customers and doesn’t take business away from Instacart either…But as security experts at Inc. and other sites have discovered, battling rogue apps is a lot like playing whack-a-mole. As soon as a company thwarts one bot program, a new version of it emerges, usually with a new name. “If Instacart cared—if it was losing money—they could devote resources to make the jobs of these automatic snipers much harder,” Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert, author and lecturer at Harvard University, who said there are ways for companies to detect such bots. “This is a problem that any company that makes money from automation is likely being forced to deal with. Some handle it well. Others don’t.”

Supreme Court Leaks Don’t Lead Anywhere Good

An article by Noah FeldmanFor most of the last 20 years, a rule has applied to the Supreme Court: All Washington, D.C. institutions leak, but the court doesn’t. Now, in a four-part series, CNN Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic has revealed details of the court’s inner workings, including deliberations the justices conducted behind closed doors with no one else present. The reports follow similar, less extensive reports Biskupic filed last year. They also follow some conservative opinion pieces fretting that Justice Elena Kagan might have swayed conservative justices to her side in the LGBTQ and contraception cases — essays that have sometimes looked as though they’ve been informed by inside information. Something appears to be changing in the culture of the court. In the light of the court’s tight-lipped history, it’s worth asking: What are the consequences of these leaks? And would it be better for the court if they stopped? Discretion at the court isn’t an inexorable reality. Rather, it’s a pattern that has come and gone over the years. In the 1850s, the New York Tribune published the results of one case before it was handed down, then revealed the court deliberations in the notorious Dred Scott decision, one of the most consequential (and racist, and disastrous) opinions ever issued by the court. In the late 1930s and ‘40s, a period I wrote about in my book “Scorpions,” several justices leaked to the press, poisoning the personal dynamics between them and leading to decades of back-stabbing and hatred. It was part of how the justices of that era came to be described as “nine scorpions in a bottle.”