Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Matt Gluck
Wednesday, December 23, 2020, 2:26 PM

President Trump issued 15 pardons and five commutations Tuesday evening, almost all of which went to individuals with a personal or political connection to the president, reports the New York Times. The president granted four pardons to former Blackwater security contractors who were convicted on charges relating to the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians. Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous and Alex van der Zwaan were also given pardons. Both men pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal officials during the Mueller investigation.

Also on Tuesday evening, President Trump lambasted the bipartisan coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress earlier in the day, writes Politico. Trump said that the bill directs too much money to foreign countries and not enough to individuals and families in the United States. In response to the president’s comments, House Democrats are reportedly planning to offer up a new bill on Thursday that provides increased payments to Americans—which Republicans are expected to reject.

A U.S. Air Force report released Monday found that Black members of the service experience racial disparities in discipline and professional development opportunities. The review also did not make a determination about whether the disparities were caused by racial bias or discrimination.

The Times reports that a gas and electric company building exploded in Baltimore on Wednesday morning—leaving ten injured. A statement from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company called the explosion “a construction-related incident.”

The U.N. regained control of a Central African Republic town after rebels seized it on Tuesday ahead of the country’s upcoming elections, according to France24. The rebels conducted attacks on the town after the government announced this past weekend that ex-president Francois Bozize was planning a coup.

Apple is removing thousands of videogame apps from its app store in China, reports the Wall Street Journal. This move comes as the Chinese government tightens restrictions on gaming app content in the country. In October 2019, Apple and Google removed from their platforms apps related to the anti-government protests in Hong Kong—including one that enabled demonstrators to track police activity.

A Hong Kong Court on Wednesday granted approximately 1.3 million U.S. dollars in bail to prominent media figure and political dissident Jimmy Lai, writes Reuters. Lai was arrested in August and charged under Hong Kong’s new national security law—which has been harshly criticized by the U.S. and the EU.

TechCrunch reports that Chinese tech giant ByteDance will enter the health industry. The company is reportedly seeking to hire several people to join its artificial intelligence (AI) drug discovery team.

Internal Google communications and interviews with researchers at the company reveal that the tech giant has increased restrictions this year on its researchers’ work, according to Reuters. Google has reportedly implemented a new review procedure that asks researchers to communicate with public relations, legal and policy teams before pursuing research in areas such as race categorization and face analysis. One former Google researcher, Timnit Gebru, claims she was fired after questioning a company order not to publish research findings that claimed AI that mimics speech could discriminate against marginalized groups. Google says it accepted Gebru’s resignation and supports AI ethics research.

Politico reports that staffers in the Executive Office of the President received an email Wednesday morning from the White House Management Office instructing them to “disregard” a Tuesday memo that said the staffers would begin “departing” during the week of Jan. 4. The Tuesday communication contradicted the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jim Demsey contended that the new Internet of Things Security Act does not change much and demonstrates the limited influence that legislative action can have on cybersecurity.

Dan Maurer argued that Congress should shed its presumptive resistance to former members of the military serving as the Secretary of Defense.

Herb Lin discussed the SolarWinds hack and what we should learn from it.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring a conversation about digital contact tracing. Jane Bambauer and Brian Ray, who published a paper entitled, “COVID-19 Apps Are Terrible—They Didn’t Have to Be,” as part of Lawfare’s Digital Social Contract paper series, joined Alan Rozenshtein to discuss why contact tracing has played such an insignificant role during the pandemic.

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