Here at our CUSEF blog, we share news, updates and stories about China and the United States. We provide more than a cursory glimpse of what’s going on between the two powers - here, we offer an in-depth look into their current state of affairs.

U.S. News Roundup

U.S. News Roundup- February 28, 2023


Big tech

The Supreme Court justices remain cautious over making internet companies accountable for what their users post.

Why it matters: This is the beginning of the Supreme Court’s debate over Section 230, a measure in the Communications Decency Act enacted in 1996. The law prevents social media platforms from all lawsuits based on user posts. A change that the Supreme Court is considering could shake the bedrock of the internet law.

What’s happening: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, a case that holds tech companies liable for harmful content their algorithms promote.

  • The Gonzalez family has accused YouTube of providing a platform and using its algorithms to recommend terrorist content in a way that incited violence and led to the death of Nohemi Gonzalez, a college student, in a 2015 ISIS-claimed terrorist attack in France.
  • While the Gonzalez family wanted to hold platforms accountable for their users posts, and Google insisted to be immune from damages that platforms’ algorithms induce.
  • The justices doubted if they could find a middle way, saying they are not the “nine greatest experts on the Internet.”
  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the job of interpreting Section 230 should be left to Congress, and Justice Elena Kagan wondered whether the 1996 law could keep up with technology.

The big picture: The top court also heard Twitter v. Taamneh the next day, the decision of which could affect the Gonzalez v. Google case.

  • The justices considered, under the Anti-Terrorism Act, whether social media companies can be sued for hosting content supporting the ISIS. The court is also cautious in this case.
  • The Supreme Court will rule on those cases by early summer.

Border crisis

The Biden administration announced a proposed policy that would allow border officials to rapidly deport migrants if they cross the border illegally or fail to apply for protection from another country first.

Why it matters: The policy is the administration’s toughest border control measure to date.

  • It is seen as a tool for dealing with a potential migrant surge when the Trump-era immigration policy, known as Title 42, expires on May 11.

What’s happening: The rules are expected to take effect on May 11, the same day Title 42 was expected to be canceled, and stay in place for two years.

  • After announcing the measures, the Biden administration faced a backlash from immigration advocates. They accused the new measures of placing asylum seekers at risk again and of violating a campaign promise to end Trump-style xenophobic border policies.

Opinions: Observers noted that the new policy might fail to cater to either side of the aisle.

  • Immigration advocates, a central part of the Democratic base, have condemned the proposal.
  • On the other side, it is unlikely to earn praise from Republicans, who have made migration and the border a vital issue in the 2024 election.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the crew of the train that derailed in Ohio this month was alerted to overheating wheel bearings before the crash.

Why it matters: The discovery raised concern about the adequacy of the train operator’s safety precautions.

What’s happening: In the preliminary report, investigators found that wheel bearings on the train carrying chemicals had been heating up through Ohio.

  • A defect detector sent an alert to the crew when the temperature of the wheel bearings was 253 degrees higher than the ambient temperature. But the crew failed to prevent the derailment by slowing down the train.
  • While it could take 18 months to publish the final report, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said the agency could advise railroad companies to lower the temperature threshold that triggers an alarm for overheating bearings.

The big picture: The derailment set off a political battle and a blame game over rail safety regulations.

  • Former President Donald Trump, who cut rail safety regulations during his time in office, visited East Palestine, Ohio, and accused the Biden administration of not paying enough attention to the accident.
  • On the other hand, Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg went to the derailment site and pledged support for the region on Thursday, pointing at railroad companies for their response to efforts to strengthen safety regulations.
Hotspots in the field

  • McKinsey & Co plans to cut about 2,000 jobs in one of the consulting giant’s biggest layoffs ever. The company known for developing staff-reduction programs for its clients is laying off some of its own employees, with the focus expected to be on support personnel without direct client interaction.
  • Twitter laid off at least 200 employees, or about 10% of the company’s current workforce, in its latest round of layoffs. After Elon Musk became the social media platform’s new owner in October, Twitter reduced its staff from 7,500 to fewer than 2,000 to cut costs.

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