MARY REICHARD, HOST: Good morning!
The Supreme Court considers a computer fraud law designed to combat hacking. But could ensnare many of us who use work computers.
NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s ahead on Legal Docket.
Also today the Monday Moneybeat—industrial production numbers that show us a little farther along toward full economic recovery than we thought.
Plus, the WORLD History Book. Today, the 400th anniversary of the landing on Plymouth Rock.
REICHARD: It’s Monday, December 21st. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!
REICHARD: Up next, Kent Covington has the news.
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Lawmakers agree on $900 billion in coronavirus relief » Lawmakers struck a deal last night on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the agreement on the Senate floor.
MCCONNELL: We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: More help is on the way.
Republican and Democratic leaders hashed out a massive, year-end catchall bill that combines $900 billion COVID-19 aid with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and other unfinished legislation.
Both chambers are expected to vote on the legislation today, likely sending it to President Trump’s desk for a signature.
It will include another round of direct stimulus payments, though not quite as much as last time. Uncle Sam will send $600 checks to most Americans and another $600 per child.
The legislation also provides substantial funds for state and local governments and more relief for airlines, small businesses, and more.
And as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted last night…
SCHUMER: For the 20 million people who would lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, help is on the way.
The measure revives a federal boost to unemployment benefits, providing jobless workers $300 per week through the middle of March.
Some EU nations ban travel from UK, fearing virus variant » Officials in Europe are concerned about a new strain of the coronavirus that is spreading quickly in southern England.
Several countries in the European Union banned flights from the U.K. on Sunday in a bid to stop the new strain from sweeping across the continent.
And just hours earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings must be cancelled in southern England.
He said there’s no evidence that the new strain “causes more severe illness or higher mortality.”
JOHNSON: But it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily.
The new strain may be up to 70 percent more infectious.
But health experts say there is good news. U.S. Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary, Admiral Brett Giroir told ABC News…
GIROIR: Very importantly, we have not seen a single mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine. We can’t say that won’t happen in the future, but right now, it looks like the vaccine should cover everything we see.
Roughly 8 million vaccine doses to roll out today in U.S. » And another 8 million doses of coronavirus vaccines are rolling out in dry ice or refrigerated trucks today across the United States.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui is chief science adviser for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program. He told CNN…
SLAOUI: We now are clear that we will be shipping 5.9 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.
Healthcare workers will likely administer the very first shots of the Moderna vaccine today. That after the FDA on Friday gave the shot its stamp of approval for emergency use.
At least a dozen states reported last week that they would receive a smaller second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine than expected.
Slaoui said officials wrongly assumed vaccines were ready to ship as soon as they’re produced, but there is actually a two-day delay.
He also said the surge in COVID-19 deaths will likely get worse before it gets better. The number of deaths spiked after Thanksgiving gatherings.
SLAOUI: And unfortunately, there may be more over the Christmas holiday. So there will be a continuing surge.
Right now, nearly 3,000 Americans are dying each day from the illness.
U.S. airport traffic rising despite holiday travel warnings » With that in mind, the CDC has issued an advisory declaring—quote—“postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”
But government warnings are having little impact on traffic at U.S. airports.
More than 1 million people per day passed through airport security checkpoints over the weekend.
It marks the first time U.S. airports have screened more than a million passengers since Nov. 29th—at the end of Thanksgiving weekend.
President Trump contradicts U.S. inel, cybersecurity officials on Russian role in hacking » President Trump is contradicting U.S. intelligence and his own secretary of state on Russia’s role in a recently uncovered cyberhacking incident.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Mark Levin radio show…
POMPEO: This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.
U.S. intelligence and cybersecurity agencies are pointing to Moscow after what some officials are calling the biggest cyber-spying incident in U.S. history. The cyberhackers broke into the systems of multiple U.S. agencies.
In his first public comments on the matter over the weekend, the president said the media chants “Russia, Russia Russia” when anything happens, because it “is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China.”
Republican Senator Mitt Romney responded to the president’s remarks on NBC’s Meet the Press.
ROMNEY: The experts, the people who really understand how our systems work and how computers work and software and so forth, the thousands upon thousands at the CIA and the NSA and the Department of Defense have determined that this came from Russia.
Romney said—quote—“I think we’ve come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia.”
I’m Kent Covington.
Straight ahead: March Madness at the Supreme Court.
Plus, a Christmas Day heist at Westminster Abbey.
This is The World and Everything in It.
NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Monday morning and Christmas week! This is The World and Everything in It. Today is the 21st of December, 2020.
Good morning to you, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Very good morning to you! Well, lots of news from the Supreme Court last week.
On Friday, the court brought a quick ruling in a case argued just three weeks ago. Some state and local governments were seeking to challenge President Trump’s plan to exclude illegal aliens from the census and the court tossed out those challenges. Now, this opinion was less on the merits and more on the speculative nature of the harm. In other words, the Census Bureau has yet to finish its work and there’s no real way to know the injury the court’s being asked to remedy.
This puts an end to the litigation for now. The blue state and local governments that sued to stop the plan could well return to court—if the Trump administration manages to implement the plan over the final few weeks in office.
EICHER: The census count matters for a lot of reasons, and possibly the most significant is that the census determines how to apportion congressional seats. The larger population a state has relative to the others, the more seats it gets in Congress.
Liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would have ruled on the merits, and allowed apportionment based on the number of all persons in each state, without taking into account whether all persons are legally present.
REICHARD: And one final decision, just briefly here: the Supreme Court sent a message to states, you better tread carefully on religious groups during this time of pandemic. The justices threw out lower court rulings in New Jersey and Colorado that imposed limits on religious gatherings they didn’t impose on secular activities. That’s a fundamental First Amendment principle the court has rediscovered.
EICHER: Now on to oral arguments going back to the last day of November.
First one looks to the Big Dance—the NCAA March Madness tournament—specifically “bracketology.” Here’s a question: Have you ever filled out a March Madness bracket on your work computer? If you have, you might unwittingly have committed a felony, depending upon how the Supreme Court interprets a law signed back in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan.
The law is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. We’re going to need to refer to it several times in the next few minutes, so remember the initialism CFAA. Congress wrote the CFAA to discourage computer hacking.
Here’s the pertinent language: “Whoever intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and gets information from a protected computer, shall be punished.”
Here are two concepts to remember about that:
One, the phrase “without authorization,” and that means getting onto a computer without proper credentials. And two, the term “exceeds authorized access,” meaning you’re on the computer but going beyond the permissions you have for using that computer.
REICHARD: So you can see, depending upon how the Supreme Court decides the case, unless your business is filling in basketball tournament brackets, you may have a problem.
This case arises from something much more serious: A police officer in Georgia named Nathan Van Buren took a $6,000 bribe to run a license plate search for a shady friend. Van Buren didn’t realize he was the target of an FBI sting operation. He ran the search on police computers and accessed the government database.
Then the FBI took him to court. The court found Officer Van Buren guilty under the CFAA. But he challenges that, saying he was authorized both to be on that computer and access that information.
That he used it for a bad purpose isn’t something the CFAA addresses. Other laws, of course. Just not the CFAA.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett laid out a scenario to test the theory. Now, you know it’s purely a hypothetical because, well, she drives a minivan!
BARRETT: So, for example, my babysitter might have a key to my car so she can pick up my kids from school, but then she uses the car to go run some personal errands. She’s exceeded the scope of her authority. And I guess what I’m trying to get at is, why should we understand entitlement or authorization to be just an on/off switch and not to have a scope component?
FISHER: Well, I think for two reasons. One is that the statute itself doesn’t have a scope component or a purpose component or anything like that.
EICHER: Van Buren’s lawyer Jeffrey Fisher answered, the CFAA doesn’t talk about scope or purpose.
And he pounded on the danger of this law:
FISHER: It is no overstatement to say that this construction would brand most Americans criminals on a daily basis. The scenarios are practically limitless, but a few examples will suffice. Imagine a secretary whose employee handbook says that her e-mail or Zoom account may be used only for business purposes…any employee who used a Zoom account over Thanksgiving to connect with distant relatives would be subject to the grace of federal prosecutors.
REICHARD: But on the other side, the federal government. Its lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Eric Feigin underscored the problem with Fisher’s argument:
FEIGIN: I mean, let me give you some examples of things that, on his reading, wouldn’t be covered by this or any other federal statute so far as we know. A police officer tipping off a friend with insider information that he got from a database; he knows the friend is a criminal, but he doesn’t know the purpose to which the friend’s going to put it, so he can’t — we can’t get him for an attempt, we can’t get him for conspiracy.
As in so many legal disputes, a single word can change everything.
Here, it’s the word “so,” in the CFAA. As in, getting information the officer was “not entitled so to obtain.” Listen to Justice Elena Kagan ask Feigin for the government about that.
KAGAN: Mr. Feigin, if — if I understand your brief correctly, you would concede, wouldn’t you, that if the word “so” wasn’t there, you would lose this case?
FEIGIN: I think it would be a much tougher case for us without the word “so,” Your Honor.
In other words, the government’s argument hangs on the meaning of “entitled so to obtain.” So, meaning in that manner, for nefarious purposes. Nothing ambiguous about it.
But Justice Sotomayor thought otherwise:
SOTOMAYOR: You said that there is no ambiguity in this statute, but let me give you an example. Imagine a law that says anyone who drives on Elm Street who is not authorized so to drive shall be punished. The “so to drive” to me could mean if you’re not authorized to drive on Elm Street. But, under your theory, it could be and might very possibly be read as saying you can’t ride on Elm Street if you’re driving on it with an illegal purpose, you’re speeding, you’re breaking the law on curfew, you’re texting….So, to me, if all you’re relying on is that word “so,” I don’t get around the ambiguity.
And it matters in the law whether a law is ambiguous. The point is to make clear to people what behavior is allowed and what isn’t; an ambiguous law fails the test. And courts will rule in favor of the defendant when there’s a question about ambiguity. That’s called the doctrine of lenity, or leniency.
It’s a tossup how this will go; either way, Congress can clarify its intent if it chooses.
This last case today is a direct result of a messy Supreme Court ruling from April of this year. I say messy because the justices disagreed on the reasoning and on the final result.
That 6-3 opinion found that the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury means a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict. Louisiana and Oregon didn’t require that. Going forward after that ruling, they will.
But the question now is what happens to people convicted under the prior system?
Case in point: Thedrick Edwards received a life sentence for rape on a split 10-2 jury verdict. Now he wants a new trial that requires a unanimous jury.
Here’s how his lawyer, Andre Belanger, made the case:
BELANGER: We want people to come together as a community to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that this person needs to be deprived of their liberty. There are studies that suggest that the effectiveness of deliberation is simply cut short when you don’t have to have a unanimous jury, and that systemically leads to the possibility of an inaccurate conviction.
But Louisiana’s lawyer, Elizabeth Murrill, reminded the court that its own precedent for years explicitly allowed for non-unanimous jury verdicts. When she mentions “Ramos,” that means the new rule that requires unanimity.
MURRILL: But there can be no doubt that declaring the Ramos rule retroactive unsettles thousands of cases that involve terrible crimes…Requiring new trials in long-final criminal cases would be impossible in some and particularly unfair to the victims of these crimes.
Around fifteen hundred people are in Louisiana state prisons on a split jury verdict. Quite a task to sort those out at this late date.
Much argument time was devoted to whether the new rule in Ramos was a “watershed” rule. That’s a doctrine that lets prisoners reopen their closed cases based on new protections in certain situations.
The federal government sides with Louisiana in this case, against applying the rule to closed cases. Here’s Assistant to the Solicitor General Christopher Michel in an exchange with Justice Clarence Thomas: (I’ve edited for flow)
MICHEL: And the rule is not watershed because it is not essential to accuracy or a fair trial. After all, … the right to a jury trial itself is not watershed; trial itself is not watershed, so subsidiary rights like that of a unanimous jury cannot be either.
THOMAS: And what role do you think that the sordid roots of the non unanimous jury rule in Louisiana should play in our analysis?
MICHEL: Well, I think the Court—at least some members of the Court took that into account in the decision last time …
What Justice Thomas was getting at was that Louisiana’s old rule aimed to take away power from minorities who might differ from majority whites sitting on a jury.
Michel didn’t shy away from that hard truth; he said the court considered those sordid roots in Ramos. But that’s not the issue in this case.
Belanjer for Edwards came in at the end with a powerful summation.
BELANJER: In the end, the state has no legitimate interest in avoiding retroactivity but for its desire to let Mr. Edwards languish in Angola for the rest of his life. On what grounds can we let this happen when we know his conviction is unconstitutional? The answer to that question is none.
This is another one difficult to predict. Justice Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito seemed to doubt that the high court has authority to apply Ramos backwards in time.
But Justice Sotomayor and Justice Neil Gorsuch seemed to lean the other way, and they were in the majority for that new rule in Ramos, messy reasoning and all.
So no prediction from me on this one, either!
And that’s this week’s Legal Docket.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: The Monday Moneybeat.
NICK EICHER, HOST: We have financial analyst and adviser David Bahnsen. And David we have a new set of economic reports I’d like to dive into, but let’s begin on the big one on industrial production because I know you pull a lot more meaning out of those numbers than you do on things like retail sales—although I see sales were down, but — [BAHNSEN: Yeah.]
Yeah, but industrial production, now after all we’ve been through, the November number sitting merely 5 percent below the last reading we had pre-Covid, back in February.
DAVID BAHNSEN, GUEST: Yeah, actually the manufacturing portion has come back. The services number is still a little bit below the pre-COVID levels. And I do want to come back to the retail figure as well, because I think there’s a really important nuance there.
But on the industrial production side, I think you see much better manufacturing recovery than I would have expected and much better manufacturing than we need to be on the right trajectory for growth. So I think we’re ahead of pace for economic recovery going into 2021. The services side is a bit of a question and it’s lagging a little, but it’s still recovered at least 90 percent of what it has needed to from that huge contraction in the spring.
EICHER: What accounts for that? Is there a COVID reason for that difference—perhaps easier to gear up factory floors and get machines humming than the more social nature of services?
BAHNSEN: I think that plays into it. There also, though, is frankly an economic side of it: a lot of this manufacturing is in the supply chain of autos and because of very low interest rates, you have a resurgence of automobile sales. So, automobile sales are being driven by low cost of funds and auto sales are driving demand that increase manufacturing.
On the services side, there’s a couple reasons but it’s such a broad and nebulus category, it’s hard to pin it to one thing, particularly in a COVID context. But I will point out that a lot of this is a by-product of global trade. And right now the import-export side with some of the Asian partners that are not in real COVID-constricted moments—China’s economy is mostly normalized, South Korea, Japan is not dealing with a lot of the things that Europe and America is. And so you really get a lot of activity on both the buy side and sell side as a result of global trade, which has skyrocketed back higher.
EICHER: You mentioned the low cost of funds. That’s also got to be driving the housing market, which is another bright spot.
BAHNSEN: Yeah, I’m not sure I’d call it a bright spot because that presupposes that a lot of people overpaying for a house is a good thing and that a lot of people that maybe couldn’t afford to buy a home without low rates that now are able to is necessarily a good thing. I’m actually all in favor, of course, of more people buying homes.
But you’ve got to remember that the affordability index with lower rates is still going higher. The inaffordability. Meaning even with the lower costs of funds, the higher prices are offsetting that and the reason for that, of course, is an inadequate amount of supply.
We have not built enough new homes because of environmental regulations and city and state. It is a very, very silly situation that in the United States of America we can’t build enough homes to meet the demand. And yet that’s the situation we’re in and when you have artificially constricted supply, you get artificially boosted prices.
So, there’s certainly a lot of activity.
That activity is encouraging in this sense: it does show that there are plenty of people that are economically capable right now. You have a lot of mortgage demand, obviously around low rates.
But I just—the only reason I push back a little is that there is this tendency in our circles to talk about any activity in housing as automatically a positive thing. And I really believe that we have to remember how much we learned that to be untrue with the great financial crisis.
EICHER: Right, the last thing we need is a crisis like that on top of everything else.
You said a moment ago you had a note you wanted to make on retail sales.
BAHNSEN: Well, it’s very important that people have the context here for the retail number that came out this week because it was a bit lower than had been expected in the sort of month-over-month number.
But then when you do the comparison to a year ago—apples to apples—it was up 4.1 percent. And so I think that the retail number being lower than expected and being lower month-over-month is interesting in the sense that in the margin some of these tighter restrictions from COVID clearly held down some restaurant and bar sales, which is the only category that was down, by the way.
But, still, year-over-year, the retail number was up 4 percent. And so I think it had as much positive in it as negative and it really helps to isolate what’s actually going on, which is just simply that the only economic shortcomings are coming from policy decisions.
EICHER: David Bahnsen, financial analyst and advisor. I will say Merry Christmas to you and we’ll talk to you in a week.
BAHNSEN: Merry Christmas, Nick.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: This week, what it takes to get from the ground up: the start of Plymouth colony, a Christmas Day heist, and the ceremonial completion of the first World Trade Center tower.
Senior correspondent Katie Gaultney has the WORLD History Book.
BRADFORD: In wilderness he did me guide, and in strange lands for me provide.
KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The poetry of separatist William Bradford, read here for PBS.
BRADFORD: In fears and wants, through weal and woe, a pilgrim, past I to and fro.
It’s a reflection on God’s provision during the journey of the Mayflower and the efforts of the colonists that followed. Today marks 400 years since the Pilgrims came ashore at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
But it wasn’t a straight path to Plymouth. They spent 66 days at sea before docking at Provincetown Harbor in November. Skirmishes with the local Native American tribes prompted the weary Pilgrims to re-board the Mayflower in search of land to colonize.
Kathleen Curtin, a historian at Plymouth Plantation, talked about the particular challenges of disembarking in the dead of winter.
CLIP: They arrived here at Plymouth in December, so a really cold time of year, with a full brunt of winter ahead of them. The primary sources, the documents left by the English colonists, talk about men coming from Mayflower, wading through the water, and their clothes freezing on them like armor as they came to shore…
Interesting to note: It’s unclear if the Pilgrims actually landed on Plymouth Rock. In fact it was over 150 years later, in 1771, before anyone claimed the rock held some significance. There are no first hand written or verbal accounts that the stone was the landing spot.
MUSIC: [SCOTLAND THE BRAVE]
From the British Isles to the New World and back again—and from one stone to another. We turn to Great Britain and a Christmas Day caper in 1950…
MOVIE CLIP: [SOUND OF 1950s ENGLISH POLICE SIREN]
The theft of an ancient stone from Westminster Abbey by four Scottish students.
MOVIE CLIP: What I’m about to tell you is of the utmost secrecy… I’m going to Westminster Abbey, and I’m going to bring back the Stone of Destiny.
In Scotland, it was called the Stone of Scone or, as you heard in that clip from the 2008 movie of the same name, the “Stone of Destiny.”
The English called it the “Coronation Stone” since the oblong block of sandstone was used in the coronation ceremonies of monarchs for centuries. It was a symbol of Scottish pride, with a place of honor at Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland. But sometime in the 14th century, the English brought the stone to Westminster Abbey and fitted it into a chair, called King Edward’s Chair. It was last used in 1953 for the coronation of the current Queen Elizabeth.
NEWSREEL: The queen, risen from prayer, is disrobed of her crimson robe. She goes to King Edward’s chair…
The relocation of the stone to England all those centuries ago didn’t sit well with many Scots. That’s why those four Scottish students decided to break into Westminster Abbey in the middle of the night, drag the stone out—breaking it in the process—and bring it back “home.”
MOVIE CLIP: Ian!/I’ve got it, I’ve got it!/We did it, we did it! (SIRENS)
The thieves meant it as a protest against English rule, and a statement in favor of self-government in Scotland. Just four months after the heist, though, authorities found the stone in Scotland and returned it to Westminster.
NEWSREEL: The Stone of Scone, which was wrenched from here on the night of Christmas Eve, has returned to the light of day.
But in November 1996, the British royal family formally handed over the stone at Edinburgh Castle, where it remains among the crown jewels of Scotland.
And what about those four Scottish students that pulled off the 1950 Yuletide hijinks? Fearing political backlash, the authorities decided not to prosecute.
And we’ll top off this week’s History Book with, well, a topping out ceremony. Builders marked the ceremonial completion of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on December 23, 1970.
MUSIC: [NEW YORK, NEW YORK BY FRANK SINATRA]
In construction parlance, “topping out” means putting the last beam on top of a structure. Today, it’s more of a PR event, since most buildings still require plenty of finish-out after that last beam is secured. But the North Tower’s topping out was especially significant, making it the tallest building in the world at 1368 feet. Plus, it boasted advancements in skyscraper construction—and cleared plenty of engineering hurdles. A History Channel documentary explains one obstacle.
CLIP: To reach bedrock, engineers would have to dig down more than 70 feet, and at the same time, not disturb the foundations of the surrounding buildings.
AUDIO: [Construction site]
But, of course, they found novel techniques, shoring up a strong foundation that would support a building over a quarter of a mile tall. The completion of the North Tower was an important step in making the Rockefeller family and Port Authority’s dreams of revitalizing Lower Manhattan a reality.
Today, among other structures at the original site of the Twin Towers stands One World Trade Center. Like the North Tower, the building rises to 1368 feet. Its antenna extends quite a bit higher though. As a nod to America’s founding in the year 1776, it rises to the symbolic height of 1776 feet.
MUSIC: [America the Beautiful, The Smooth Jazz All Stars]
That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.
One final thought as it relates to our December Giving Drive:
You know, I took a look at our online tracker and I can’t help but think we’re getting very close to our topping-out point in the drive.
Think about that 400-foot antenna that stands atop One World Trade. It represents roughly the last quarter of the height of the building and right now we’re in about that range, relatively speaking.
So I want to say thank you if you’ve been part of getting us this high and if you haven’t given yet, I just want to encourage you today to be part of the topping out.
It’s such a great word-picture. All of us standing on the shoulders of one another to reach a high goal.
I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of the journalists who built up this organization. It’s a privilege to be a part of it.
And it’s a blessing to have listeners who truly care about sound journalism, grounded in facts and biblical truth.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Tomorrow: Man knows not his time. We will remember prominent people who died this year. And, your Advent Scripture readings.
That and more tomorrow.
I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
The World and Everything in It comes to you from WORLD Radio.
WORLD’s mission is biblically objective journalism that informs, educates, and inspires.
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