At School, ‘Everyone Vapes,’ and Adults Are in Crisis Mode

At School, ‘Everyone Vapes,’ and Adults Are in Crisis Mode
By Julie Bosman
Sep 21 2019

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — In Alabama, a school removed the doors from bathroom stalls to stop students from sneaking inside to vape. In Colorado, a school decided to forfeit a volleyball game after finding “widespread vaping” and other infractions by the team. And in Pennsylvania, at a school where administrators have tried installing sensors to detect vaping in bathrooms and locker rooms, students caught with vape devices face a $50 fine and a three-day suspension.

At least 530 people have been sickened by mysterious lung illnesses related to using e-cigarettes with nicotine or vaping THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and at least eight have died. That has sent high schools, the epicenters of youth vaping, racing to give teenagers a new, urgent message: Vaping can be deadly.

Federal health officials have yet to pinpoint an exact cause of the recent illnesses, but the alarming pattern has put principals and teachers into crisis mode. They are holding assemblies to warn students about the dangers. They are getting creative with rules to make it harder for students to secretly vape in school bathrooms, hallways and even classrooms. They are trying to train parents and teachers on the wide array of vape devices, which look like pens or flash drives and which many adults do not even recognize.

During an assembly at one suburban Chicago high school this week, hundreds of students, many dressed in school colors of orange and black in honor of homecoming, saw an X-ray image of a young man’s lungs, cloudy and damaged, on an auditorium screen. 

He had recently been hospitalized after vaping and placed in a medically induced coma for a week, a substance-abuse consultant told the students from a stage.

“His lungs are now that of a 70-year-old. He’s in his 20s,” the consultant, Ashleigh Nowakowski, said. “Can you imagine how that’s going to affect the rest of his life? He can’t run. He can’t play sports.”

The students watched solemnly. A few squirmed in their seats.

Is It Safe? 

Administrators at American high schools have long tried to warn students about the risks of vaping, which gained popularity several years ago as an alternative to cigarettes and works by heating liquid and turning it into vapor to be inhaled. But the outbreak of illnesses has brought new levels of urgency and attention to the issue. Students who had brushed off the warnings in the past, saying that vaping was relatively harmless, could no longer do so.

After the assembly, at Crystal Lake Central High School, 45 miles northwest of Chicago, some students said they were skeptical that vaping was as dangerous as the presentation suggested. 

The students told of a high school ecosystem where vaping devices are easily obtained, and refill cartridges with THC oil, known as carts, are sold for $20 apiece. It is not uncommon, these students said, for seniors to sell vape pens to freshmen, eager to take up vaping. 

Opportunities to vape discreetly are everywhere, they said — in an empty hallway, a bathroom stall or the back row of a classroom where a teacher cannot possibly monitor every student’s move. Older students said they tended to leave campus for lunch, vaping in their cars along the way.

“It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t do it,” said Alexis Padilla, 16, a junior. “You can’t go on social media without someone’s videos of them doing it.”


From Underwear to Cars, India’s Economy Is Fraying

From Underwear to Cars, India’s Economy Is Fraying
The country once had the world’s fastest-growing economy, but it has been battered by global and domestic forces. India’s troubles are a warning sign for other developing countries.
By Vindu Goel
Sep 21 2019

TIRUPUR, India — When Alan Greenspan ran a consulting firm and wanted to know where the economy was headed, he would often look at sales of men’s underwear as a guide.

Mr. Greenspan, who later served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, believed that when times were tough, men would stop replacing worn-out underwear, which no one could see, before cutting other purchases. 

By that measure, India is in a serious slump.

“Sales are down 50 percent,” said Jeffrin Moses, gesturing toward the boxes of cotton briefs and tank tops bulging from the shelves of the Tantex undergarment emporium in Tirupur, the southern city where most of the country’s knitwear is made.

It’s not just underwear. Car sales plunged 32 percent in August, the largest drop in two decades, and carmakers are warning of one million layoffs as shoppers balk at rising prices and struggle to get loans from skittish lenders. Macrotech, a big real estate developer that has teamed up with President Trump on a residential tower in Mumbai, just laid off 400 employees as demand for new housing sinks.

Families are even skimping on the 7-cent packets of Parle biscuits that are a staple of India’s morning milk and tea. They are turning instead to even cheaper snacks made by local food vendors, according to Mayank Shah, a Parle executive. Biscuit sales are down about 8 percent, he said, and if current trends continue, the company may cut as many as 10,000 jobs.

Further darkening India’s outlook is the global economic slowdown, the recent spike in oil prices and the impact of Mr. Trump’s trade battles — including one with India.

On Friday, the Indian government, which spent months playing down evidence of a slowdown, finally acknowledged the depth of the problem, announcing a surprise cut in income taxes for all companies and additional incentives for manufacturers.

And this weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is traveling to Houston to meet with Mr. Trump and try to resolve some of their trade disputes.

Until last year, India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, was the world’s fastest-growing large economy, routinely clocking growth of 8 percent or more. Now the government pegs the country’s growth at 5 percent. And the layoff notices are piling up, with unemployment at 8.4 percent and rising, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy.

India’s reversal of fortunes, partly driven by domestic problems like neglected farmers, is ominous for other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are trying to navigate both the weakening global economy and Mr. Trump’s fusillade of trade conflicts.

“India is potentially a bellwether,” said Per Hammarlund, the chief emerging markets strategist at SEB, a Swedish bank. “It’s a sign of the global economic trend right now: Growth has slowed further this year than last year.”

As skittish global investors have flocked to the safety of the dollar, India’s rupee and other emerging-market currencies have plunged in value. That has made vital imports of energy, electronics and factory equipment more expensive. Last weekend’s attack on two Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which sent the global price of oil soaring, underscored just how vulnerable India and other developing countries are to external factors beyond their control. 

Like China and Indonesia, India is grappling with the fallout from years of excessive lending encouraged by the state. In India’s case, the overhang of bad bank loans, coupled with recent defaults by nonbank financial firms, has curbed lending to consumers and businesses.

Policy decisions by India’s central and state governments have worsened the country’s downturn, according to economists and business leaders.

Auto manufacturers, for example, were hit by a triple whammy: New safety and emissions standards increased the cost of vehicles, nine states raised taxes on car sales, and the banks and finance companies that fund dealers and 80 percent of consumer car purchases were paralyzed by the credit crunch.


Greta Thunberg: ‘We are ignoring natural climate solutions’

Greta Thunberg: ‘We are ignoring natural climate solutions’
Film by Swedish activist and Guardian journalist George Monbiot says nature must be used to repair broken climate
By Damian Carrington
Sep 19 2019

The protection and restoration of living ecosystems such as forests, mangroves and seagrass meadows can repair the planet’s broken climate but are being overlooked, Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot have warned in a new short film.

Natural climate solutions could remove huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as plants grow. But these methods receive only 2% of the funding spent on cutting emissions, say the climate activists.

Their call to protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions comes ahead of a global climate strike led by young people on Friday and a UN climate action summit of world leaders in New York on Monday. The film will be shown to heads of state and the UN’s climate and biodiversity chiefs in New York.

Restoring nature also helps protect people from the increasing extreme weather events the climate crisis is bringing, as trees help prevent flooding and mangroves protect coasts. Furthermore, the annihilation of wildlife that has resulted in animal populations falling by 60% since 1970 can be tackled be recreating lost habitat. However, it remains vital that fossil fuel burning is stopped if the climate emergency is to be ended.

“Right now, we are ignoring natural climate solutions,” said Thunberg. “We spend 1,000 times more on global fossil fuel subsidies than on nature-based solutions. This is your money, it is your taxes, and your savings.”

“Nature is a tool we can use to repair our broken climate,” said Monbiot, an author and Guardian journalist who founded a Natural Climate Solutions campaign earlier this year. “These solutions could make a massive difference, but only if we leave fossil fuels in the ground as well.”

Shyla Raghav from Conservation International, which helped fund the film, said: “The fact is, we simply will not succeed in avoiding climate breakdown without nature.”

Global carbon emissions must be halved in the next decade to avoid serious impacts from global heating, but they are still rising. It is therefore near certain that carbon dioxide will have to be removed from the atmosphere, and technology such as burying CO2 underground has not been demonstrated at scale.

In the film, Monbiot says: “There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree.” A recent scientific analysis concluded that growing billions of trees across the world is the single biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, though coal, oil and gas burning must also end.

“We are living in the beginning of a mass extinction and our climate is breaking down,” says Thunberg in the film. “But we can still fix this – you can still fix this.”

“It’s simple,” she says. “We need to protect, restore, and fund.” That means protecting tropical forests that are being cut down at the rate of 30 football pitches a minute, she said, restoring the large areas of the planet that have been damaged and stopping the funding of things that destroy nature and instead paying for activities that help it.


The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All
The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.
By John W. Fitzpatrick and Peter P. Marra
Sep 19 2019

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent.

What makes this study particularly compelling is the trustworthiness of the data. Birds are the best-studied group of wildlife; their populations have been carefully monitored over decades by scientists and citizen scientists alike. And in recent years, scientists have been able to track the volume of nighttime bird migrations through a network of 143 high-resolution weather radars. This study pulls all of that data together, and the results signal an unfolding crisis. More than half our grassland birds have disappeared, 717 million in all. Forests have lost more than one billion birds. 

Much of the loss is among common species. The red-winged blackbird population has declined by 92 million. A quarter of all blue jays have disappeared, along with almost half of all Baltimore orioles. These are the birds we know and love, part of the bird life that makes North America lively, colorful and filled with song every spring. While it remains vital to save the most endangered of these birds, the loss of abundance among our most common species represents a different and frankly more ominous crisis.

Birds are indicator species, serving as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health, and their mass declines signal that the earth’s biological systems are in trouble. Unfortunately, this study is just the latest in a long line of such mounting evidence.

A study in Germany, for instance, reported a midsummer decline of 82 percent in the biomass of flying insects over the past quarter century. Forty percent of the world’s amphibians are in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Stocks of bluefin tuna are down to the last 3 percent of their historic population, and the United States’ Atlantic cod fishery recently hit a low. A United Nations report this year warned that about a million animal and plant species face extinction. That’s “more than ever before in human history,” according to the report. 

All these statistics together underscore the pervasive character of the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch defined by the planet’s natural systems being altered profoundly by human behavior. How deeply will these losses have to cut before society declares, “Enough!”?

We can do better, and we must, if only in our own self-interest, because trouble for birds means trouble for us as well.


Birds Are Vanishing From North America

Birds Are Vanishing From North America
The number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 3 billion, or 29 percent, over the past half-century, scientists find.
By Carl Zimmer
Sep 20 2019

The skies are emptying out.

The number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970, scientists reported on Thursday. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago.

The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the most exhaustive and ambitious attempt yet to learn what is happening to avian populations. The results have shocked researchers and conservation organizations. 

In a statement on Thursday, David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, called the findings “a full-blown crisis.”

Experts have long known that some bird species have become vulnerable to extinction. But the new study, based on a broad survey of more than 500 species, reveals steep losses even among such traditionally abundant birds as robins and sparrows. 

There are likely many causes, the most important of which include habitat loss and wider use of pesticides. “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s prophetic book in 1962 about the harms caused by pesticides, takes its title from the unnatural quiet settling on a world that has lost its birds: 

“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound.”

Kevin Gaston, a conservation biologist at the University of Exeter, said that new findings signal something larger at work: “This is the loss of nature.”

Common bird species are vital to ecosystems, controlling pests, pollinating flowers, spreading seeds and regenerating forests. When these birds disappear, their former habitats often are not the same.

“Declines in your common sparrow or other little brown bird may not receive the same attention as historic losses of bald eagles or sandhill cranes, but they are going to have much more of an impact,” said Hillary Young, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the new research.

A team of researchers from universities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations collaborated on the new study, which combined old and new methods for counting birds.

For decades, professional ornithologists have been assisted by an army of devoted amateur bird-watchers who submit their observations to databases and help carry out surveys of bird populations each year.

In the new study, the researchers turned to those surveys to estimate the populations of 529 species between 2006 and 2015.

Those estimates include 76 percent of all bird species in the United States and Canada, but represent almost the entire population of birds. (The species for which there weren’t enough data to make firm estimates occur only in small numbers.)

The researchers then used bird-watching records to estimate the population of each species since 1970, the earliest year for which there is solid data.

“This approach of combining population abundance estimates across all species and looking for an overall trend is really unprecedented,” said Scott Loss, a conservation biologist at Oklahoma State University who was part of the new study.

While some species grew, the researchers found, the majority declined — often by huge numbers.

“We were stunned by the result — it’s just staggering,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, and the lead author of the new study.

“It’s not just these highly threatened birds that we’re afraid are going to go on the endangered species list,” he said. “It’s across the board.”

Weather radar offered another way to track bird populations. Dr. Rosenberg and his colleagues counted birds recorded on radar at 143 stations across the United States from 2007 to 2018. They focused on springtime scans, when birds were migrating in great numbers.

The team measured a 14 percent decline during that period, consistent with the drop recorded in the bird-watching records.

“If we have two data sets showing the same thing, it’s a home run,” said Nicole Michel, a senior quantitative ecologist at the Audubon Society who was not involved in the study. 

Among the worst-hit groups were warblers, with a population that dropped by 617 million. There are 440 million fewer blackbirds than there once were.


Cities, not rural areas, are the real Internet deserts

Cities, not rural areas, are the real Internet deserts 
The solution to the digital divide is not more broadband, but persuading non-users to join the Internet society
By Blair Levin and Larry Downes
Sep 13 2019

The “digital divide” is back in the news, with both Democratic presidential candidates and incumbent government officials promising billions to provide high-speed Internet to millions of Americans in rural areas who don’t currently have access to it at home.

The digital divide, however, is not exclusively or even most significantly a rural problem. Due to inaccurate coverage maps, it is difficult to know where specifically access is lacking. But we know from regular Census Bureau surveys that three times as many households in urban areas remain unconnected as in rural areas. And regardless of geography, access isn’t the main reason these homes are without Internet service. The vast majority of U.S. homes without broadband service could have it today, but they don’t want it. The real problem is convincing those who are offline of the value of being part of our digital life.

The singular focus on infrastructure deployment distracts policymakers from the actual explanation for why so many Americans are still offline.

To put the access in perspective: In a recent Pew Research Center survey, only a fifth of respondents said they don’t have broadband at home because they can’t get it. Based on Census Bureau and Federal Communications Commission data, that correlates to between 4.5 and 7.5 million households, total, with no high-speed provider. For context, 3 million American homes still don’t have indoor plumbing, a problem the U.S. has been working a lot longer to solve.

Over the last 20 years, in fact, home broadband in the U.S. has witnessed one of the fastest adoptions of a new technology ever seen. That’s especially impressive given that the FCC has, as new technologies and services have been deployed, repeatedly increased the speeds required to qualify as broadband. The current minimum is 125 times faster than what the agency started with in 1999.

Yet even at the current standard, nearly 200 million Americans have broadband at home, where it’s useful for everything from entertainment to homework. And there is ample reason to believe the broadband picture will continue to improve, especially as high-speed mobile technologies fill in some of the gaps.

The remaining Americans who can’t get wired broadband will have new options soon. In the last several months, for example, the FCC has offered three different solutions to the rural access problem: low-orbiting satellites it argues will offer service to remote areas, merger conditions it claims will provide 99% of Americans service at four times the current minimum speed within six years, and $20 billion of public infrastructure money, to be spent over 10 years.

Let’s also be clear about who isn’t connected. According to John Horrigan, a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute who’s been measuring broadband use for many years, our adoption problem is more urban than rural by a factor of three. That’s because those without home Internet service are predominantly poorer, older, and less educated Americans — demographics more prevalent in cities.

We know not only who is offline but also why. Over the last decade both the Pew Research Center and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration have been carefully tracking the reasons respondents give for not having taken the digital plunge.

Early on, the most frequent reason was that broadband service was too expensive. But the percentage of non-adopters who cite affordability as their principal or even a significant reason has declined rapidly.

In part, that’s because the FCC, starting in 2016, shifted Universal Service support from subsidized telephone service to subsidized broadband. Today, low-income Americans can receive about $10 each month to help pay for a qualified broadband connection, wired or wireless. As of 2017, nearly 11 million households were taking advantage of this program, known as Lifeline.

At the same time, many Internet providers began offering service targeting low-income consumers. Of these, the leader has been Comcast. It began its Internet Essentials (IE) program in 2011, and has since connected eight million low-income consumers, who pay just under $10 a month.

Last month, Comcast announced it was doubling the pool of eligible consumers — basically, any home already receiving some kind of federal aid, including food stamps or Medicaid. The company expects to add millions of new IE subscribers in the near-term.

So, increasingly the digital divide isn’t about access or affordability. What then? In both private and governmental surveys, a growing number of the holdouts cite a lack of relevance. According to the most recent NTIA report, as of 2017 the percentage of respondents who say they don’t have broadband at home because they have “no need” or “no interest” reached almost 60%, nearly double the percentage who consistently gave that response from 2003 to 2009.


Digital privacy evolves in class actions

Digital privacy evolves in class actions
With two recent failed digital privacy class-action certifications, litigators say certification is becoming a higher hurdle to pass
By Aidan Macnab
Sep 16 2019

Though privacy class actions have surged since 2012, and PIPEDA’s new mandatory breach-reporting requirements should keep applications rolling in, two recent failed certifications show judges may be stingier at the certification stage, say litigators.

Though it had previously existed in the United States, the tort of intrusion upon seclusion has been in play in Canada since the 2012 Ontario Court of Appeal case Jones v. Tsige. In this invasion of privacy case, the two parties were both employees at the same bank and the dispute began when Tsige shacked-up with Jones’s ex-husband and used her position at work to access Jones’ personal banking information 174 times. The appeal centred on whether the lower-court judge erred in taking the position that Ontario law does not recognize a tort for breach of privacy – a question that has been debated for 120 years, said the ruling by Justice Robert Sharpe. His overturning the decision to dismiss the claim created that tort.

Jones v. Tsige has provoked numerous privacy law suits – aided by the rise of technology capable of collecting, holding and monetizing data, organizations of all kinds digitizing their records systems and Canada’s new Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

“There certainly was an increase in these types of claims brought, in general, be it in a class action format, on an individual setting, post 2012,” says Scott Robinson a class action and international arbitration lawyer in McCarthy Tétrault LLP’s national litigation group.

Jones v. Tsige has been significant for class-action practice because it made it possible for a plaintiff to get up to $20,000 without proof of economic loss, if they could prove the information intruded on was “particularly sensitive” and caused emotional or mental distress, says Catherine Flood, partner at Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto.

Since Jones v. Tsige, digital privacy incidents have ranged from rogue employees accessing customer files, to people posting intimate photos of their ex-lovers without consent, says Flood. Also proliferating are thieves hacking into the computer systems of organizations, stealing data and demanding a ransom for the return of the information, she says.

“We, unfortunately, are increasingly seeing ransom demands,” she says. “In some cases, it’s a hacker who has encrypted a system, in some cases it’s a hacker whose stolen data. And then in some cases, it’s someone just making up a story and hoping that if they ask for a small enough amount of Bitcoin people will just pay it rather than take the risk that they actually have something.”

While Flood says Canada is seeing a “steady stream” of privacy class actions, the view of privacy by courts is evolving.

“I think that courts are increasingly recognizing that privacy is inherently subjective and individual,” says Flood. “And so, while there are some types of privacy cases that are certifiable, there will be other cases where you’re dealing with situations either where there’s no damages, or where if there are damages, they’re so individual, that they should be dealt with through small claims or through the Privacy Commissioner process instead of through class proceedings.”

Two examples of judges taking a harder line on allowing certifications for privacy breaches class actions are Broutzas v. Rouge Valley Health System and Kaplan v. Casino Rama, says Flood.

In the latter case, doubly unfortunate was Casino Rama – first the victim of a cyber-attack, where hackers stole information on their employees, vendors and patrons and asked for a ransom in exchange for the data’s return. Rebuffed in their ransom request, the thief posted the personal information of more than 10,000 people online, creating a class to pursue Casino Rama for the breach of privacy.

Though Justice Edward Belobaba said he found there was a valid case to be made for negligence, breach of contract and intrusion upon seclusion, he said it was the hacker and not Casino Rama who invaded the class members’ privacy. More importantly, as the intrusion would have to be shown to be offensive to a reasonable person class-wide, there was “no evidence” that scope of consistent harm could established without individual inquiries, said the decision.

Casino Rama’s response to the hack was “prompt and exemplary,” says Nicole Henderson, who is a class-action litigator with a focus on cyber-security and product liability and partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP. They notified law enforcement, regulatory agencies and everyone affected by the cyber-attack and offered some free credit-monitoring, she says.

“Nonetheless, you see a class action arrive anyway,” she says.

In Kaplan v. Casino Rama, Belobaba said that though class action was not the preferable recourse, class members still had the option of individual actions, in small claims court and under PIPEDA.