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Nebraska space law professor talks about legal fallout from rocket explosion

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Matthew Schaefer is director of the Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law Program at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

He discusses the legal and political implications of Tuesday’s explosion of an unmanned commercial rocket headed for the International Space Station. The Antares rocket was suppled by contractor Orbital Sciences, which blew up six seconds after liftoff from NASA’s space launch facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

To interview Professor Schaefer, dial 402-472-1238 or email mschaefer@unl.edu

Some of Schaefer’s observations:

“This incident emphasizes that rockets are tricky. We do have accidents, it’s not 100 percent fool-proof.  You’re dealing with technology that has 20 times more fuel versus the weight of the rocket itself. When something goes wrong, there’s likely to be an explosion. That’s why you have those fire-clouds.”

“Accidents do occur, albeit very infrequently. You have to have a liability and insurance regime in place to prepare for them, and the United States does.”

In the case of commercial cargo space flights, the regime includes cross-waivers of liability so that participants – NASA, its contractors and their subcontractors and even schools that provide materials and equipment for a space-station experiment – cannot sue one another. In addition, Congress requires insurance coverage up to a maximum possible loss (MPL) for damages and injuries for innocent bystanders.  The MPL amount is based on a massive catastrophic accident so rare that it would be exceeded only once in every ten million launches.  Though the dollar figure differs by launch, it averages about $82 million. The federal government has promised to indemnify commercial space operators in case of an incident with third-party damages exceeding the maximum possible loss amount.

“We’ve never had an MPL-exceeding event and have never even come close. We launch these rockets from areas close to the ocean, from launch pads that have significant buffer zones.  It’s highly, highly unlikely to have any third-party damage and if you did, it’s even more unlikely to have an MPL-exceeding event.”

Some expect Congress next year  to reconsider existing insurance requirements and indemnification provisions.  Schaefer maintains that Congress should not increase the maximum possible loss requirement. Rather, it should consider capping third-party liability at the MPL so that the U.S. commercial space industry is put on equal footing with competitors in several other nations, including France, Russia and China.

“The incident also demonstrates the importance of creating redundancy by encouraging the existence of multiple space operators. With Orbital Sciences out of commission while the incident is investigated, a second carrier, SpaceX, can handle cargo flights to the space station. We don’t want to lose a space operator in the exceedingly rare chance of massive, third-party damages and that is one reason in favor of third-party liability caps.”

University of Nebraska Press launches academic journal focusing on Midwestern history, identity

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Midwesterners often bristle at their region being dismissed as “flyover country.”  Recently there’s been  increased scholarly interest in the region, its culture and history.  As part of that revival, in early September the University of Nebraska Press published the first issue of Middle West Review, said to be the only academic journal to focus on the region.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction by editor Paul Mokrzycki that explains the journal’s aims. It’s a sort of manifesto of what the endeavor should be:

A Revival and a Burial

Since about the midpoint of the twentieth century, the study of the American Midwest has steadily lost appeal, while the scholarly subfields of the US South and West have boomed. Today, no fewer than ten institutions of higher learning boast centers dedicated to the historical study of the American West and Southwest, and numerous universities in southern states support comparable institutes focused on the US South.

Conversely, only three such centers exist for the study of the Midwest, none of which have the esteem or the historiographical influence enjoyed by institutes for southern and western studies.  . . . Further, while colleges and universities in the western US, for instance, regularly offer courses in the history of the West, few— if any— academic institutions in the Midwest train their students to think critically about the region in which they live.

Recently scholars from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences have endeavored to redress these discrepancies in regional treatment. Earlier this year, the Humanities Without Walls (hww) consortium, comprising fifteen major research universities throughout the Midwest, received a generous $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund inter-institutional research on the “global Midwest” and its economic and cultural salience. Scholars at the hww schools are now in the midst of developing projects about the region in which they reside—and its international impact.

Historian Jon K. Lauck has garnered attention from renowned historian Richard White and others for his new book “The Lost Region,” which seeks to stimulate a “revival” of midwestern history.

Further, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa hosted a symposium in 2012 on the Latino Midwest, and faculty at the university are presently working to develop a Latino/a studies minor to reflect the population’s expanding imprint on the state of Iowa. To proffer just one more example, a recent special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, entitled “Queering the Middle,” interrogates the subjectivities of lgbtq individuals living in the American Midwest. Its diverse essays— which touch on everything from Chicana lesbian activism in Chicago to masculinity and gender nonconformity on the Great Lakes— seek to queer the Midwest and challenge pervasive conceptions of the region as “normative.”

The Middle West Review belongs within this broader project of reenergizing and reimagining the study of the American Midwest. But we must be wary of what we purport to be reviving.

A renewed emphasis on Midwestern studies should not replicate the silences and omissions that marred some earlier scholarship on the region. It should not privilege the privileged or depict a romantic past ostensibly disrupted by rabble rousers from below. It should not obscure the racial, class, gendered, and religious tensions within the Midwest or shy away from difficult questions about identity, historical memory, and oppression both past and present.

It should not treat the Midwest as a site of uncontested progress,a region invariably on the “right side of history.” It should not pretend that Jim Crow never reared his ugly head in Wisconsin or Iowa. It should not hesitate to interrogate what it means to be black, Latino/a, Muslim, queer, Asian American, Native, or white in the Midwest. It should not recapitulatethe myths that cast the Midwest as a yeoman’s dream, a blank rural canvas. It should not valorize conquest. It should not paper over the violent colonialism that gave the region its color and shape. But, at the same time, it should not ignore the region’s virtues— which have contributed to its unique character— or the “dailiness” of midwestern life.

We therefore seek a broad and inclusive field, one that serves as an open forum for scholarly and deliberative discussion from various points of view; one that focuses on the history and contemporary experience of the American Midwest as a region ; one that dares to innovate; and one that transcends the limitations of prior writing and thinking about the Midwest.

To learn more about the Middle West Review, visit http://uimiddle.wordpress.com/

To subscribe to the journal, visit  http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Middle-West-Review,676024.aspx

For more information: contact Leslie Reed, national news editor, University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, lreed5@unl.edu or (402) 472-2059.

Chief Justice Roberts discusses Washington gridlock during visit to Nebraska College of Law

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Chief Justice John Roberts visited the Nebraska College of Law Sept. 19 for a conversational-style talk that generated coverage in local and national media outlets.

Most reports led with Roberts’ remarks on partisan gridlock. Among other things, Roberts lamented that Elena Kagan was confirmed by the Senate in a near party-line vote — and he added that he doubted that fellow justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could survive a confirmation vote in today’s highly partisan environment.

Roberts spoke about the life of a Supreme Court chief justice with some humor — saying, for example, that justices ask “too many” questions of the lawyers appearing in court. Sometimes attorneys are prevented from making their own case when justices use questions to the lawyers as a way to argue legal points among themselves.  He said he sympathizes with the nervousness lawyers feel when they appear before the high court — he said he thinks the sides of the lectern probably have grooves from his fingernails from the days when he was a lawyer arguing before the nation’s highest court.

Roberts confided that the administrative duties of overseeing the court system probably are his least favorite aspects of his job. Shortly after he became chief justice, he said, a colleague came to him and complained that it was too hot in his chambers.  Roberts said he was commiserating with the other justice, when he suddenly realized “he expects me to do something about it!”

Here is a sampling of news articles published about Roberts’ appearance.

ABC news coverage:

http://go.unl.edu/39v7

WABC – New York:

http://go.unl.edu/wnvh

WLS-AM – Chicago:

http://go.unl.edu/jiuv

The Associated Press (Kansas City Star):

http://go.unl.edu/7rh7

Omaha World-Herald:

http://go.unl.edu/7rh7

Lincoln Journal-Star:

http://go.unl.edu/akzt

KETV:

http://go.unl.edu/0ujy

KOLN/KGIN:

http://go.unl.edu/j67w

Sensor with “human touch” could improve breast cancer detection

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

UNL scientists Ravi Saraf and Chieu Van Nguyen have developed a nano particle-based device that emulates human touch.

It can detect tumors too small and deep to be felt with human fingers.  It’s a sort of electronic skin that can sense texture and relative stiffness.

Saraf, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, thinks the thin-film could be used in a stethoscope-like device that family doctors could use to conduct quick and painless breast exams.  The beauty of the device is that it would be more sensitive than a manual breast exam, cheaper than a mammogram or MRI, and it would provide a visual record of the lump so the doc could more accurately monitor it during future visits.

Saraf says the next step is to find $1 million or so to develop a prototype.

This research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (No. R21EB008520-01) in National Institutes of Health.

Nebraska Law Prof: Hobby Lobby ruling opens door to more companies using religion to avoid legal mandates

Monday, June 30th, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday in favor of Hobby Lobby, which had argued religious beliefs prevented it from providing certain birth control insurance coverage to its employees. The Affordable Care Act requires such coverage.

University of Nebraska law professor Eric Berger describes it as an important decision that will attract a good deal of attention.

Some quotes from Berger:

– “The Court held that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate as applied to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby violates the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.”

–”Justice Alito, writing for a five-member majority, took paints to paint the decision narrowly but, as Justice Ginsburg argued in her dissent, the opinion can and will be used to say that corporations (and others) can cite religious beliefs to try to exempt themselves from all kinds of legal requirements.”

– “Only time will tell whether those efforts will succeed, but there probably will be a good amount of litigation of this sort, with corporations citing religion to try to avoid legal obligations with which they would otherwise have to comply.”

UNL Experts: Rare mix spawned Pilger’s twin tornadoes

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Tornado experts at UNL say “twin tornadoes,” such as the deadly pair that struck Pilger Monday, are unusual but not unheard of.

  • Contact: Matthew Van Den Broeke, assistant professor, earth and atmospheric sciences,  402-472-2418 or mvandenbroeke2@unl.edu
  • Adam Houston, associate professor, earth and atmospheric sciences 402 472-2416 or ahouston2@unl.edu
UNL’s Adam Houston (third from left) stands with members of the Vortex 2 unmanned aircraft system group and the Tempest unmanned aircraft. Houston is an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at UNL.
Matthew Van Den Broeke
Al Dutcher

However, such tornadoes may happen more frequently than weather observers realize, because the second funnel often is obscured by rain, said Adam Houston, associate professor of atmospheric sciences. Houston’s research involves using unmanned aircraft, commonly called drones, to observe tornadoes.

Houston said he has seen twin tornadoes twice in his career, once in June 2010 in Colorado and another instance in 2004 in southern Kansas. In both cases, the second funnel had been “wrapped” in rain and became visible only when the rain cleared.

The Pilger tornado, which left two people dead and leveled most of the town of 360, was a rare instance where both funnels were visible in broad daylight, Houston said.

Matthew Van Den Broeke, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences who specializes in severe weather, said he needs more data to get a better sense of how the Pilger storm differed from other tornadoes.

“At this point I can say the storm was the type that typically produces strong tornadoes and the double-tornado event was unusual — quite unusual, in fact to have two tornadoes of that strength in close proximity,” he said.

State climatologist Al Dutcher, who also is on the UNL faculty, told the Associated Press Tuesday that it’s fairly common to have major storms with more than one tornado — but in most cases, one twister grows stronger and larger while the other weakens and shrinks. He said the strength of both funnels likely increased because they had no nearby storms competing for wind and moisture and the atmosphere was highly unstable.

The National Weather Service was on the scene Tuesday trying to measure each tornado’s strength. A preliminary review confirmed that two tornadoes formed southwest of Pilger and traveled together, about a mile apart. The northern tornado struck Pilger before the two twisters merged, Van DeWald, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Valley, said in a Lincoln Journal-Star report. The storm is estimated to be a “monster” EF-4, near the top of the scale that rates tornado strength.

According to Houston, when a storm produces two tornadoes, one typically is older and losing strength, while the other is new and building strength. It is rare for two twisters to form simultaneously. Usually when they do, they are two vortexes embedded in a larger-scale vortex.

Houston, on sabbatical to conduct research at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said he has only seen photos and videos of Monday’s tornadoes. He said he is eager to see the National Weather Service’s data on the storm.

Houston said there is much more to learn about how tornadoes develop and move. In 2010, his research team successfully demonstrated that drones could be used to gather atmospheric data about the storms. He seeks additional funding to continue using unmanned aircraft to investigate the powerful and often devastating storms.

Van Den Broeke, whose research has focused on the radar structures of tornadoes and supercell storms, said his brief review of radar data during the storm revealed it had some unusual structures, such as a large central precipitation core and a relatively small echo appendage where a tornado would usually be located.

UNL film studies professor Wheeler Dixon enthusiastic about new Godzilla movie

Monday, May 12th, 2014

A quote from Wheeler Winston Dixon’s blog “Frame by Frame:”

http://blog.unl.edu/dixon/2014/05/09/godzilla-2014/

“No pun intended of course, but this new version of Godzilla, a carefully calculated reboot of the entire franchise by director Gareth Edwards, is going to be one of the biggest films of the summer. I really think this film will restore the much-damaged franchise to its original vitality and intensity, just as Christopher Nolan did with the Batman reboots. Add in Bryan Cranston in one of the leading roles, and who is going to stay away? Not me!”

Contact Professor Dixon at  402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu

Expert Alert: UNL’s Ari Kohen discusses breakdown of peace talks between Israel and Palestine

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

One day after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced a reconciliation between his majority Fatah party and Hamas, Israel broke off  its peace talks with the Palestinians.

The  Israeli announcement Thursday effectively ends more than a year of U.S.-backed negotiations to establish an independent Palestine.  Israeli Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that he would “never negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by terrorist organizations committed to our destruction.”

Some observations from Ari Kohen, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist who teaches courses on Israel and the Middle East, restorative justice and political philosophy at the Harris Center for Judaic Studies:

– “We should be honest about a few things here,” he said. “These were ‘peace talks’ in name only; they hadn’t been leading anywhere and they weren’t going to lead anywhere.”

–  Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas could benefit Israel and the peace process if it forces Hamas to focus on politics instead of militancy. “Ignoring Hamas or pretending it’s impossible to negotiate with them is just bluster for its own sake, or for the sake of delaying.”

– “Israel’s policy of expanding settlements while the peace process stagnates is a long-term loser for the country, though the Netanyahu government either doesn’t understand this or is pretending not to.”  It leaves less territory for a Palestinian state and makes it less likely that any Palestinian government can reach a peace deal, Kohen says.

For more details, visit Kohen’s blog at  http://kohenari.net/post/83734596604/israel-breaks-off-peace-talks.

To contact Kohen for interviews, call 402-770-5647 or email at akohen2@unl.edu

Ari Kohen

DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE

537 Oldfather Hall
Lincoln, NE 68588
Email: akohen2@unl.edu
Phone: (402) 472-8192

Ari Kohen is a political scientist who teaches courses on Israel and the Middle East, restorative justice, and political philosophy at the undergraduate and graduate levels. His research focuses principally on classical and contemporary political thought. His first book examined the philosophical grounding of the idea of human rights; his current book project looks at the ways in which we think about heroic behavior and the most choice-worthy lives.

Expert Alert: Thoughts on the upcoming Oscars by film studies prof Wheeler Winston Dixon

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar of film history, theory and criticism.

Here are a few of his thoughts about the 86th Annual Academy Awards, to air March 2 on ABC:

– “It continues to amaze me how few people understand that this isn’t some sort of national poll of either critics or audiences; it’s an industry event.”

– “Directing will go to Alfonso Cuarón for ‘Gravity,’ though Steve McQueen for ‘12 Years a Slave’ is a strong contender, and in my opinion should get the nod.”

– “Best Actor to Matthew McConaughey for ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ but Bruce Dern is a strong favorite for ‘Nebraska,’ now that Robert Redford is out of the running. Best Actress to Cate Blanchett for ‘Blue Jasmine,’ which seems to me pretty much a lock.”

–  Other “locks:” “12 Years A Slave”‘ for Best Picture,  Best Supporting Actor to Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club,”  Best Animated Feature to “Frozen.”

– To be taken with “a huge grain of salt:”  – Best Supporting Actress is a three-way toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle;” Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years A Slave;” and June Squibb, “Nebraska.”  Best Original Screenplay is too close to call, though “Nebraska”’s Bob Nelson has a decent shot.

– Thomas Vinterberg’s superb film “The Hunt” should win Best Foreign Language Film, though this category continues to rankle. “To pick simply one film to represent the entire world is really a suspect enterprise.”

For more details, visit Dixon’s “Frame By Frame” blog:

http://blog.unl.edu/dixon/2014/01/16/the-86th-annual-academy-awards/

To contact Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472-6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu

Expert Alert: Richard Moberly — “no” on clemency for Edward Snowden

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Richard Moberly is a Harvard-educated law professor who is an expert on the law of secrecy. He teaches employment law, evidence and the law of secrecy at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
He’s been following the case of NSA leaker Edward Snowden case and he does not think Snowden should be granted clemency.
This blog post explains why.
Some excerpts:
– “I can’t ignore that Snowden . . . also leaked substantial information about the NSA’s ability to collect foreign cell phone and internet data. This program is clearly legal and no one has raised an argument that it is not. “
– “In my view, the costs of this leak outweigh any benefit from the leak about the domestic program.
–” I think we should only protect national security whistleblowers who publicly reveal conduct that is unquestionably illegal.”

– “In other words, Snowden’s supporters believe the debate about the program’s legality supports clemency, while I think the debate is the best argument against clemency.”

Here’s a brief bio of Professor Moberly:

Professor Richard Moberly joined the law faculty at the University of Nebraska College of Law in August 2004, after practicing as an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in Atlanta, Georgia. After receiving his B.A. degree in History, summa cum laude, from Emory University, Professor Moberly graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, he served as a law clerk for the Honorable N. Carlton Tilley, Jr., United States District Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina.

Professor Moberly’s research interests include employee whistleblower protection and the law of secrecy. He has published numerous articles on whistleblowing and retaliation, including an empirical study of Sarbanes-Oxley claims published in the William & Mary Law Review and an analysis of the Supreme Court’s approach to retaliation cases, which was published in the Case Western Reserve Law Review.  A full list of his publications can be found here.

In 2012, Professor Moberly published Whistleblowers and the Obama Presidency: The National Security Dilemma, which appeared in the Employee Rights & Employment Policy Journal, and an article examining the impact the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has had on whistleblower protections during the last decade, which appeared in the South Carolina Law Review.

Contact information:
Richard Moberly
Associate Dean for Faculty
Professor of Law
University of Nebraska College of Law
P.O. Box 830902
Lincoln, NE  68583-0902
402/472-1256
Twitter: @Richard_Moberly
Law of Secrecy Blog: lawofsecrecy.tumblr.com