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11 Aug 14:12

Putin: Russia's Covid-19 vaccine approved for use

Russian President Vladimir Putin Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Putin said one of his daughters had been vaccinated against the virus

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said a locally developed vaccine for Covid-19 has been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans.

Mr Putin said the vaccine had passed all the required checks, adding that his daughter had already been given it.

Officials have said they plan to start mass vaccination in October.

Experts have raised concerns about the speed of Russia's work, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.

Amid fears that safety could have been compromised, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged Russia last week to follow international guidelines for producing a vaccine against Covid-19.

On Tuesday, the WHO said it had been in talks with Russian authorities about undertaking a review of the vaccine, which has been named Sputnik-V.

Currently, the Russian vaccine is not among the WHO's list of six vaccines that have reached phase three clinical trials, which involve more widespread testing in humans.

More than 100 vaccines around the world are in early development, with some of those being tested on people in clinical trials.

Despite rapid progress, most experts think any vaccine would not become widely available until mid-2021.

What did President Putin say about the vaccine?

Calling it a world first, President Putin said the vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, offered "sustainable immunity" against the coronavirus.

He said he knew the vaccine was "quite effective", without giving further details, and stressed that it had passed "all needed checks".

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCoronavirus vaccine: How close are we and who will get it?

Mr Putin also said the vaccine had been given to one of his daughters, who was feeling fine despite a brief temperature increase.

"I think in this sense she took part in the experiment," Mr Putin said.

"After the first injection her temperature was 38 degrees, the next day 37.5, and that was it. After the second injection her temperature went up slightly, then back to normal."

He did not specify which of his two daughters had received the vaccine. It is rare for President Putin to talk publicly about them. Their lives of his daughters, named Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova in media reports, have been shrouded in secrecy.

What do we know about the vaccine?

Last week, the Russian government announced it was preparing to begin mass vaccinations against coronavirus in October.

Russian scientists said early-stage trials of the vaccine had been completed and the results were a success.

The Russian vaccine uses adapted strains of the adenovirus, a virus that usually causes the common cold, to trigger an immune response.

Image caption In July Russian scientists announced that early-stage trials of a vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute had been completed

But the vaccine's approval by Russian regulators comes before the completion of a larger study involving thousands of people, known as a phase-three trial.

Experts consider these trials an essential part of the testing process.

Despite this, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Tuesday the vaccine had "proven to be highly effective and safe", hailing it as a big step towards "humankind's victory" over Covid-19.

Russian officials said the vaccine had been named Sputnik-V, in honour of the world's first satellite. They have likened the search for a vaccine to the space race contested by the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War.

Russia's vaccine data cannot be verified

Russia is fast-tracking its Covid-19 vaccine at an extraordinary pace. It began the first clinical trials on 1 June, months after teams in China, the US and Europe.

Unlike other groups, the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow has not released any safety or immunity data from its studies. This makes it impossible for independent scientists to make an assessment.

President Putin is keen to send a clear message to the world regarding the prowess of Russian science. But simply being first is not enough.

No Covid-19 vaccine being developed has yet been shown to offer protection against coronavirus. That central question remains unanswered.

What reaction has there been to Russia's vaccine efforts?

The progress Russia says it has made on a coronavirus vaccine has been met with scepticism by health officials and media outlets in the US and Europe.

Last month, America's leading infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci expressed doubts about the rigour of the testing process in fast-track vaccine efforts in Russia and China.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier has echoed those sentiments, telling reporters on 4 August: "Sometimes individual researchers claim they have found something, which is of course, as such, great news.

"But between finding or having a clue of maybe having a vaccine that works, and having gone through all the stages, is a big difference."

11 Aug 13:43

Robert E. Lee's Name Is Still All Over Arlington, But That Could Be Changing

For decades, Robert E. Lee’s name and other references to the Confederate general have adorned a number of public spaces in Arlington County. There’s Lee Highway, Lee Community Center, and — until early last year — a public county high school.

Even the county logo prominently features the house he lived in, which remains a memorial dedicated to Lee on top of the hill at Arlington National Cemetery.

But, as is the case around the country in recent years and months, this is changing.

Last month, the Lee Highway Alliance — a coalition of civic associations, landowners, and businesses — announced they were moving forward with renaming the portion of the century-old thoroughfare that runs through the county. Additionally, Arlington’s branch of the NAACP has recently called on the county to retire its flag, logo, and seal that features Lee’s former residence.

“Symbols matter. They shape how we view the world and inform our culture,” Julius Spain Jr., the President of NAACP Arlington, tells DCist. “Do these [symbols] really represent the Arlington we live in today?”

Alfred Taylor, a longtime Arlingtonian and historian, is also in favor of retiring Lee’s name from county public spaces. “It’s time to … come up with symbols that are more indicative of what Arlington is today, and what we hope it to be going forward,” he says.

Lee’s former residence, known as Arlington House, actually belonged to the Custis family, the family he married into.

Built in the early 19th century by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted stepson of George Washington, the house was bequeathed to Lee when he married Parke Custis’s daughter Mary Anna Rudolph (back then, women were not allowed to own property and any they inherited went to their husbands.)

Lee also inherited dozens of enslaved people from Custis, to whom he was horribly cruel and violent.

“The county continues to have a blind eye to the fact that the logo, seal, and the symbol is that of a slave labor camp and memorializes Robert E. Lee,” says Spain.

Lee and his family lived there for 30 years, but when the Civil War broke out, Lee left to command the Confederate Army. He would never return to the house. Soon after Lee’s departure, the U.S. Army confiscated the estate (due to unpaid taxes) and turned it into a camp, headquarters, and eventually, a cemetery.

This is the part of the history that the county focuses on as the rationale behind why it remains part of the logo, which was designed by an Arlington resident and adopted in 1983.

“The cemetery was put there so Lee couldn’t come back, so that makes the house part of the resistance, right?” says Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. She also name checks that the house’s connection to George Washington and that the Marquis de Lafayette was a well-known visitor.

That isn’t to say she’s against changing it, Garvey says, but acknowledges there isn’t a county process yet to deal with this type of request, or others she’s recently received about changing the names of a number of county streets and bridges. One petition, for example, has called for renaming Fairlington Bridge to Black Lives Matter Bridge.

“Now, we are getting so many requests that we need to think this through,” says Garvey. “I think we are ready to have a good discussion as a community about what really is our past and what does it mean.”

Garvey says the county is working on an official process on how to go about considering changing names of public spaces in Arlington. The hope is to have that process in place by September, she says.

Though no decisions have been made as of yet on the exact scope or how it will look, Garvey says it will be public-facing with community conversations and, potentially, a survey.

When asked where she stands on revising the county logo, Garvey demurs. “I’m agnostic. It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the community thinks.”

Spain says removing Arlington House from the county logo doesn’t deserve an extended dialogue. “The history is well documented,” says Spain. “If you can’t see this as a symbol of oppression, how can you properly address issues … of equity and social justice? You can’t.”

Elsewhere in the county, the Lee name will soon be disappearing off the 4.6-mile portion of the road that cuts through Arlington. Lee Highway (also known as Route 29) is actually a more than a thousand mile interstate road that runs from Mississippi to the District. It was named after the Confederate general a century ago.

Ginger Brown is the Executive Director of the Lee Highway Alliance and says they have long discussed changing the name, ever since plans first began to materialize to revitalize the corridor in 2016.

“Obviously, recent events around the nation have prompted a lot of folks to encourage us to move forward … and create a more welcoming place,” says Brown.

When the alliance announced in July that it would rename the road, the response from the community was positive, says Brown. Still, she says, “There are an occasional one or two [people] that feel like it’s not the right time.”

The working group the alliance is assembling will include community members, businesses, and county officials. That should be announced in the coming weeks and will deliver a short list of potential names (three to five, says Brown) to the county board sometime in late fall.

From there, it’s expected that the county board will follow a similar process to the one last year when they renamed the county’s portion of Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway (it’s still named after the Confederate in parts of Virginia and other states). That means appealing to the Virginia General Assembly or the Commonwealth Transportation Board since Arlington County can’t rename a road themselves due to the Dillon Rule.

Brown says she can’t comment on any particular names since they haven’t even announced the criteria yet, though does say that it may no longer be a highway. “We are interested in walkable, urban neighborhoods,” says Brown. “The first word that comes to mind is not the word ‘highway.’”

She said she will also encourage the group to have several potential choices in case the transportation board does decide to rename the entirety of Lee Highway within the commonwealth. Recently, some floated “John Lewis Memorial Highway” as a possibility on social media.

As his home goes through these changes, the 86-year-old historian Taylor sees it as necessary. “You have to look back at the past, so you can measure where you are today,” he says.

He says it was a conscious effort and a clear message as to why so many things in Arlington are named after Lee, Davis, and other Confederate figures. “Arlington County has not always been the great Arlington County and still has a racist past.”

But he says now there’s a chance to not be beholden to that history, but look toward the future. “It’s time to show what it is today,” says Taylor. “Not what it was yesterday.”

Garvey agrees with this sentiment, but as an elected official, thinks there may be some difficulty even in that.

“It really gets down to what it is the history we agree upon,” says Garvey. “How are we going to remember it and celebrate it? Those are major questions.”

11 Aug 13:35

Subject In Custody After Shooting Outside The White House

Law enforcement officials gather following a shooting at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Washington.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

This story was last updated at 8:02 a.m. on Aug. 11.

The Secret Service has confirmed that an officer shot a 51-year-old male outside the White House Monday evening.

In a prepared statement last night, Thomas Sullivan, chief of the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service, said that at approximately 5:53 p.m., the man approached a Secret Service officer at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW and told the officer he had a weapon.

Sullivan said the man then turned around and “ran aggressively towards the officer” while withdrawing an “object” from his clothing. He crouched into a “shooter’s stance as if about to fire a weapon.” The officer then shot at the man, striking him in the torso.

First aid was rendered and the man, along with the Secret Service officer, were transported to a local hospital. “The White House complex was never breached,” said Sullivan.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Management Services transported an adult male with a gunshot wound to an area hospital, spokesman Vito Maggiolo told DCist/WAMU. The man was a “priority one” transport.

Doug Buchanan, another FEMS spokesman, told NPR the Secret Service “called to tell us that we needed to respond to a patient with a gunshot injury” at around 5:55 p.m.

The adult male was treated and cared for on the scene, then transported to a nearby hospital with critical, life-threatening injuries, Buchanan said.

The man was not further identified by FEMS or Secret Service and it is not immediately clear if the suspect did, in fact, have a weapon. Sullivan did not take questions from reporters after his statement.

An internal review of the officer’s actions will be conducted by the Secret Service’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The Metropolitan Police Department will also be involved in the investigation.

This incident took place while President Trump was in the midst of a briefing with reporters. He was briefly escorted out of the briefing room and taken to the Oval Office, he said after returning about nine minutes later.

“I feel very safe with the Secret Service. They’re fantastic people. They’re the best of the best. They’re highly trained,” Trump told reporters. “They just wanted me to step aside for a little while just to make sure that everything was clear outside.”

11 Aug 13:25

America’s uniquely bad Covid-19 epidemic, explained in 18 maps and charts

by German Lopez
A man wears a mask as he sits in Times Square in New York City on March 12, 2020. A man wears a mask as he sits in Times Square in New York City on March 12, 2020. | Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images

The US’s coronavirus epidemic is among the worst. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s now clear the United States has failed to contain its Covid-19 epidemic, with case counts far ahead of other developed nations and more than 1,000 deaths reported a day for over two weeks and counting.

Asked if America’s coronavirus outbreak is the worst in the world, White House adviser and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci admitted it was on August 5: “Yeah, it is. Quantitatively, if you look at it, it is. I mean, the numbers don’t lie.”

It didn’t have to be this way. In March and April, other developed countries had significant Covid-19 outbreaks, but they did a much better job than the US in containing the coronavirus and keeping it down after the virus arrived. So while some other developed nations have experienced upticks, they all pale in comparison to the massive surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that the US has seen since May and June.

The result is a large disparity between the US and other developed nations in terms of getting life back to normal. Schools reopened in Denmark and other places. Taiwan’s baseball league allows fans in stadiums, and Germany’s soccer league may allow fans in soon too. Spain, France, and Italy — all of which were hit very hard by Covid-19 in the spring — are also reopening bit by bit.

Meanwhile, the US is still dealing with a resurgence of the coronavirus that has led some states to close down bars and other indoor spaces, cast doubt on whether schools will be able to reopen for in-person teaching, and strained hospitals nationwide (with another flu season looming, to boot).

“It’s a situation that didn’t have to be,” Jaime Slaughter-Acey, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me. “For almost three months, you had opportunities to be proactive with respect to mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic and to help normalize culture to adopt practices that would stem the tide of transmissions as well as the development of Covid-19 complications.”

But the US didn’t take advantage of those opportunities. The country did bring Covid-19 cases to a plateau, but not a significant decline, by April and May. But then several states rushed to reopen, with a significant portion of the public not following recommendations for masking and physical distancing. The original hot spots were the New York region, but over time, as states moved to reopen, the virus shifted to the South, West, and eventually, the rest of the country.

Now America is stuck with the consequences, with the death toll likely to climb by the tens of thousands in the next few weeks and the possibility of another shutdown looming larger as the country heads into the fall and winter.

Here are 18 maps and charts showing the depth of America’s Covid-19 epidemic, how it got so bad, and what can be done about it.

1) America is among the worst-hit countries for coronavirus cases

An animated chart of coronavirus cases around the world. 91-DIVOC

The US is truly one of a kind among developed nations for its number of Covid-19 cases. The chart above, made with 91-DIVOC and based on data from Johns Hopkins University, shows the US, other top 10 countries for coronavirus cases (after adjusting for population), and the European Union for comparison. While America’s developed peers have suppressed the coronavirus, the US case count has continued to climb to levels only seen in developing countries with weaker government institutions and shakier public health infrastructure.

2) The US has a very high Covid-19 death toll

A map of Covid-19 deaths around the world. Our World in Data

The US is also in the top 10 countries for Covid-19 deaths after adjusting for population, with more than 490 deaths per million people. In this sense, America remains comparable to some of its developed peers; Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Sweden have all suffered higher death rates, and France is only a bit behind. But others have done much better, with Germany and Denmark reporting less than a fourth the death rate of the US, and Japan and South Korea reporting between 1 and 2 percent of the death rate of the US.

With deaths in the US totaling more than 1,000 a day in late July and August, America’s rank on this metric could get even worse in the coming weeks.

3) Even with high case counts, the US is still likely undercounting coronavirus cases

A chart comparing the coronavirus test positive rate among different developed countries. German Lopez/Vox

While President Trump insists that the US leads the world in Covid-19 cases because it tests more than any other country in the world, the evidence suggests that America tests too little, especially compared to its developed peers.

The positive rate — or the percent of tests that come back positive for the coronavirus — is perhaps the best way to track whether testing is adequate. If a place tests enough, it should have a low positive rate, because it should be testing lots and lots of people, including those who don’t have serious symptoms. High positive rates indicate that only people with obvious symptoms are getting tested, which suggests a need to ramp up testing to match the scope of an outbreak.

The goal is, ideally, to get the positive rate to 0 percent, since that would mean Covid-19 is vanquished. More realistically, experts say the acceptable maximum is 5 percent, although some have recently called for below 3 percent. Anything above 5 percent indicates that a country doesn’t have enough testing to pick up all its cases — and America is currently at 7.6 percent for the most recent week of data available (via Our World in Data), meaning the US is likely missing a lot of cases.

This hinders America’s ability not just to track the epidemic but to respond to it too. Paired with contact tracing, testing lets officials track the scale of an outbreak, isolate those who are sick, quarantine those with whom the sick came in contact, and deploy community-wide efforts as necessary. Aggressive testing and tracing are how other countries, such as South Korea and Germany, got their outbreaks under control.

4) The US closed down at first, but much of it then quickly reopened

A map of which states are reopening and not in the US. German Lopez/Vox

Back in April and May, the news looked good for Covid-19 in the US — as cases and deaths started to fall under the weight of stay-at-home orders, physical distancing, more masking, and other public health recommendations. It looked like America might get Covid-19 under control, with studies showing that lockdowns suppressed the spread of the coronavirus.

Then, with President Trump’s insistence that states “LIBERATE” their economies, every state moved to reopen — at times before they even recorded drops in cases within their borders. Many states “never got to flat,” Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at the research institute RTI International, told me. “That means the states didn’t get to very good compliance with the public health interventions that we all need to take to make sure the outbreak doesn’t continue to grow.”

The reopenings led cases, hospitalizations, and then deaths to surge in June, July, and now August. Many states have had to pause or reverse their reopenings, based on the New York Times’s tracker — losing some or all the progress they made toward getting life back to normal.

5) America’s coronavirus outbreak has gone national

A map of coronavirus cases per capita, state by state. German Lopez/Vox

In the beginning, America’s Covid-19 epidemic was largely concentrated in the Northeast, particularly the New York City area. To this day, New York and New Jersey have had by far the highest Covid-19 death tolls in the US, according to data gathered by the New York Times.

In the recent resurgence of the coronavirus, though, Covid-19 has gone national, with the vast majority of states now reporting more than four new coronavirus cases each day per 100,000 people (which some experts consider the acceptable maximum for containing the spread of the virus). Some states have far surpassed that, at times reporting more than 20, 30, and even 50 new cases per 100,000 people a day.

6) Coronavirus is still spreading too quickly in many states

A map of the Rt in each state. German Lopez/Vox

Meanwhile, the coronavirus appears to be spreading too quickly in many states.

The Rt, or effective reproduction number, measures how many people are infected by each person with Covid-19. If the Rt is 1, then an infected person will, on average, spread the coronavirus to one other person. If it’s 2, then an infected person will spread it to two on average. And so on. The goal is to get the Rt below 1; if each new infection doesn’t lead to another, that would over time lead to zero new Covid-19 cases.

According to Rt.live, many states are above an estimated Rt of 1 — which means that the virus is continuing to spread in much of the US. It’s an improvement from the early stages of the pandemic, when the Rt was above 2 in most states, but it’s still high enough to allow the coronavirus to spread and for the epidemic to continue.

7) Hospitalizations have fallen from their previous peaks but are still very high

A chart of daily Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US. German Lopez/Vox

During the ongoing resurgence of Covid-19, total hospitalizations in the US for the virus in a single day appeared to reach a new peak of nearly 60,000 — around the same as the previous peak in mid-April, according to data collected by the Covid Tracking Project. (Weeks after a nationwide system change, this data still has problems, but it’s the best we have.)

The good news is the US has started to come down from that peak, as states reverse their reopening plans and the public follows recommended precautions like physical distancing and masking. But just as was true during the previous peak, experts say it’s important that the country not get complacent and make sure the virus is truly suppressed — which the country is still nowhere near — before we try to get life back to how it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

8) The US has dramatically improved its testing capabilities

A chart of the amount of reported coronavirus tests in the US every day. German Lopez/Vox

One good development in the past few months: The US has truly built up its testing capacity. Some experts at first suggested that the country would need 500,000 tests a day; the US now regularly surpasses that — with more recent daily counts regularly topping 700,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

9) But most states still don’t have enough testing to match their outbreaks

A map of coronavirus test positive rates. German Lopez/Vox

That said, the US still doesn’t have enough testing, with reported delays in testing results now spanning a week or more as labs are slammed with rising demand and a shortage of supplies necessary to run the tests (swabs, kits, reagents, and so on). That delay makes it impossible to trace and contain the infected before they spread the virus to more people, especially because the coronavirus often spreads before people show symptoms.

Part of the problem is that, while the country surpassed 500,000 tests, its coronavirus outbreak since then got much worse, so it now requires far more tests to cover all the new cases.

As a result, most states have positive rates that are too high. While the recommended max is 5 percent, some states’ rates for the most recent week of data now go beyond 10, 15, and even 20 percent, based on Covid Tracking Project data. (Washington state is excluded due to recent reporting problems.) So most states don’t have enough tests to match their outbreaks, meaning they’re still significantly undercounting their cases — and ill-equipped to actually deal with their epidemics.

10) The public is social distancing less, but many are still doing it

A chart showing Americans have started to social distance less frequently. Gallup

During the beginning of the pandemic, Americans were told to stay at home — and even before any government orders, many started to do so to avoid the risk of infection. Gallup surveys found that the vast majority of Americans social distanced; between March 30 and April 5, 79 percent said they avoided public places, and 91 percent avoided travel.

Over time, however, Americans started to ease up, as they became exhausted with social distancing and government orders were relaxed. People started to wander out more — and subsequently spread the virus.

To the extent people are still social distancing, it helps. A review of the research published in The Lancet concluded that “evidence shows that physical distancing of more than 1 m is highly effective.” And a preliminary Health Affairs study found stay-at-home orders slowed the spread of the disease, likely preventing millions of cases.

But to the extent people are social distancing less, particularly while the virus is already rapidly spreading in many US communities, it’s contributing to a resurgence of Covid-19.

11) The public has embraced masking

A chart breaking down how often Americans wear masks in public. Gallup

Although there’s a lot of talk about the politicization of masks, the majority of Americans have embraced masking — with 44 percent saying they “always” wear masks outside their home and 28 percent saying they do so “very often” in Gallup’s late June and July surveys.

That doesn’t mean mask use is perfect. Using this kind of polling, the New York Times calculated that mask use still varies dramatically from community to community, from percentages in the 90s to the single digits. And based on surveys from YouGov and Imperial College London, Americans are much more likely to go out without a mask than Germans, Spaniards, and the French — although less likely than Brits, Swedes, and Danes.

Still, it seems the majority of Americans at least believe in masks and are willing to wear them in public. It’s yet another way that the country has had to adapt as the outbreak has continued in the US.

Along with physical distancing, there’s good reason to believe masking will suppress the virus: The review of the research in The Lancet found that “face masks are associated with protection, even in non-health-care settings.”

12) More state governments have mandated masks

A map of mask mandates in states. German Lopez/Vox

So far, 34 states plus Washington, DC, have mandated the use of masks in public, according to AARP.

According to some surveys, there’s public appetite for a broader mandate: In a July Hill-HarrisX poll, for example, 82 percent of US voters said they’d support a national mask mandate.

There’s some scientific evidence behind the mandates. One study in Health Affairs concluded that state mask mandates likely prevented hundreds of thousands of cases by May 22 in the US. Another study published by the research institute IZA found mandates in Germany “reduced the cumulative number of registered Covid-19 cases between 2.3% and 13% over a period of 10 days after they became compulsory” and “the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 40%.”

But enforcement of these mandates in the US is uneven, with some local officials refusing to enforce them. Trump and some state officials have rejected mask mandates altogether, characterizing them as a violation of freedom and civil liberties.

13) Many schools aren’t fully reopening in the fall

A map of whether schools are reopening for in-person teaching, broken down state-by-state. German Lopez/Vox

Meanwhile, governments have also enforced social distancing measures to try to control the virus. Among those measures, some state and local officials aren’t letting schools open for in-person learning in the fall. According to Education Weekly, most states are leaving it up to local communities, but some have imposed statewide or regional closures or delays at the state level.

This, again, reflects how poorly the US has handled the epidemic: If communities had the virus under control, it would be safer to reopen schools (with certain precautions). But since the virus continues to infect and kill people at a rapid rate across the US, many places don’t feel safe adding yet another potential source of transmission by reopening schools.

14) The economy has been crushed

A chart showing quarterly GDP from 2016 to Q2 2020. Bureau of Economic Analysis

America’s economy has suffered greatly under the coronavirus, as people are forced to stay home, losing work and not patronizing the businesses that rely on a steady flow of in-person customers. The result: According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US GDP, which measures economic output, tanked by more than 30 percent in the second quarter of 2020 — the worst decrease on record by a large margin. The economy has bounced back somewhat in recent months, but the resurgence of Covid-19 and expiration of federal stimulus has made a rapid full recovery impossible.

15) The US unemployment rate skyrocketed

A chart of the US unemployment rate over the previous two years. US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The collapsing economy has led to millions of people losing their jobs — with the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate skyrocketing past 10 percent in recent months, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s yet another way the pandemic has hurt so many Americans.

16) Trump’s job approval rating has dropped

A chart of Trump’s job approval rating. Gallup

The coronavirus pandemic has also damaged Trump’s standing, with his approval ratings and reelection prospects falling as the US continues to suffer greatly.

At practically every turn, Trump has failed on the virus. After experts called for federal leadership, he left cities and states to solve national problems with testing and hospital supplies. When the federal government released a phased plan for reopening, Trump called on states to reopen faster — to supposedly “LIBERATE” them from economic calamity. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people in public wear masks, Trump said it was a personal choice, refused for months to wear a mask in public, and even suggested people who were wearing masks were doing it to spite him (though he’s recently shifted his views on masks). He’s promoted ineffective and even dangerous treatments — at one point advocating for injecting bleach.

Meanwhile, Trump has refused to admit any fault. Asked about testing problems in March, he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Asked about rising deaths in July, he responded, “It is what it is.”

The public, however, seems to take a different view, blaming Trump for the ongoing crisis, and disapproving of the job he’s doing.

17) To get back to normal, America has to control the virus

A chart comparing seated restaurant reservations in the US versus Germany. German Lopez/Vox

For all the talk about getting the US back to normal, there’s only one safe way to do that: defeating the virus. This is what’s worked in all the other countries that have managed to get a little bit closer back to normal — after they suppressed the spread of Covid-19.

You can see that in the restaurant data: According to OpenTable, seated diner reservations in Germany — which has a fraction of the cases and deaths of the US — are back up to pre-pandemic levels. In the US, seated diner reservations remain down nearly 60 percent.

It shows controlling the epidemic and an economic recovery are linked. As a preliminary study of the 1918 flu pandemic found, the cities that emerged economically stronger back then took more aggressive action that hindered economies in the short term but better kept infections and deaths down overall.

With cases only recently plateauing (again) and deaths still rising, the US is not there yet.

18) A vaccine is the main way out, but it’s likely months away

A chart of coronavirus vaccines’ stage of development. German Lopez/Vox

The main way out of the pandemic is likely a vaccine. But a vaccine still appears to be months away — with only a few in the late stages of trials necessary to prove their safety and efficacy.

According to the New York Times, eight vaccines are in Phase III trials. That’s the final step necessary for approval. But getting through that phase can take months, and there’s no guarantee that every or even most vaccines that reach this stage will prove safe and effective. (The one vaccine with approval is only allowed for limited use by China’s military.)

Even once a vaccine is proven to be safe and effective in trials, the US will need to scale up production and distribution to get the vaccine out to hundreds of millions of people — an enormous logistical challenge that could add more time, possibly months, to the process.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal, chances are the US is still months away from that.

In the meantime, the best hope is to suppress the coronavirus with other means, like social distancing and masking, as much as possible. But America has so far failed to do that.


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11 Aug 13:23

We Talked to Some Therapists About Covid Shaming, “Reentry Anxiety,” and the Government Disillusions Their Patients Are Experiencing During the Pandemic

The situation we’ve been in over the last few months—you know, stuck inside during an unprecedented pandemic—lends itself to a variety of metaphors: Perhaps your mental state has been akin to that of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, befriending inanimate objects as you solemnly tally the days passed. Or maybe you’ve embraced more Jack Nicholson/The Shining vibes, mumbling your way through the halls until you realize, Oh, my God! I was the caretaker all along.

Whatever the comparison, it’s safe to say we’ve all been driven a little batty of late. So what are the folks who help us deal with said battiness—mental-health experts—seeing these days?

Well, for one, with an event as pervasive as a pandemic, it’s likely everyone has been emotionally affected in some way.

“A major crisis always changes people’s behavior in ways that they are aware of or unaware of,” says Priscilla Dass-Brailsford, an associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University who specializes in trauma. “This has affected every single one of us in the country and in the world. All of us had to manage our behavior in order to cope with it.”

For some, the change may manifest itself as forever seeing post-pandemic life in a dangerous light—a.k.a. “reentry anxiety,” as Fairfax psychiatrist Jennifer Santoro calls it. “I think we’re worried people are going to walk around paranoid, keeping their distance,” she says. “Before, how much time did you spend worrying unless you had some sort of obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder? Most people don’t walk around looking at the person next to them and being like, Do they have a hidden disease that I could get if they breathe on me?”

Take Melanie, a 31-year-old Alexandria resident (who asked to go by her first name) dealing with reentry anxiety. A homebody, she had recently started forcing herself to leave the house and socialize—until the pandemic cut that effort short. Now Melanie is probably going to go back to living online, she says: “I feel like pretty much every introvert alive right now is possibly feeling pretty justified.”

Even extroverts are experiencing anxiety about stepping back out. Troy Petenbrink, 50, who lives in 16th Street Heights, ordinarily considers himself an adventurous, outgoing person. While he doesn’t think the pandemic will cause him to forever forgo travel or seeing friends, he’s more aware of the inherent risks. “A bit of caution and a bit of nervousness are the things that actually keep you safe,” he says. “These are natural safety mechanisms. It’s that whole ‘look before you leap.’ I’m still going to leap—I’ll be looking maybe twice before I leap.”

More taxing to Petenbrink has been witnessing how others are handling the pandemic—as in, some are not. “I’m going to have to assume responsibility for other people’s actions a lot more,” he says of people who venture out without a mask or disregard social-distancing guidelines. “My trust in others has certainly been questioned.”

Petenbrink and his partner have been stringent about Covid-19 guidelines, maintaining their distance on walks and leaving food in the garage at his eightysomething mother-in-law’s house. So it makes him angry to see others not adhering to the rules. “I’m like, ‘Great, thanks for not caring about my mother-in-law, your neighbor,’ ” he says.

This general feeling of distrust can be particularly acute for those who have trust issues due to previous trauma, says Santoro: “They sort of walk around with a feeling of, you know, ‘Is the world safe? Can I trust people?’ And then this situation has certainly escalated it.”

The loss of faith in fellow Homo sapiens can extend to governing institutions and officials, too.

Hedy Howard, a Chevy Chase psychiatrist, says many of her patients have recently discussed a growing distrust in government due to how the pandemic has been handled. “People don’t normally spend so much time talking about that, but [now they do because] they’re very afraid,” she says, referencing the comments President Trump made about the virus and ingesting disinfectants. “That was quite disturbing to my patients [who feel] like they’re not being told the truth and they’re being led by somebody who doesn’t appear to be stable and trustworthy.”

Like Santoro, Howard points out that this leadership disillusionment can be particularly acute for those who grew up in abusive households or with childhood trauma: “They feel very frightened by having a leader who they can’t trust, is giving them information that isn’t true, or is behaving in ways that remind them of abusive people in their past.”

NoMa resident Deserie Rollins, 34, is an example of someone experiencing this distrust: She doesn’t believe the DC government has done a good job of providing information about pandemic precautions. “I don’t think they’ve been stepping up,” Rollins says. “You don’t look to them completely for information. You get the information, and now you go and make sure it’s correct. You have to do research more than ever.”

Which brings us to another effect of the pandemic: Covid-shaming. With many feeling they have to assume responsibility for enforcing the rules, the internet has become the battleground of self-appointed public-health enforcers. Someone posts a picture of a group not social-distancing or writes a long Twitter thread about runners refusing to wear masks and—like that—the keyboard warriors descend.

“This is kicking up kind of an obsessionality for people—the people who are anxious anyway and that’s how they manage it,” says Santoro. “They are obsessional about scanning their environment for who’s following the rules, who’s not following the rules, and posting things.”

Shaming and rule obsession are mainly the result of anxiety or anger, either of which can be boiled down to one primal source—fear, says Santoro. “This is a scary situation that we have never lived through before.”

An example: When Rollins saw a video that her boyfriend took of people hanging out in Logan Circle on a sunny May day, with seemingly little regard for the recommended six feet of space, she posted it on Twitter and tagged Mayor Muriel Bowser. “I was like, ‘This is crazy,’ ” she says of deciding others needed to see it. She says it was mostly anger that drove her to post the video (an impulse, remember, that Santoro sees as driven by fear). “Everyone is supposed to be quarantining, but no, DC has to be exposed as well,” Rollins says. “Like, either we’re shutting it down or not. What are we doing here?”

This sense of duty, this need to reinforce the idea that we’re all in this together, is a new mental state for many Americans living in what’s typically a “very individualistic society,” says Dass-Brailsford. Part of the heightened sense of connectivity is due to—you guessed it—fear, she says, and can manifest itself via such things as posting a video to Twitter. “We feel so helpless around this that we begin to behave in ways where we have this group consciousness about things. We have more of a collectivistic frame of reference now, because your behavior is going to impact me.”

While Dass-Brailsford thinks it’s normal for the pandemic to leave us with a heightened sense of wariness and mutual responsibility, she warns against taking precautions to the extreme. Sure, it’s prudent to restructure your usual routine, but it may be time to seek help when you can’t leave the house without, say, washing your hands ten times. “When people are getting paranoid, for example, that’s going to be a red flag,” Dass-Brailsford says. “Anything that prevents the person from carrying out daily functioning and is outside the zone of just being thoughtful and careful would be alarming.”

Bad news aside, is there any mental-health benefit that experts think may come of all this? For the people who are able to stay home and reduce their commitments, says Santoro, it could lead to closer relationships: “People are thinking maybe this is a reminder that we all need to slow down, and there are benefits to [doing so]. What does it mean to slow down and intentionally spend time connecting with people? Maybe there’s a silver lining in that.”

11 Aug 13:11

Android is now the world’s largest earthquake detection network

by Ron Amadeo
  • The earthquake alert system on Android, which for now is only in California. [credit: Google ]

Back in 2016, Ars reported on an interesting use for the bundle of sensors we carry around every day in our smartphones—earthquake detection. The accelerometers in your phone make a passable-enough seismometer, and together with location data and enough users, you could detect earthquakes and warn users as the shocks roll across the landscape. The University of California-Berkeley, along with funding from the state of California, built an app called "MyShake" and a cheap, effective earthquake detection network was born, at least, it was born for people who installed the app.

What if you didn't need to install the app? What if earthquake detection was just built in to the operating system? That's the question Google is going to answer, with today's announcement of the "Android Earthquake Alerts System." Google is going to build what it calls "the world’s largest earthquake detection network" by rolling earthquake detection out to nearly every Google Play Android phone. Here's the meat of the announcement:

All smartphones come with tiny accelerometers that can sense earthquakes. They’re even sensitive enough to detect the P-wave, which is the first wave that comes out of an earthquake and is typically much less damaging than the S-wave which comes afterward. If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening. We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from a phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster!

That "race" often works out to only a minute or so of warning, but that's usually enough to duck and cover if you catch the notification.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

11 Aug 13:10

97,000 Kids Tested Positive For Coronavirus In Last 2 Weeks Of July : Coronavirus Live Updates :...

97,000 Kids Tested Positive For Coronavirus In Last 2 Weeks Of July : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

At Least 97,000 Children Tested Positive For Coronavirus In Last 2 Weeks Of July

11 Aug 12:55

The legal questions surrounding Trump’s new executive orders, answered

by Ian Millhiser
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on August 10. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Trump’s actions appear largely legal. They just won’t accomplish very much.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump signed four memorandums and executive orders that, he claimed, would provide relief to Americans struggling financially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One order purports to provide enhanced unemployment benefits to some Americans — although on less generous terms than the recently expired benefits provided by the CARES Act. A second defers payment of payroll taxes. A third directs several federal agencies to take vague, unspecified actions regarding evictions and foreclosures. And a fourth defers payments on federal student loans.

Trump’s four executive actions come after negotiations over a new pandemic relief bill to replace the CARES Act appear to have stalemated. Though House Democrats passed a $3 trillion replacement for the CARES Act in May, Republicans did not present their $1 trillion counteroffer until late July — just days before key provisions of the CARES Act expired. The Republican proposal was also larded with poison pills, such as a bill that would immunize most businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, that earned swift rebukes from Democratic leaders.

Not long after Trump signed the four executive actions, a bipartisan mix of lawmakers denounced them for attempting to steal away Congress’s power to set the nation’s fiscal policy. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) called Trump’s actions “unconstitutional slop.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN that “as my constitutional advisers tell me, they’re absurdly unconstitutional.”

But the reality is more nuanced. With one possible exception — there is a strong legal argument against Trump’s unemployment benefits order — Trump’s four actions are probably legal. The problem with these actions isn’t that they are likely to be blocked by a federal court, it’s that, with one exception, federal law places fairly rigid constraints on the president’s ability to provide pandemic relief. And Trump largely appears to be complying with those constraints.

One measure may prove workable: the memorandum deferring payment of student loans. That memo appears to be lawful, and is likely to provide real relief to many borrowers.

Otherwise, there is less to Trump’s actions than the president would like voters to believe. It’s far from clear whether anyone will receive enhanced unemployment benefits, due to the many legal constraints on those benefits. And even if those benefits are paid, they will be paid out of a limited pool of funds that will run out of money quickly.

Similarly, while Trump deferred payments of some taxes, he can’t relieve taxpayers of their obligation to eventually pay those taxes. For this reason, according to University of Chicago tax law professor Daniel Hemel, “many employers will continue to withhold Social Security taxes from paychecks lest they be on the hook for the $$$ next year.”

Trump’s actions, in other words, appear largely legal. They just won’t accomplish very much.

Trump’s new policy on unemployment benefits has many problems, only one of which is that it may be illegal

Of the four executive actions Trump signed, the one that likely crosses the line in terms of legality concerns unemployment benefits.

On the surface, Trump’s unemployment benefits memo seems to restore some of the benefits lost when the CARES Act expired at the end of July. Under the CARES Act, people collecting unemployment benefits received $600 in federal funds weekly in addition to the other benefits they were entitled to receive every week. Trump’s memo calls for $400 of these enhanced benefits to be restored to some unemployed people — although not for the poorest recipients of unemployment benefits.

But it’s far from clear that Trump has statutory authority to make these payments. And even if he does, Trump’s power to do so is so limited that it is far from clear who, if anyone, will receive the $400 in weekly benefits and how long those benefits will last.

For the unemployment insurance memorandum, Trump relies on a provision of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act that permits the president to “provide financial assistance” to victims of a major disaster, such as a pandemic, to help “address personal property, transportation, and other necessary expenses or serious needs resulting from the major disaster.”

The memorandum directs “up to $44 billion” in disaster relief funds to be spent to provide most unemployed people with $300 — not the full $400 the memo seeks to provide to unemployed people — in federal benefits a week. Why only $300? Because federal regulations provide that the federal share of such disaster relief “shall be 75 percent.” The remaining quarter of the relief funds “shall be paid from funds made available by the State.”

So, if Trump wants individuals to receive $400 a week, $100 of that money must come from the states.

That’s a serious problem, given the tremendous fiscal burden the pandemic has imposed on state governments. According to a July paper by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Elizabeth McNichol and Michael Leachman, “the state budget shortfalls expected from COVID-19’s economic fallout will total a cumulative $555 billion over state fiscal years 2020-2022.”

States, moreover, have far less power to borrow funds during lean economic times than the federal government. At least 40 states require a balanced budget, meaning that deficit spending is simply off the table. It’s far from clear that any of these states will be able to find the money to pay an additional $100 a week in unemployment benefits even if they want to.

Bear in mind, as well, that Trump’s memo only calls for $44 billion to be spent on unemployment benefits. As Georgetown University law and economics professor David Super writes, “with roughly 25 million people receiving unemployment benefits, the $300 federal share of the new weekly benefit would last about six weeks, or until mid-September.” At that point, unemployed people would be in the same boat they’re in now.

The $44 billion could last longer, of course — if many states do not participate in this program.

Super also points to another problem with Trump’s memo — it may be illegal. Although one provision of the Stafford Act allows the president to “provide financial assistance” to disaster victims with relatively few restrictions, a separate provision only permits the president to provide benefits to the unemployed that do “not exceed the maximum weekly amount authorized under the unemployment compensation law of the State in which the disaster occurred.” But the whole point of the enhanced unemployment benefits is to provide additional funding on top of the amount authorized by state law.

Super argues that this provision dealing specifically with unemployment benefits trumps the more general provision allowing the president to “provide financial assistance” more broadly. Often, when two different statutory provisions are in tension with each other, courts hold that the more specific provision supersedes the more general provision.

But even if Trump does have the statutory authority to provide enhanced unemployment benefits, those benefits will be short-lived and likely will not be available in many states — if they are available at all.

Trump’s tax memorandum appears legal, but unlikely to accomplish much

Trump’s second memorandum purports to defer collection of payroll taxes, that fund Social Security and Medicare, for workers earning less than about $100,000 a year. This memo is probably legal. The Treasury Secretary does have the power to delay collection of certain taxes for victims of federally declared disasters, and Trump is the Treasury Secretary’s boss.

But, while the Trump administration may delay collection of certain taxes, such a delay is unlikely to accomplish much. It’s likely that most workers will never see the impact of this policy on their paychecks.

Delaying tax payments makes sense in certain circumstances. Suppose that a tornado wipes out much of a town and leaves local businesses without electricity for weeks. A federal order delaying collection of taxes will allow those businesses to rebuild, and to figure out how to operate in the middle of a disaster, without also facing the additional burden of setting aside money to pay for federal taxes.

But the law Trump relies on in his memo only allows the federal government to delay payments for up to a year. It doesn’t relieve taxpayers of their obligation to pay those taxes eventually.

Under normal circumstances, federal law requires employers to deduct a percentage of each of their employees’ wages in order to cover various federal taxes, and to pay this money to the IRS.

The penalties for failing to do so are quite high. An employer that is just one day late in paying such taxes can be required to pay 2 percent of the unpaid tax as a penalty. After 16 days, this penalty rises to 10 percent. And an employer who “willfully” evades its obligation to withhold money from their employees and provide that money to the government could potentially be liable for 100 percent of the money their workers owe.

Trump’s memo effectively lifts these penalties for as long as it is in effect, but it cannot do so forever. And employers who do not withhold payroll taxes from their workers are likely to be in for a nasty surprise when the tax bill comes due.

Think of it this way. Imagine that I owe $3,000 this year in payroll taxes on my Vox Media salary. Ordinarily, Vox will withhold that money from my paycheck and remit it to the IRS. Under Trump’s memo, Vox could decide not to withhold that money. But Vox is still going to owe it eventually. And, when that obligation does come due, Vox could still be subject to penalties if it doesn’t turn over the $3,000 it owes to the government right away.

As Hemel, the tax law professor, told me, the IRS has not yet issued guidance on what happens to employers who fail to pay once Trump’s memo expires. But he emphasized that federal law only allows the Treasury to delay payments for up to one year.

Accordingly, said Hemel, if the memo expires on August 10, 2021, then “on August 11, 2021, the penalty is the same that it would have been on August 11, 2020.” Vox will need to turn over the $3,000 it owes the IRS once the memo expires, or face penalties.

There are other complications. Where is Vox Media going to find the money to make those future payments if they haven’t been withholding it from my paycheck? Will it order me — and all of its other impacted employees — to give back the money that we’ve already been paid? And what if we’ve already spent that money? Does that mean that my future paychecks get docked to cover the deferred tax bill?

Trump, for what it’s worth, says that he’ll make this temporary deferral of payroll taxes permanent if he wins the 2020 election. But he’s down in the polls. And a permanent tax holiday would require an act of Congress — something that Congress is far from certain to support even if Republicans hold onto power. Payroll taxes, after all, fund Social Security and Medicare. Cutting those taxes potentially endanger those two popular programs.

Many employers, in other words, are likely to continue withholding payroll taxes even if they are temporarily not required to do so. Why risk being unable to make mandatory tax payments when Trump’s memo is no longer in effect?

Trump’s executive order on housing is basically useless

The CARES Act included a 120-day moratorium on evictions, but that moratorium expired on July 24. On Saturday, Trump signed an executive order claiming that his administration will “take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19.”

But the executive order itself doesn’t actually do anything, at least not on its own.

It requires the secretary of the Treasury and the secretary of Housing and Urban Development to “identify any and all available Federal funds to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners who, as a result of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19, are struggling to meet their monthly rental or mortgage obligations.” And it requires HUD to “take action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to promote the ability of renters and homeowners to avoid eviction or foreclosure resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19.”

The order, in other words, instructs various agencies to look for ways to help out renters and homeowners who are struggling to meet their financial obligations. Maybe those agencies will find something. But the executive order itself doesn’t provide any assistance to anyone.

Trump’s final executive order does provide real relief to people with student debt

Trump’s final memorandum instructs the Education Department to temporarily suspend payments and interest “on student loans held by the Department of Education until December 31, 2020.” This relief is real, and it also appears to be lawful.

That’s because of a provision of federal law that permits the Education Department to suspend such payments for up to three years for borrowers who have “experienced or will experience an economic hardship.” So the relief for borrowers is likely to be significant — although individual borrowers should probably wait and see how the Education Department actually implements this memo before celebrating.

But people with student loans are likely to be the only people who see much relief from Trump’s executive actions. For the most part, the problem with those actions isn’t that they are illegal. It’s that the legal constraints on Trump’s actions prevent them from doing much.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

11 Aug 12:42

Performative masculinity is making American men sick 

by Alex Abad-Santos
Sardar Ismail, an Iraqi Kurdish bodybuilding world champion, trains at a gym in a mask! Be more like Sardar! | Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images

American men are failing the pandemic.

Fellas, is it gay to not die of a virus that turns your lungs into soggy shells of their former selves, drowning you from the inside out? Is wearing a mask to avoid death part of the feminization of America? Is it too emasculating to wear a mask to protect the others around you? Does staying alive make you feel weak?

According to many American men, yeah.

Poll after poll, most recently a Gallup poll from July 13, has found American men are more likely to not wear masks compared to women. Specifically, the survey found that 34 percent of men compared to 54 percent of women responded they “always” wore a mask when outside their home and that 20 percent of men said they “never” wore a mask outside their home (compared to just 8 percent of women).

What’s startling about these numbers is that it’s now been months since the US first implemented measures, including statewide lockdowns, in response to the coronavirus.

Since late April, health experts and medical professionals have stressed the importance of wearing masks, as more and more research has found that the virus spreads through face-to-face close contact like talking, sneezing, and coughing. US cases and deaths continue to rise; at the same time, scientists are finding that men are more likely to die from Covid-19 and still do not know why.

With deaths and rising cases, it seems unclear what would convince more men to wear masks. According to bias, behavior, and health experts, the reason is maddeningly simple: Masks aren’t manly.

Attempts have been made to make masks aesthetically more stylish, more age-appropriate, and more sustainable in a hope to appeal to the maskless and change their ways. Sports heroes like LeBron James and Mike Trout have been photographed playing with masks on. And when President Trump finally wore one in public in July, his supporters rushed to praise him.

Still, some see masks as weakness, and men, regardless of politics or race or sexuality, don’t like being seen as weak. This virus can’t do pushups or race cars, so the usual displays of dominance are meaningless. Instead, it can best be battled by, of all things, putting on little cloth accessories.

The coronavirus has issued an undeniable taunt to American men on their home turf, and some have chosen to prove their virility through risk with no foreseeable reward. It’s a narrow vision of manhood that ignores other tropes like self-sacrifice and being a protector; performative masculinity for an audience of one that puts many more people at risk. And the solution would be so easy, if it weren’t left in the hands of the manliest men in the country.

Masks are caught in the eternal battle of men versus their own masculinity

 Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) removes his mask.

Americans can tell you how the coronavirus has completely changed their lives. From buying habits to social gatherings to commuting (or not) to the way we work out, the pandemic has altered our day-to-day existence. But not everyone’s behaviors have changed the same way.

The personal difference, as experts told me in July, comes down to how we respond to threats and stress. In crises, humans go into fight-or-flight mode, and we rely on our instincts. Those instincts tell us whom to listen to, which messages are important, and whose behavior to emulate. That notion about being sensitive to important messages and signals is central to why certain men are more likely to go against health directives and not wear a mask.

“The notion is masculinity is a status that you constantly have to prove,” Peter Glick, a Lawrence University professor and senior scientist at the Neuroleadership Institute, told me. Glick specializes in overcoming biases and stereotyping. “Any sort of stumble is perceived [as you losing your masculinity]. So if you do have a stumble, then you have to reestablish it. And if you perceive a mask as ‘Oh, I’m scared of this little virus’ that’s weakness.”

The term for this phenomenon is called “precarious manhood,” coined by Joseph A. Vandello and Jennifer K. Bosson, researchers from the University of South Florida. In their research, they found that past studies show men experience anxiety when it comes to their manhood and masculinity, or masculine gender identity. Vandello and Bossun posit that this is because masculinity, or what society thinks is “manly,” is something that’s hard to achieve and easily lost. And when masculinity is slighted, men compensate by acting out in risky ways.

“[M]en experience more anxiety over their gender status than women do, particularly when gender status is uncertain or challenged,” they wrote in their 2012 research paper. “This can motivate a variety of risky and maladaptive behaviors, as well as the avoidance of behaviors that might otherwise prove adaptive and beneficial.”

In the US specifically, American culture has a history of framing disease as an individual battle or competition in which there are victors and losers, triumph and defeat. More recently, right-wing pundits and Republican lawmakers turned masks into a political issue, often framing masks as a slight on manliness. Gestures like Vice President Mike Pence’s maskless visit to the Mayo Clinic in April and actions like Trump calling Dr. Anthony Fauci’s credibility into question strengthen the mask-is-weakness connection. Especially among men who see Trump as a leader they want to emulate.

“In those situations where your masculinity is called into question, the question is embarrassing”

“Trump even kind of made fun of people who are wearing masks, right?” Glick said, referring to Trump’s mockery of Joe Biden wearing a mask in May. “In those situations where your masculinity is called into question, the question is embarrassing. And ostracism is extremely powerful. Embarrassment, ostracism — that’s what keeps us in line with social bonds.”

Glick’s analysis lines up with research that people with sexist attitudes are less likely to take precautions against the virus. Tyler Reny, a postdoctoral research fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, found this by combing through data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project, a public opinion survey that’s been interviewing more than 6,000 Americans about the virus per week since March 19.

“Those who had more sexist attitudes were far less likely to report feeling concerned about the pandemic, less likely to support state and local coronavirus policies, less likely to take precautions like washing their hands or wearing masks, and more likely to get sick than those with less sexist attitudes,” Reny told me. “What I found is that sexist attitudes are very predictive of all four sets of [aforementioned] outcomes, even after accounting for differences in partisanship, ideology, age, education, and population density.”

There’s no set-in-stone rule that face masks are a sign of weakness. Masks and masculinity existed separately long before the pandemic. Health officials have also consistently said shame doesn’t work to get people to change their behavior for the better. Yet the triggers of shame and slighted masculinity are so effective in getting people to abandon advice that could save their lives. So why, then, does shame work to deter men from wearing masks?

It could be that men are more invested in their own masculinity than in their community.

Shaming people who don’t wear masks “doesn’t have the same power,” Glick said. “Are those people really experiencing shame? I don’t think they’re ashamed about their behavior. Shame is something you have to buy into.”

How we get men to wear masks

LeBron James on July 21, 2020, in Orlando. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James wears a mask! YAY!

There exists an entire industry to masculinize inanimate objects to make them worthy of man usage. War Paint is makeup specifically branded for men. So were Kleenex’s “Man-Size” boxes and “Brogurt,” a yogurt for bros, before being rebranded after public mockery. And the Dude Wiper 1000, according to its semi-ironic, tongue-in-cheek website, “is not some ordinary bidet attachment,” as it has “blasters” to clean even the manliest of buttholes.

Going by capitalism’s penchant for man-plifying objects and knowing about men’s fragile relationship to their masculinity, it would seem that the obvious way to get more men to wear masks would be to make the manliest version of a mask possible. Maybe put guns on it, or a football team, or make a mask that makes men feel like a super-soldier spliced from Rambo and Captain America.

You can see the effect in sports and athletic wear, where companies like Nike and Under Armour are making masks that superheroes might don. They’re sleeker, curved like shark fins. In June, Under Armour launched its Sportsmask, which it promised would “reinvent” the face mask for athletes. The Nike Strike Snood, which kind of makes the wearer look like Bane or a ninja, is sold out. GQ’s pick for masks includes one that makes you look like “you’re in Mortal Kombat.”

Make a mask that makes men feel like a super-soldier spliced from Rambo and Captain America

For men concerned with masculinity, the appeal here is that these masks not only look cool but allow you to do masculine things like run faster, lift heavier, and be stronger. At the same time, in Asia, designers are incorporating new tech and fashion into their masks. But according to health officials, appealing to consumerist impulses isn’t the best way to change men’s, or anyone’s, behavior.

Glick and Reny echoed a sentiment that health experts I spoke to in July said: To get people to change behavior, masks have to become a socially accepted norm. Once people start accepting masks as normal behavior, like they do wearing seat belts and not smoking indoors, the number of people going against the norm decreases.

Getting to that tipping point is a lot easier said than done.

Laws and mandates that the government used in the past in regard to seat belts and smoking took time for everyone to adjust to — time we don’t have due to how fast the coronavirus is spreading in the US. And while experts say people are likely to emulate behavior they see from leaders, Republicans like Trump and Pence haven’t consistently modeled good mask behavior or messaged how important they are to our health.

“So a good start would be to have stronger repeated signals from elites (particularly Trump) on the importance of mask-wearing as an easy and cheap way to slow the pandemic,” Reny said. “Having publicly ‘tough’ men (actors, athletes, some musicians) and other Republican elites also join in and wear masks would help.”

There’s evidence of this working. In late June, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter posted a picture of him wearing a mask with the hashtag #RealMenWearMasks. And Trump wore a mask in public for the first time in July at a visit to Walter Reed Medical Center. He called himself “patriotic.” His supporters hailed him for looking “intensely masculine” and putting #AmericaFirst, and lauded how heroic he looked in a mask.

In May, Trump and conservatives had mocked Biden for wearing a mask, some saying it was a sign of weakness. The abrupt turn is, of course, politically driven. But it’s worth noting that the praise Trump received is about his manliness and heroism — the type of motivators that Glick and Reny mentioned.

If Trump wearing a mask gets more people, men specifically, to wear masks, that’s a positive for health officials.

The problem, though, is that there’s not enough consistent messaging or consistent visibility to really effect change; Trump and Pence need to wear masks consistently and visibly for it to make a difference. That’s what makes Glick a little more skeptical.

“It’s an uphill battle at this point,” he said. “It’s going to be hard as long as our leaders are undermining the message.”


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11 Aug 12:07

Michigan Supreme Court: Selling A $24,000 House (And Keeping The Proceeds) Over An $8.41 Debt Is Unlawful

by Tim Cushing

This seems like the sort of thing a court shouldn't need to sort out, but here we are. More specifically, here are two plaintiffs suing over Oakland County, Michigan's forfeiture policy. This isn't civil asset forfeiture -- where property is treated as guilty until proven innocent. This isn't even criminal asset forfeiture -- the seizure of property by the government following a conviction.

But this form of forfeiture can be just as abusive as regular civil asset forfeiture. There's no criminal act involved -- real or conjectured. It's the result of a civil violation: the nonpayment of property taxes. And Oakland County, the plaintiffs argue, is performing unconstitutional takings to unjustly enrich itself.

It's not that these sorts of things are uncommon. Tax liens are often put on property when tax payments are delinquent. It's that one of these seizures -- and subsequent auction -- was triggered by a delinquent amount that would have required the county to make change from a $10 bill. (via Volokh Conspiracy)

This is from the opening of the state Supreme Court's decision [PDF], which shows just how much the county government can profit from these forfeitures.

Plaintiff Rafaeli, LLC, owed $8.41 in unpaid property taxes from 2011, which grew to $285.81 after interest, penalties, and fees. Oakland County and its treasurer, Andrew Meisner (collectively, defendants), foreclosed on Rafaeli’s property for the delinquency, sold the property at public auction for $24,500, and retained all the sale proceeds in excess of the taxes, interest, penalties, and fees.

That's right. It only took $8.41 to initiate these proceedings. Even after accounting for the additional fees, the county turned less than $300 in delinquencies into a $24,200 profit.

Rafaeli, LLC isn't the only plaintiff. Another property owner, Andre Ohanessian, saw $6000 in taxes, fines, and fees turn into a $76,000 net gain for the county when it auctioned his property for $82,000 and kept everything above what it was owed.

The lower court said there was nothing wrong with the government keeping thousands of dollars property owners didn't owe it.

The circuit court granted summary disposition to defendants, finding that defendants did not “take” plaintiffs’ properties because plaintiffs forfeited all interests they held in their properties when they failed to pay the taxes due on the properties. The court determined that property properly forfeited under the GPTA [General Property Tax Act] and in accordance with due process is not a “taking” barred by either the United States or Michigan Constitution. Because the GPTA properly divested plaintiffs of all interests they had in their properties, the court concluded that plaintiffs did not have a property interest in the surplus proceeds generated from the tax-foreclosure sale of their properties.

The appeals court felt the same way about the issue, resulting in this final appeal to the state's top court. The Michigan Supreme Court says this isn't proper, going all the way back to English common law that had been adopted by the new nation more than two hundred years ago.

At the same time that it was common for any surplus proceeds to be returned to the former property owner, it was also generally understood that the government could only collect those taxes actually owed and nothing more.

[...]

This Court recognized a similar principle in 1867, stating that “[n]o law of the land authorizes the sale of property for any amount in excess of the tax it is legally called upon to bear.” Indeed, any sale of property for unpaid taxes that was in excess of the taxes owed was often rendered voidable at the option of the landowner. Rather than selling all of a person’s land and risk the sale being voided, officers charged with selling land for unpaid taxes often only sold that portion of the land that was needed to satisfy the tax debt. That is, early in Michigan’s statehood, it was commonly understood that the government could not collect more in taxes than what was owed, nor could it sell more land than necessary to collect unpaid taxes.

That all changed with the General Property Tax Act. The current version of the GPTA unilaterally declares all ownership rights "extinguished" the moment the government begins proceedings against the property, well before the foreclosure sale occurs.

This law -- as exercised in these forfeitures and auctions -- is unlawful, the Supreme Court says.

We conclude that our state’s common law recognizes a former property owner’s property right to collect the surplus proceeds that are realized from the tax-foreclosure sale of property. Having originated as far back as the Magna Carta, having ingratiated itself into English common law, and having been recognized both early in our state’s jurisprudence and as late as our decision in Dean in 1976, a property owner’s right to collect the surplus proceeds from the tax-foreclosure sale of his or her property has deep roots in Michigan common law. We also recognize this right to be “vested” such that the right is to remain free from unlawful governmental interference.

The government argued that without being able to take everything (even when less is owed), it does not have a stick of sufficient size to wield against delinquent taxpayers. Nonsense, says the state's top court. The state can still collect what is owed. What it can't do is take more than that.

We recognize that municipalities rely heavily on their citizens to timely pay real-property taxes so that local governments have a source of revenue for their operating costs. Nothing in this opinion impedes defendants’ right to hold citizens accountable for failing to pay property taxes by taking citizens’ properties in satisfaction of their tax debts. What defendants may not do under the guise of tax collection is seize property valued far in excess of the amount owed in unpaid taxes, penalties, interest, and fees and convert that surplus into a public benefit. The purpose of taxation is to assess and collect taxes owed, not appropriate property in excess of what is owed.

If the county wants its eight dollars, it can take its eight dollars. Everything above that still belongs to the original property owner. This should seem obvious, but it isn't. It took the state's top court 49 pages to arrive at this conclusion. What seems obvious to citizens is far too often deliberately unclear to government agencies. Legislation is rarely written in plain language. And it's crafted by people who have a vested interest in ensuring their employer's financial stability. The end result -- years down the road -- is the government turning a $285 foreclosure into a $24,000 surplus. The final insult is taxpayers paid for county officials to argue against the taxpayers' best interests. But, from now on, the government will have to share its takings with the people it's taking property from.

11 Aug 11:57

Why movie theaters are in trouble after DOJ nixes 70-year-old case

by Kate Cox
Disney logo adorns a container of movie theater popcorn.

Enlarge / The House of Mouse is the shadow lurking in the future of movie theaters. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

If you went to the movies in 2019, you probably saw a Disney movie. Seven of the top 10 highest-grossing films released in the United States last year were distributed by the House of Mouse, and hundreds of millions of people went to see them on thousands of screens. Some weeks it felt like the entire film industry was Disney: Captain Marvel and the rest of the Avengers (Endgame) competed for your attention for a while, as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4 kept up a steady drumbeat of animation until Elsa dropped back onto hapless households in Frozen II. In amongst that morass, though, there were still other movies shown, many of them popular with audiences and critics alike.

But now, the rule that prevented a studio from buying up a major theater chain is gone—opening up the possibility that your local cinema could go whole hog and become a true Disneyplex before you know it.

On Friday, a federal judge agreed to the Department of Justice's petition to vacate the Paramount Consent Decrees, a landmark 1948 ruling that forbade vertical integration in the film sector and ended the Hollywood studio system. In isolation, the decision could raise some concerns. In a world where theaters are decimated thanks to a pandemic and consolidation among media firms is already rampant, the future for independent theaters looks grim.

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10 Aug 23:45

So Schools Will Send Girls Home Over a Bra Strap but a Mask Is an Unenforceable “Personal Choice”?

by Vivian Kane

A young student wears a face mask while sitting at a school desk.

The conversation around U.S. schools reopening has been maddening for so many reasons, not least of which is the insistence that starting schools back up is safe as long as there are “proper precautions” in place. That sounds fine until you realize that those precautions involve expecting everyone from kindergarteners up to teenagers to do things like socially distance, not touch each other, and keep masks on throughout the day.

The notion that that was a possibility was quickly dispelled by photos from a school in Georgia during the first day back this week:

How many masks do you see in that crowded hallway? Five? That looks like a coronavirus petri dish.

As if that sight weren’t bad enough, the explanation given by that school districts’s superintendent is even worse. After that photo went viral, Dr. Paul Ott sent a letter to parents in which he wrote, “Wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them. What we will do is continue to strongly encourage all students and staff to wear masks.”

Speaking as someone that spent many years of my life being told I couldn’t wear spaghetti strap tank tops to school, that statement is total bull.

Schools have never had any trouble policing girls’ bodies. Our bodies are called a “distraction,” impeding on male students’ right to an education. How is requiring a nose and mouth to be covered any different, logistically speaking, than requiring thighs or cleavage or shoulders to be covered? Isn’t a major public health risk also a distraction and an impediment to young people’s education?

In yet another example of schools doling out extreme punishments to young women and girls, Hannah Watters, the 10th-grade student who took that photo, was suspended for doing so. The suspension has since been rescinded (with no explanation given) but it’s ridiculous that it was issued in the first place.

Watters told CNN her reasoning for taking the photo, explaining, “I was concerned for the safety of everyone in that building and everyone in the county because precautions that the CDC and guidelines that the CDC has been telling us for months now, weren’t being followed.”

(image: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

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10 Aug 12:42

Want to fix policing? Start with a better 911 system.

by Roge Karma
A 911 emergency dispatch center in Centennial, Colorado, on February 5. Arapahoe County is the second county in Colorado to classify telecommunicators as first responders. | RJ Sangosti/Denver Post/Getty Images

“911 call takers are gatekeepers for the entire criminal justice system. We need to start treating them that way.”

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black child, was playing with a toy pellet gun in a Cleveland park when a police car arrived on the scene. Within moments of exiting his squad car, officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed Rice. The surveillance video of the November 2014 shooting garnered worldwide attention, and Rice remains a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement.

As is the case with many high-profile police killings, most after-the-fact reports focused on the incident itself and the officer’s record: Why didn’t Loehmann give any warning before shooting? Would he have done the same to a white child? Why was the officer hired in the first place, given he had been deemed unfit for duty by a different police department?

These are legitimate questions. But it’s possible the most important factor in Rice’s killing was what happened in the moments before the police officer arrived on the scene.

Like the majority of police killings of unarmed civilians, this incident began with a 911 call. The civilian who called 911 on Rice initially reported a Black male with a gun in a park, but then clarified the initial description, saying that Tamir is “probably a juvenile” and that the weapon is “probably fake.” However, according to police records, that clarifying information did not get passed on to responding officers. All the information Loehmann and his partner heard from their dispatcher was, “We have a Code 1” — the department’s highest level of urgency.

That error may have been the difference between life and death for a child.

When Paul Taylor, a former police officer, use-of-force training instructor, and now a criminologist at the University of Colorado Denver, found out that the 911 dispatch information about Rice had been wrong, he decided to run an experiment.

Taylor put 300 police officers representing 18 agencies in two states through an interactive firearms training simulator. All the officers were told about a “possible trespass in progress.” Then some were told that the “subject appears to be holding a gun” and others that the “subject appears to be talking on a cellphone.”

When the officers arrived at the scene, they saw a man matching the description of the suspect with his hands in his jacket pockets. For half the volunteers, the man quickly pulled a cellphone out of his pocket to film the officers; for the other half, the man pulled out a handgun and pointed it at them. The officers had to make a split-second decision to shoot or not shoot, with their virtual lives at stake.

The results were dramatic. Six percent of officers who had been advised that the subject appeared to be talking on a cellphone ended up shooting the man who attempted to film them with his phone. But 62 percent of the officers who were told the suspect had a gun did the same. In other words, officers who were told the man had a cellphone were 10 times less likely to shoot an unarmed suspect than those with incorrect information. (In the scenario where the suspect drew a gun, 100 percent of the officers shot the suspect, regardless of what dispatch told them.)

“What blew me away is that these results held for all officers no matter what,” Taylor told me. “It didn’t matter how much experience you had. It didn’t matter if you were on a SWAT team. Getting the wrong information universally increased the risk of making an error.”

Findings like this one do not excuse police officers of wrongdoing. Nor do they suggest that anti-Black racial bias doesn’t play a huge role in police shootings — it most certainly does. What studies like this (and others) demonstrate is that when it comes to police violence and aggression, the officer-civilian interaction itself is only part of the story.

Of the 50 million Americans who came into contact with the police in 2015, about half were the result of citizen-requested police services, usually through an emergency call number. And 83 of the 153 police killings of unarmed civilians that year began with a 911 call. Research on the 911 system is scarce and imperfect (that’s putting it lightly), so we don’t know for certain how many of these calls contained incorrect information. But the experts I spoke to mentioned data points — like the proportion of calls downgraded by officers once they arrive on the scene — and examples like the killings of Rice, Francisco Serna, and Fridoon Rawshan Nehad and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. as evidence of the severity of the problem.

“We will never know what would have happened to Tamir Rice if the officer had been given a different image of what was happening,” says Rebecca Neusteter, the executive director of the Health Lab at the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs. “But I would like to believe he would have approached that situation very differently if he was aware this could just be a kid playing in the park.”

 Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Protesters took to the streets of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, in 2016, after a local grand jury decided not to indict the officers who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

The emergency call taker who relayed the incorrect information in the Rice case was temporarily suspended by Cleveland’s police chief for “violating protocol.” But for Neusteter and others who have studied the role of 911 call takers and police dispatchers within the American criminal justice system, the Rice killing isn’t a one-off example of a bad call taker gone rogue — it is the product of systemic flaws in how call takers are trained that amplify the risk officers perceive when they enter a given situation. Addressing those flaws will be essential to the success of any police reform agenda.

Emergency call takers also decide whether police should be sent into a given situation in the first place. Thus, as communities develop alternatives to traditional police response — as many cities are already doing — their role may evolve into that of a public safety quarterback who will be tasked with the all-important role of sending the correct first responders.

Yet call takers are undertrained, underpaid, and underresourced. They are treated as though their role is no different from that of an administrative assistant. And they are ignored in most conversations about policing and criminal justice reform. That’s a shame given the essential role they play in our public safety system.

“911 call takers are gatekeepers not only for police but the entire criminal justice system,” says Neusteter. “We need to start treating them that way. We can’t solve any of our public safety problems without taking care of call takers.”

How the call-taking system can amplify the risk of a dangerous police encounter

To understand an error at the center of Tamir Rice’s killing, you first have to know how the 911 system works.

When you call 911 to summon police, the person you are talking to is generally neither a police officer nor a dispatcher directly in charge of sending police to a scene. Instead, you are talking to a call taker who’s in charge of collecting the relevant information about the incident and the suspect and then classifying the incident according to a list of predefined categories like “suspicious person,” “breaking and entering,” or “active shooter.” That incident type, along with some descriptive information about the suspect, is forwarded to a police dispatcher, who then relays it to responding officers.

This sounds like a fairly innocuous system. But according to Jessica Gillooly, a former call taker and research fellow at the Policing Project at New York University Law School who studies the role of call taking in the criminal justice system, it has a glaring flaw. Call takers are trained and incentivized to think of minimizing potential safety risk to police officers as their highest priority. That means if a caller is uncertain or ambiguous — for instance, simultaneously speculating that the event unfolding could be either a man at a park with a gun (a potential violent threat) or a kid playing with a toy gun (a clearly innocuous act) — call takers are more likely to classify the incident as more serious to ensure officers are prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“There’s a huge training emphasis that essentially tells call takers, ‘You’re safer and better off by sending a police over-response,’” Gillooly tells me. “The big fear is that you don’t send a big enough or serious enough response and something bad happens. There’s no mention of the idea that maybe sending an over-response could also produce a really bad outcome.”

This emphasis produces systemic police over-response. Scholarly research has found that between 20 and 40 percent of all crime calls that 911 call takers enter are downgraded by officers once at the scene. In other words, officers routinely arrive on the scene primed for a far more dangerous, serious encounter than actually exists.

In some cases, this means officers end up killing unarmed civilians like Rice, Serna, and Nehad, each of whom they were led to believe had weapons. More commonly, the result is the sort of humiliation, fear, and aggression that can occur when officers believe they are entering a situation far more serious than it actually is.

“I think about the current state of call taking and dispatching as a game of Telephone,” says Neusteter. “Often, the end result is very different than the original message. And that’s a huge problem. Public safety is too important to leave to a game of Telephone.”

The gatekeepers of our criminal justice system

911 call takers don’t just impact incidents between police officers and civilians; they also determine whether police are sent out in the first place.

Some 240 million calls are made to 911 every year. Tens of millions — possibly hundreds of millions — more are made to non-emergency and alarm lines. In each case, a call taker’s first job is to play the role of gatekeeper: either assign the call to the appropriate first responders or try to resolve the situation on the spot if it does not require immediate assistance.

In the real world, however, this gatekeeper function tends to devolve into a just-send-the-police function. Most jurisdictions have only three types of first responders: fire, medical, and police. And typically there are narrow, predefined criteria for sending in firefighters or EMTs. If those criteria haven’t been met and the situation can’t be easily resolved over the phone, the call taker only has two options: send the police or send no one.

Faced with this choice, call takers will usually opt to send the police for a simple reason: They face severe punishment and liability if they don’t and something bad happens.

“There are situations where if it’s not a clear-cut need for fire or ambulance service, sending law enforcement is the only legitimate response,” says April Heinze, a former call taker and call center director, and current 911 operations director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “That’s not because the call taker wants to send police — they are constrained by local protocol.”

Gillooly, the former 911 call taker and researcher, says she rarely denied police services no matter how benign the situation seemed. She describes a call from someone who found it suspicious that an older Asian man was walking on the side of the road; another about a dispute over a pet peacock defecating on a neighbor’s front lawn; and one from a man who felt uncomfortable at the bus station because a Black teenager’s jeans were hanging too low.

“In most of these cases, sending the police is the only option you really have,” Gillooly tells me. “The informal motto among most call takers is, ‘When in doubt, send them out.’”

Sending police to situations like these can have devastating consequences. That’s why a central plank of the “defund the police” campaign is to reimagine public safety such that police are no longer the default response to all of society’s ills. Instead, activists point to a variety of potential non-police first responders, from trained mediators to crisis specialists to community patrols, that would be better suited to address problems like homelessness, mental illness, and traffic accidents.

In the wake of recent protests against police violence, cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles are developing their own civilian first responder programs. And Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) recently introduced the CAHOOTS Act — named after the much-applauded initiative in Eugene, Oregon, that sends unarmed crisis specialists instead of police to address noncriminal 911 calls — that would provide federal government support for such programs.

But even if these alternative programs are successful politically, they will only succeed logistically if 911 call takers can clearly distinguish between incidents that require sending in police and those that don’t.

“We expect our call takers to make really important judgment calls,” says Steve Zeedyk, a call center supervisor in Eugene who works closely with Cahoots. “There are many jurisdictions where if someone calls and wants an officer, they get an officer. Our call takers screen at a much higher level to determine whether police really are the right response. That’s why we’re able to make good decisions deploying the resources we have.”

My conversations with Zeedyk and others made clear that 911 call takers will be crucial to the success of any non-police response efforts. “The 911 system needs to be part of the conversation as cities think about how to set up alternate public safety initiatives,” says Ayesha Delany-Brumsey, director of the Behavioral Health Division at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Call takers are going to make consequential decisions about what responders get called in where.”

How to fix our 911 system

A few modest changes and investments could go a long way toward addressing the 911 system’s tendencies to default to police and amplify the risk of police over-response.

As Gillooly points out in a recent paper on the subject, the technology that call takers use to transfer call information could be redesigned to include fields that capture a situation’s level of ambiguity and uncertainty, signaling quickly to the dispatcher and police that the information they’ve been given may be wrong. Training for call takers could be more comprehensive and include a greater emphasis on asking clarifying questions — like “are you sure that the gun is real?” — before classifying an incident. And incentives for call takers more broadly could be changed to incorporate the social costs of sending a police over-response.

A more sweeping solution would be to invest in significantly upgrading the technology that 911 call takers use. Imagine how many problems with the current 911 system would be mitigated if call takers could receive pictures or videos of a given situation as it is happening and then forward them directly to the responding officer — or use them to determine that police aren’t needed for the situation at all. That’s part of the vision behind “Next Generation 911,” an initiative spearheaded by the US Department of Transportation’s National 911 Program to upgrade the emergency call system nationwide.

According to experts at NENA, the biggest obstacle to Next Gen 911 deployment is inadequate funding. Before Covid-19, about half of jurisdictions in the US were slated to have Next Gen core services by the end of 2020 and 85 percent by 2025; however, the pandemic’s impacts on state and local government budgets may create a shortfall of funding and thus delay deployment.

A modest federal investment could change that. According to the National 911 program, the cost of national deployment of Next Gen 911 comes out to about $12 billion over five to 10 years, a relatively small drop in the bucket of the federal budget.

“It’s about time to move 911 technology into the 21st century,” says Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA. “With so many 911 calls originating from smartphones, there is so much potential information we could gather that is essential to responding to an emergency.”

Call centers could also implement “criteria-based dispatching,” a script-based set of questions that guide the call-taking process. This would mean that both the level of police response and whether police are sent in at all would be left up to predefined criteria instead of the subjective discretion of the call taker, which could be subject to all kinds of momentary biases. The criteria-based dispatching model is often used in medical and firefighting dispatching centers and has been credited with curbing over-response. The approach is being piloted for policing in a handful of cities including Seattle, Tucson, Houston, and Washington, DC.

With criteria-based dispatching, the important consideration is to draw the criteria boundaries such that police forces aren’t the default response. For instance, in Seattle, part of the dispatch criteria makes a strict distinction between “suspicious activities” and “suspicious persons”; if the caller can’t definitively name a specific suspect behavior that a given person is engaging in, the call taker does not dispatch police.

Some places have gone a step further. Houston 911 call-taking scripts involve mandatory questions to assess whether the given incident involves someone experiencing a mental health crisis. If a case does involve a mental health component, it is flagged for dispatchers. And for those cases, the city employs a handful of mental health clinicians to sit with dispatchers and help them determine the appropriate first response: a civilian clinician team, a co-response team of police and clinicians, or a police team.

The result is that of the 40,000-plus calls that were flagged by call takers as having a mental health component in 2019, only 0.5 percent ended in an arrest, according to Wendy Baimbridge, assistant chief of the Houston police’s mental health division. That’s partly because Houston sometimes sends non-police first responders, but it’s also because when police officers do enter such situations, they are fully aware that what they are dealing with is probably a mental health crisis.

“Call takers can’t possibly train for everything,” says Baimbridge. “And they certainly don’t have the time to do a full mental health assessment. That’s why we need mental health clinicians on the floor to play that role.”

Of course, without the availability of non-police first responders, reforms like these will only go so far. For the many situations that require some kind of trained response, call takers can’t do much except call the police unless they have alternatives available.

In addition to these specific reforms, the experts I spoke with called for a cultural shift in how we as a society view, compensate, and treat emergency call takers and dispatchers. Only 20 states have even minimum training requirements for call takers and dispatchers, and even fewer provide funding for that training. In most states, call takers make less than $50,000 per year with scant benefits. And they routinely experience burnout, high stress levels, and PTSD from their work.

“The 911 system has been completely undervalued, underfunded, and underresourced for 50 years,” says Neusteter. “The technology is terrible. The training, benefits, and occupational standards are subpar. Call takers have not been set up for success institutionally.”

That’s a shame because call takers are the first point of contact, the most common reference point, and the gatekeeper for our entire criminal justice system. As cities and communities across the country wrestle with how to change policing, it’s more important than ever they invest in 911 call centers that are better equipped, better trained, and better suited to handle the range of responsibilities they will be tasked with.

“Over the years, 911 has been treated as a stepchild of the public safety community,” says Fontes. “That needs to change.”


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

10 Aug 11:17

Would DC Statehood Also Give the Trumps Three Electoral Votes?

by Benjamin Wofford
This summer, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 51, a bill that would make D.C. the country’s 51st state. Once a provincial cause, statehood for the District has taken on vast significance in national partisan politics: In addition to enfranchising hundreds of thousands of residents, many strategists now think DC statehood is essential to Democrats […]
10 Aug 01:25

Amazon reportedly discussing using former J.C. Penney and Sears stores as fulfillment centersAmazon...

Amazon reportedly discussing using former J.C. Penney and Sears stores as fulfillment centers

Amazon reportedly discussing using former J.C. Penney and Sears stores as fulfillment centers

09 Aug 20:59

HS that suspended teen who tweeted photo of hallway has 9 COVID-19 cases

by Jon Brodkin
A photo of high school students in a hallway between classes, with kids packed closely together and many not wearing masks.

Enlarge / Photo from North Paulding High School, tweeted by student Hannah Watters on Tuesday, August 4. (credit: Hannah Watters)

There are nine newly confirmed COVID-19 cases at the high school that suspended a 15-year-old who had tweeted a photo of a hallway packed with maskless students.

North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, sent a letter to parents Saturday, saying, "At this time, we know there were six students and three staff members who were in school for at least some time last week who have since reported to us that they have tested positive." The letter was published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Most or even all of the six students and three staff members who tested positive could have had the virus before the school reopened on Monday, August 3. As Harvard Medical School explains, "The time from exposure to symptom onset (known as the incubation period) is thought to be three to 14 days, though symptoms typically appear within four or five days after exposure," and "a person with COVID-19 may be contagious 48 to 72 hours before starting to experience symptoms."

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09 Aug 18:30

Democrats call Trump’s coronavirus relief orders “paltry” and “absurdly unconstitutional”

by Zeeshan Aleem
Pelosi, in a pink dress and with a black silk face mask featuring a rose pattern around her neck, gestures emphatically with upturned palms in front of a microphone. Behind her, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, maskless in a navy suit and blue tie, looks down and scowls, his brown glasses perched on the tip of his nose. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses the press following an unsuccessful meeting with White House officials about a coronavirus stimulus package. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats want Republicans to come back to the negotiating table so Congress can pass a sweeping stimulus bill.

Democratic leaders argued on Sunday that President Donald Trump’s new executive orders circumventing deadlocked congressional negotiations on coronavirus relief are far from adequate to meet the scope of the crises facing the United States.

“The president’s executive orders described in one word could be: ‘Paltry.’ In three words: ‘Unworkable, weak and far-too-narrow,’” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “As the American people look at these executive orders, they'll see they don’t come close to doing the job in two ways: One, what they propose, second, what’s left out.”

Trump signed four executive orders at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday, claiming that House Democrats have been holding federal assistance “hostage,” and that the GOP has “had it” after more than two weeks of contentious negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package.

As the benefits created by past relief packages — including a federal unemployment insurance benefit and eviction protections — expired, Democrats and Republicans struggled to come to a consensus about what further aid should look like.

Democrats hoped to extend the $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance benefit created by the CARES Act, to broaden the scope of eligibility for stimulus checks, and to expand federal aid to states and cities.

Republicans have been divided in their goals, with Trump pushing for a payroll tax cut many in his party weren’t in favor of; some Senate Republicans advocating for a reduced employment benefit and limited aid to cities and states; and other Republicans demanding that the federal government not go into further debt with relief packages.

Saturday, Trump’s orders created $400 in weekly enhanced unemployment assistance; student debt repayment relief; a payroll tax holiday; and an exploration of protections from housing evictions.

But Democrats have fiercely objected to the substance of Trump’s executive actions, characterizing them as clumsily designed and unacceptably narrow in focus. And both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have questioned their legality.

Sunday, Schumer said Trump’s proposal for unemployment — which calls for the federal government to provide unemployed Americans with an extra $300 per week above normal state unemployment benefits, and for states to add $100 to the federally funded benefit — is impractical for states with budget shortfalls due to the pandemic and that it is too large of a cut from the earlier rate of $600.

“This is an unworkable plan. Most states will take months to implement it because it’s brand new, it’s sort of put together with spit and paste,” Schumer said. “Many states, because they have to chip in $100 and they don’t have money, won’t do it.”

“If he just would have renewed the $600 as we do in the HEROES bill [which House Democrats passed in May] through January, things would flow smoothly,” Schumer added later.

Michele Evermore, an unemployment policy expert at the National Employment Law Project, agreed with Schumer’s assessment on the timeline for implementing this new policy. Evermore told the Washington Post it could take states months to set up Trump’s program because it requires building new systems from scratch rather than funneling money through existing unemployment programs.

Schumer also criticized Trump’s payroll tax holiday as both economically ineffective in the short-term and perilous for the American social safety net in the long-term.

“It’s a deferral, and so it accumulates until January when it expires. Employers are just going to continue to withhold the money — I’ve talked to some — because they don’t want their employees to be stuck with a huge bill in December, so it’s not going to pump money into the economy,” Schumer said.

He also warned that it “depletes money out of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds,” a complaint the White House brushed off Sunday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s executive order on housing eviction protections, which he appeared to imply was an extension of a federal moratorium that expired in July, is in fact nothing of the kind.

“The president didn’t even do a moratorium, he just did a study or a look at a moratorium, so again, something’s wrong,” she said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

It is true that Trump’s executive order on housing protections does not explicitly prohibit evictions with decisive language. As CNN’s Dana Bash has pointed out, the order instead uses language like “consider, identify, promote and review.” For example, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are told to “consider” whether to halt evictions in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Top Democrats are also arguing that Trump’s orders are just as objectionable for what they don’t do. The relief package passed in the House in May includes trillions of dollars worth of assistance that goes far beyond Trump’s four orders, and covers everything from pressing humanitarian needs to making sure the election process is funded adequately to deal with new needs presented by the pandemic.

Congress, with its control of the US’s coffers, has greater latitude than the executive branch in setting policy demanding the sort of massive spending coronavirus relief has required so far — and is therefore able to offer more sweeping solutions. White House officials seemed to acknowledge this fact Sunday, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin telling Fox News Sunday that he’s “willing to listen” to further Democratic proposals. And Democrats suggested they would like to negotiate further to reach some sort of legislative solution.

“These announcements do nothing to increase testing, nothing to reopen schools, nothing to put food on the table for hungry families, nothing to prevent heroes being laid off across state and local government, nothing to protect the Postal Service or the integrity of our elections, nothing on many critical needs of the American people,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement issued Saturday night.

Trump’s executive orders might not be legal. But it’s unclear what Dems will do about that.

Democrats — and some Republicans — have also questioned or rejected the legality of Trump’s use of executive authority to enact policies typically handled by Congress.

When asked if she would sue to block the executive orders by CNN’s Bash, Pelosi said the Democrats were still looking into the legal questions.

“Well, the fact is, is that whether they’re legal or not takes time to figure out. I associate my remarks with what the [Republican] Senator [Ben] Sasse, who says, they’re ‘unconstitutional slop.’ Right now we want to address the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said. “As my constitutional advisers tell me, they’re absurdly unconstitutional.”

Schumer also declined to clarify whether Democrats would be pursuing legal challenges. When asked if the unemployment assistance executive order was legal on ABC, he said, “I’ll leave that up to the attorneys.”

Pelosi and Schumer’s noncommittal language seems to be a shift in position after Democrats previously said they would file legal challenges if Trump circumvented Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other Republican leaders — like Sen. Chuck Grassley — have endorsed Trump’s executive actions, but, as Pelosi noted, there isn’t complete consensus in the Republican caucus on the wisdom of the president’s move.

“The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,” Sasse said in a statement issued by email. “President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a major ally of Trump in the Senate, tweeted, “I appreciate the President taking this decisive action but would much prefer a congressional agreement.”

While the legal status of Trump’s executive orders remains uncertain, Democrats are unwavering in their position that the orders do not constitute a replacement of a bill they’ve been pursuing for months.

Both sides seem willing to consider further negotiations, with Pelosi and Schumer saying in their Saturday joint statement, “Democrats repeat our call to Republicans to return to the table, meet us halfway and work together to deliver immediate relief to the American people.”

Sunday, however, Pelosi warned Democrats remain unwilling to bend on certain parts of their proposal, saying on State of the Union, “Of course there’s room for compromise, but you have to see the entire package.”


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

08 Aug 17:39

‘Godzilla’ was a metaphor for Hiroshima, and Hollywood whitewashed it'Godzilla’...

‘Godzilla’ was a metaphor for Hiroshima, and Hollywood whitewashed it

'Godzilla’ was a metaphor for Hiroshima, and Hollywood whitewashed it

08 Aug 13:12

Bill Gates is spending $150 million to try to make a coronavirus vaccine as cheap as $3

by Theodore Schleifer
Bill Gates in 2015 at a meeting of the Gavi Alliance, which develops vaccines. | Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images

Pay more attention to what Gates is doing overseas than what he’s saying about the United States.

A lot of people are paying attention to every utterance from Bill Gates, America’s billionaire-cum-conscience in the coronavirus era, about the United States’s response to the pandemic. But much less attention is paid to what Gates is actually pouring his fortune into: steeling the rest of the world for the coronavirus vaccine they will need next year.

Gates on Friday said that he and his foundation would spend $150 million to distribute vaccines, if they are found, to some of the world’s poorest people. It’s one of the largest financial commitments for coronavirus response to date from Gates, the world’s second-richest person. The Gates Foundation is handing the money to the Serum Institute, the largest manufacturer of vaccines globally by volume, to produce 100 million doses that would cost at most just $3 each.

Gates has been among the foremost leaders on vaccine production over the last two decades, spending $4 billion on the global vaccine development effort known as Gavi. And for months, the billionaire has expressed profound worries that while rich countries may fare okay at surviving the coronavirus, that the pandemic will devastate poor countries that can’t afford to administer the treatment, whenever it arrives.

“We’re trying to make sure we can end it not just in the rich countries,” Gates said in an interview with Bloomberg this week, stressing that he is focusing on the vaccines in development that would be affordable in the developing world, such as those being pursued by the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Novavax. “Those are the ones most scalable and low-cost.”

What Gates is essentially doing is deploying his bank account to set a “ceiling price” for the vaccines being developed by those two companies. Serum is preparing to manufacture those vaccines for India, where Serum is based, and up to 91 other poor or middle-income countries.

The Gates Foundation has now pledged about $500 million in total to respond to the pandemic, though the $150 million announced on Friday is technically an interest-free forgivable loan. Most of that $500 million is focused on this nuts-and-bolts work of vaccine expansion.

Part of the foundation’s plan to inoculate the world does depend on which vaccine ends up proving to be the most successful at protecting us from the disease. Twenty-eight different possible vaccines have progressed to human trials, each of which has different manufacturing costs and requires different materials and precision. Some of the leading vaccine candidates, such as the ones being pursued by Moderna and Pfizer, are likely to be more expensive to produce because they are RNA vaccines that are fundamentally costlier.

“Because of the way you manufacture them, and the difficulty of scaling up, they are more likely — if they are helpful — to help in the rich countries. They won’t be the low-cost, scalable solution for the world at large,” Gates said in an interview with WIRED.

Then there is the profit margin. The vaccine industry has pledged to keep its own profits from Covid-19 vaccines low, although not necessarily to sell the doses at cost.

So Gates’s impact depends on what happens in the research labs. If the cheaper vaccines — like the ones being manufactured by Serum — are the ones that prove strongest, then it will be easier and cheaper to protect people in poor countries. Gates is already working with other vaccine researchers — like Johnson & Johnson, which is also pursuing a low-cost vaccine — to secure doses for the developing world.

Working in Gates’s favor is that his foundation has a lot of experience in distributing cheap vaccines around the globe. Gates has put more than $4 billion over the last two decades into Gavi, which is estimated by the Gates Foundation to have immunized 750 million children and saved 13 million lives.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, Gates had committed $100 million to Gavi specifically to buy and deliver a Covid-19 vaccine. In June, Gates had promised to send $1.6 billion to Gavi over the next five years for its broader vaccine work.

So while Gates can’t control how much the vaccine costs, he does bring enormous credibility and a track record of putting his billions to work to distribute it as cheaply as possible and via a tested supply chain.

The other thing that Gates can control is his voice. And while he has been a heavy presence on the interview circuit since the very beginning of the pandemic in the US in March, he has renewed his efforts over the last few days, popping up seemingly everywhere.

His message? The American government needs to not just think about Americans. So Gates is pressuring lawmakers in the upcoming relief bill to commit more money to Gavi and not succumb to “vaccine nationalism.”

“I’ve talked to Pence, I’ve talked to Mnuchin, Pompeo — particularly on the issue of, ‘Is the US showing up in terms of providing money to procure the vaccine for the developing countries?’” he told Wired. “There have been lots of meetings, but we haven’t been able to get the US to show up.”


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

08 Aug 13:09

U.S. Intelligence Says Republicans Are Working With Russia to Reelect TrumpU.S. Intelligence Says...

U.S. Intelligence Says Republicans Are Working With Russia to Reelect Trump

U.S. Intelligence Says Republicans Are Working With Russia to Reelect Trump

08 Aug 13:09

Pokémon GO Enigma Week Event

by Zeroghan

Enigma Week lasts from Friday, August 7, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. to Friday, August 14, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. PDT (GMT −7) and it features releases of shiny Unown U,L,T,R,A, shiny Staryu, shiny Normal Forme Deoxys and Elgyem.

No special research is available during the event.

Infographic

Elgyem

Pokemon GO ElgyemElgyem

Elgyem’s origin is said to be linked with a UFO crash site that appeared 50 years ago. Like Doexys, Elgyem is also an extraterrestrial Pokémon that did not originate from planet Earth. Elgyem evolves into Beheeyem, another strange looking Gen V Pokémon.

Boosted spawns

Solrock and Lunatone are spawning globally during this event.

Enigma Week Boosted Spawns
Pokemon GO StaryuStaryu Pokemon GO JigglypuffJigglypuff Pokemon GO ClefairyClefairy
Pokemon GO SolrockSolrock Pokemon GO LunatoneLunatone Pokemon GO BaltoyBaltoy
Pokemon GO BronzorBronzor Pokemon GO ElgyemElgyem Pokemon GO BeldumBeldum

Field Research

Task Reward
Win a Raid Pokemon GO StaryuStaryu
Make 3 Curveball Throws Pokemon GO BaltoyBaltoy
Catch 3 Psychic-type Pokémon 1 Rare Candy

Raid Bosses

Tier 1
Pokemon GO ClefairyClefairy Pokemon GO JigglypuffJigglypuff
Pokemon GO KlinkKlink Pokemon GO StaryuStaryu
Tier 2
Pokemon GO UnownUnown Pokemon GO SolosisSolosis
Pokemon GO ElgyemElgyem Pokemon GO GothitaGothita
Tier 3
Pokemon GO SolrockSolrock Pokemon GO LunatoneLunatone
Pokemon GO ClaydolClaydol
Tier 4
Pokemon GO BronzongBronzong Pokemon GO TogeticTogetic
Pokemon GO MetagrossMetagross Pokemon GO Marowak (Alola)Marowak (Alola)
Tier 5
Pokemon GO DeoxysDeoxys

 

The post Pokémon GO Enigma Week Event appeared first on Pokemon GO Hub.

08 Aug 13:08

The quest to liberate $300,000 of bitcoin from an old ZIP file

by WIRED
The quest to liberate $300,000 of bitcoin from an old ZIP file

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

In October, Michael Stay got a weird message on LinkedIn. A total stranger had lost access to his bitcoin private keys—and wanted Stay's help getting his $300,000 back.

It wasn't a total surprise that The Guy, as Stay calls him, had found the former Google security engineer. Nineteen years ago, Stay published a paper detailing a technique for breaking into encrypted zip files. The Guy had bought around $10,000 worth of bitcoin in January 2016, well before the boom. He had encrypted the private keys in a zip file and had forgotten the password. He was hoping Stay could help him break in.

In a talk at the Defcon security conference this week, Stay details the epic attempt that ensued.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

08 Aug 01:03

What’s wrong with the mail

by Adam Clark Estes
A postal employee carrying a package from their van. Some say that recent delays in the mail are part of an effort by President Trump to sabotage mail-in ballots in the November election. | Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

As November nears, the Postal Service is facing a crisis that could interfere with the election.

The United States Postal Service is dealing with crippling backlogs of letters and packages. A postmaster in upstate New York recently told their union that the regular mail was two days behind and, for the first time in their career, Express Priority Mail was not going out on time. Despite a surge in package delivery during the pandemic, postal workers are no longer able to work overtime, and fewer mail trucks are on the road. If your own mail seems delayed or unpredictable, it’s not a one-off problem.

Mail service has been disrupted nationwide in recent weeks due to a series of factors. While the USPS has been suffering financially for years, the pandemic has delivered an existential threat to the agency. The self-funded Postal Service has been seeking billions in aid from Congress — an effort that’s been stymied by President Trump, who has long had a contentious relationship with the USPS and has pushed to privatize it. And now, the USPS is adjusting to cost-cutting policies put in place by its new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, who is a top Trump donor and longtime Republican fundraiser.

The situation became even more uncertain when DeJoy announced a major restructuring of the Postal Service in a memo released on Friday. The plan involves the reassignment of 23 postal executives in an overhaul that, according to the Washington Post, “deemphasizes decades’ worth of institutional postal knowledge” and “centralizes power around DeJoy.” The shift in power stands to further complicate the new postmaster general’s relationship with Democrats in Congress, who want him investigated.

All of this means the future of the Postal Service is in jeopardy. It was actually in big trouble months ago, when postal leaders warned that without intervention from Congress, the USPS could run out of cash as soon as September. What’s happening now is even more urgent. Decisions being made by Trump allies are leading to delays that could motivate the Postal Service’s biggest customers to send their packages through competitors like UPS and FedEx. And according to some, the strategy could have devastating consequences.

“It is unimaginable to think of an America without the Postal Service,” said John McHugh, chairman of the Package Coalition, a trade group that counts Amazon and eBay as members. “But if things go toward a worst-case scenario in this instance, which is entirely possible, that’s what would have to occur.”

It gets worse. A more serious and immediate consequence of the Postal Service’s recent problems has led to concern that the delays could interfere with the November election, when a record number of people are expected to vote by mail due to the pandemic. Given the facts and the president’s on-going public criticism of mail-in voting, some are accusing Trump of intentionally kneecapping the Postal Service in an attempt to sabotage the election, as he trails Joe Biden in the polls. Democrats in Congress are worried enough about the reported delays and their potential effect on democracy that they called the new postmaster general to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to demand he reverse the new policies.

The story of how we got here is complicated, and there is disagreement about what’s really going on. However, according to postal leaders and Democrats, the way to fix the mail in time for the election involves an infusion of cash and an end to the delays. Even then, the Postal Service faces a tough road ahead.

The Postal Service’s controversial new policies, explained

It’s tempting to blame all of the Postal Service’s service problems on the new postmaster general, DeJoy, but it wouldn’t be entirely fair. After years of money problems tied to a decline in certain types of mail and an obligation to prefund its retirement benefits, the USPS suffered a very serious financial blow when the pandemic hit.

Starting in March, the volume of first-class mail began to plummet (though a surge in package delivery has helped make up for that lost revenue). Meanwhile, tens of thousands of postal workers got sick or began quarantining, leading to a labor shortage and the need for more overtime hours. The Postal Service also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on personal protective equipment (PPE) and on retrofitting post offices with more plexiglass and more space for social distancing.

This is why postal leaders asked Congress for $75 billion when the CARES Act was being negotiated in April. (This is not something the USPS likes to do, by the way. It’s been 40 years since the Postal Service took taxpayer dollars.) In response, President Trump called the Postal Service “a joke” and threatened to veto the bill if it included any money for the USPS. Despite the president’s attempts to avoid giving the Postal Service any money at all, the agency ended up making an agreement with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for a $10 billion loan with strict terms.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy wearing a face mask with “United States Postal Service” written on it. Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy met with congressional leaders as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the Capitol on August 5.

All of that happened around the same time that Postmaster General DeJoy took office in mid-June. It’s worth pointing out that DeJoy was not appointed by President Trump. He was appointed by the six members of the Postal Service Board of Governors, all of whom were appointed by Trump. And it was after DeJoy got to work that the mail delays began, according to multiple postal service-related union leaders and trade groups interviewed by Recode.

DeJoy, a former logistics executive with no Postal Service experience, started his new gig by launching a series of pilot programs designed to slash USPS spending. Multiple postal worker unions reported that DeJoy’s policies limited mail transportation, causing mail to be left at the sorting plant for days longer than it normally would. Meanwhile, a crackdown on overtime hours meant that sorting machines are shut down before the day’s work is done. (“If the plants run late, they will keep the mail for the next day,” read one USPS memo obtained by the Washington Post.) As a result, mail is sitting undelivered across the country.

In response to questions about the recent issues, USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer used variations of the word “efficient” six times in explaining how the agency is adjusting its operations. “Of course we acknowledge that temporary service impacts can occur as we redouble our efforts to conform to the current operating plans,” Partenheimer said, “but any such impacts will be monitored and temporary, as the root causes of any issues will be addressed as necessary and corrected as appropriate.”

It’s not entirely clear how temporary the delays will be. In fact, none of the postal workers Recode spoke to were exactly sure what the new policies entailed since DeJoy and his lieutenants did not communicate the details of the pilot programs to the unions or to individual postmasters.

“In the field, we don’t have the details — only that we can’t approve overtime, only the district manager can,” explained a postmaster who runs a post office in the Northeast and spoke on the condition of anonymity as they’re not authorized to speak to the press. “I’m in a delivery unit, so I can’t speak for delayed mail in a plant. But by cutting the overtime, it would certainly delay a lot of mail.”

Individual managers might be selectively enforcing the new rules, they said, but with such poor communication from DeJoy, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening. The postmaster, who is a 20-year veteran of the USPS, added, “Amazon parcels are given priority over everything at a national level.”

None of this confusion has helped DeJoy win any popularity contests in his short tenure as postmaster general.

Some have called DeJoy “a crony,” and many are scrutinizing his background and political ties. As a former logistics executive, DeJoy ran companies that counted the USPS as a client, and his family has invested $30.1 million to $75.3 million in USPS competitors or contractors, including UPS. DeJoy is also a celebrated Republican party fundraiser who contributed over $1.5 million to Trump’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020. His wife, Aldona Wos, served as ambassador to Estonia in the George W. Bush administration and has been nominated by President Trump to be the next ambassador to Canada.

Others want to give DeJoy a chance. After all, he did take on a tough job at a struggling agency in the middle of a pandemic.

Postal worker moving packages on and off postal delivery vans. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images
Postal workers and unions say new policies from the postmaster general restrict overtime and lead to mail being left behind.

“Just to be honest, we’re very suspicious of this new postmaster general. We have a healthy bit of skepticism,” said Jim Sauber, chief of staff for the National Association of Letter Carriers. “But I know my boss and officers are not going to level charges that we can’t substantiate, and we’re not gonna jump to a conclusion until we can get a better fix on this.”

Democratic leaders in Congress seem less accommodating with regard to what DeJoy has done so far. After the new postmaster general confirmed the details of the operational changes to the Postal Service in their Wednesday meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that DeJoy reverse the new policies. The Democrats said this and preserving funds for the Postal Service are essential for a deal on a new coronavirus relief package.

Still, even if the Postal Service does get an infusion of cash — you might call it a bailout — the agency’s future remains uncertain. Whatever damage to the reputation of the USPS that’s being done now stands to affect the broader perception of the agency under the new postmaster general. We might be hearing more about privatizing the Postal Service in the future, whether we like it or not.

Trump’s campaign against voting by mail

Considering DeJoy’s connections to Trump and the Republican Party and the reports of worsening mail delays with the election less than 100 days away, many are afraid that the president is plotting to rig the election in November by casting doubt on the dependability of mail-in voting.

“The Trump administration’s ongoing campaign to sabotage the US Postal Service is a direct attack on our democracy,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, which oversees the USPS, told Recode. “Rural and urban, Democrat, Republican, or independent, every American has come to rely on the Postal Service, and our election is increasingly dependent on it. Congress must with one voice and clear action ensure service standards are not allowed to falter.”

Delays and political connections aside, we don’t have much hard evidence of a Trump-led plot to overthrow the Postal Service. It does look bad that the USPS appears to be facing an existential crisis just weeks after a Trump donor took over as postmaster general. It looks worse that the president has spent months attacking the broader use of mail-in voting, even threatening executive action to stop it. But these things don’t quite add up to proof of a conspiracy against the Postal Service.

“The notion that the postmaster general makes decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the president is wholly misplaced and off-base,” Partenheimer, the USPS spokesperson, told Recode. “With regard to election mail, the Postal Service remains fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policymakers choose to utilize the mail as a part of their election system, and to delivering election mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards.

Still, Trump seems to be doing everything he can to undermine American voters’ confidence in mail-in voting. There are so many tweets:

And that might be all he needs to discourage people from voting by mail.

Different states have different laws about how mail-in ballots work. Currently, 34 states — including swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — require ballots to be received by election authorities by Election Day, so any delay in the mail could lead to untold numbers of votes going uncounted. Rules about when states count the mail-in ballots also vary, so results are bound to be delayed in states like New York, where ballots can only be counted after the polls close.

The Postal Service and postal unions are quick to point out that they take mail-in voting very seriously, and the process for delivering ballots is tried and tested.

“The Postal Service has always given special attention to mail ballots,” said Sauber. “In general, in most places in the country, during election time, if the Postal Service has mail ballots, they move heaven and earth to make sure it’s delivered. They give top priority to the ballots.”

“We’ve been doing mail ballots as postal workers for generations,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “It’s been increasing in popularity. In the last election, 31 million people voted by mail. There’s virtually no fraud.”

Individual states can update their laws governing mail-in voting before November. Aware of this fact, the Trump campaign has sued state and local governments across the country over mail-in ballot rules. One suit, in Pennsylvania, argues that mail-in ballot drop boxes — which are designed to handle ballots, look like mailboxes, and are monitored closelyare unconstitutional and should be removed. Another lawsuit from the Trump campaign and other Republicans seeks to overturn a new law in Nevada that would require the state to mail everyone a ballot.

Still, assuming all laws remain as they are, disrupting the Postal Service is an obvious way to hinder the mail-in ballot process. If slowing down the mail isn’t enough on its own, even creating a perception of problems with the mail could be enough to discourage some Americans from mail-in voting. And it looks like Trump is being effective at doing this — perhaps too effective. A June-July poll suggested that some voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan have become so distrustful of mail-in voting that they might rather not vote at all than rely on mail-in ballots. Not long after this poll was published, Trump assured voters in Florida that mail-in voting was safe there.

“We’ll be able to deliver. There won’t be a problem with vote-by-mail,” said Ronnie Stutts, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers. “I think even President Trump is starting to see that. I think he’s lightened up a little bit.”

The most anxiety-inducing part of all this is that there seems to be little for the average American to do. The Postal Service is an independent agency, and there’s only so much Congress can do to shape its policies. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House government oversight committee, has called DeJoy to Capitol Hill to testify. If he doesn’t show up, there’s a possibility that Maloney would subpoena him, though it’s terribly clear at this point that members of the Trump administration don’t necessarily care about subpoenas or showing up in Congress when asked.

A FedEx box and a USPS box on a sidewalk beside a postal delivery truck. Greg Whitesell/Getty Images
The Postal Service is asking Congress for $25 billion in cash, which is far less than the $500 billion it gave to big corporations in the CARES Act.

But again, the Postal Service’s problems extend well beyond Trump’s war on vote-by-mail. The election will come and go, and there’s a decent chance the USPS will still be in trouble. Depending on how negotiations go around the new coronavirus stimulus package, these recent delays could continue. Growing backlogs mean the mail delays could actually get worse in the weeks and months to come. Ongoing delays could chase big package senders like Amazon and eBay away from the USPS, and without that revenue, the Postal Service would be in even more serious trouble. After all, these customers have long been concerned about whether it might be better for their business to go through UPS or FedEx.

What the Postal Service needs right now — both to deliver mail and to keep existing — is money. What it needs in the long term, some say, is a bit of restructuring.

“If you think of the analogy of a house, it needs to be remodeled,” said Arthur B. Sackler, manager of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, whose members include not only Amazon and eBay but also catalog and greeting card companies. “And, at the same time, this house you’re remodeling, the roof is on fire. So you’ve got to put the fire out first before you can remodel.”

The vast majority of Americans do not want to let the house burn down, by the way. Americans don’t just rely on the Postal Service. They love it.

For years, the USPS has been the most popular government agency in the United States. According to a Pew Research Center study released in April, 91 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Postal Service, and roughly the same percentage of Americans want to bail out the agency. Similarly, countless companies that do business with the Postal Service are fans. Online retailers, including Amazon, even spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign begging lawmakers to save the Postal Service.

These facts leave us with a very curious situation. The Postal Service is seriously struggling, but it’s never been more important. It’s critical to get prescriptions to the homes of people during a pandemic and to deliver ballots to state election boards. It’s even prized by huge corporations like Amazon, who could easily give their money to a competing private company but would rather work with Postal Service. At the same time, President Trump seems to disdain the agency, and the new postmaster general seems to be doing more harm than good.

The upshot of it all is that the USPS has survived difficult moments in the past. The agency can trace its roots back to the days of the American Revolution. Two and a half centuries later, mail service has never been more essential. If anything, a crisis like this could serve to remind the country how much it needs the Postal Service, despite what a handful of powerful people might believe.

Additional reporting by Jason Del Rey.

Update, 7:45 pm ET August 7, 2020: This story has been updated to include new details about the restructuring of Postal Service leadership.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the first name of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

07 Aug 21:16

States That Reopened Indoor Dining Saw Spikes in Covid Cases: Study

by Jane Recker
States that have reopened bars and indoor dining have higher rates of coronavirus transmission that those that haven’t. That’s according to a new analysis from the the Center for American Progress that identifies indoor dining as a key activity in contributing to Covid-19 spread. Topher Spiro, CAP’s vice president for health policy, says Michigan and Rhode Island […]
07 Aug 14:08

The pandemic hasn’t stopped Native Hawaiians’ fight to protect Maunakea

by Frances Nguyen
Native Hawaiian protectors at Maunakea. Kai’i, or protectors, form a line blocking the access road to Maunakea on the Big Island of Hawaii on July 15, 2019, the day TMT was to begin construction of one the largest telescopes in the world. The mountain, sacred to Native Hawaiians, is known as “where the gods reside.” | Kapulei Flores

Protectors are no longer on the sacred mountain, but they are still working to prevent the construction of a massive telescope.

“It almost seems like it never happened,” Pua Case tells Vox about her time in the encampment at the foot of Maunakea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii and the tallest mountain in the world. While she lives only a 30-minute drive away, she says, “I have to go back and look at videos or pictures to remind myself that we were really up there.”

For nearly nine months, she and other kiaʻi, or protectors, were sleeping in a parking lot over a lava field that marks the beginning of the access road up to Maunakea’s summit. From the Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu camp, protectors kept watch for construction crews for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) — planned to be the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere — through windstorms, hail, and overnight temperatures that dipped well below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Hawaiian traditions of creation, the mountain is an ancestor and shares genealogical ties with Native Hawaiians, or Kanaka Maoli. It is one of the most sacred sites — if not the most sacred — in Hawaiian culture. For kiaʻi, protecting the mountain from desecration is more than a cultural responsibility; it’s a lineal duty to those who came before them and the generations who will succeed them.

overhead view of encampment at Maunakea Mauna Media
For nine months, kia’i encamped on Maunakea, watching for TMT construction crews. Their Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu camp was equipped with a kitchen, solar trailers, and even a “university” grounded in Native Hawaiian science and culture.

When the pandemic hit, kiaʻi were already assessing the threat of construction and considering the impact on resources. After determining that there was no imminent threat, they decided to pack up their site, which hosted anywhere between 30 and 3,000 people at any given time. Should an attempt be made to initiate the project, they knew they could be back up there in half an hour. Still, their departure from the mountain was marked by emotional exhaustion and trepidation for what was to come.

It also presented familiar challenges. Before the latest standoff on the mountain, many kiaʻi had spent years tirelessly writing letters, submitting testimony to city council meetings, combing over management plans, and trying to monitor the movements of multiple parties with vastly more power and resources than they’ll ever have. Today, they continue that labor from their homes.

At least on the mountain, they could offer their physical presence to inspire supporters, who could be shielded from the invisible — and, certainly, less romantic — work kiaʻi had been doing behind the scenes. The movement has a robust social media presence that acts as a direct line of communication between the front line and its supporters abroad. The Protect Mauna a Wākea Instagram account, one of two accounts that had been operating from the camp, has 136,000 followers who rely on photos and videos of kiaʻi to draw inspiration and feel plugged into the action. Under lockdown, the movement is challenged with keeping supporters, who are used to seeing dispatches from the mountain, engaged and connected to it.

“It’s constant,” Case says. “You have to be a presence or you’re going to disappear. And you can’t afford to disappear when you’re talking about your lifeways, your culture, and the very continuance and protection of the places that are connected to you.”

A timeline of resistance

Kiaʻi have opposed the telescope’s construction in a string of legal challenges, petitions, and protests over the past decade. But the fight for Maunakea gained national attention a year ago, after Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced that construction would be cleared to begin on July 15.

That morning, kiaʻi awaited the construction crews. Some had locked themselves to a cattle guard that was built into the Mauna Kea Access Road — the only road up to the summit. But then, a line of elders, or kupuna, formed farther down, at the start of the road. It was their blockade that inevitably became the front line.

“I saw them sitting in lawn chairs and folding chairs on the road, all bundled up with blankets and sleeping bags,” said Andre Perez, one of the kiaʻi and a nonviolent direct action trainer for the Hawaiʻi Unity and Liberation Institute. He was the acting police liaison that day. “I knew that something powerful was happening. The elders were stepping into the fray and taking charge.”

They held that line for two days before Ige issued a state of emergency on July 17, clearing a path for law enforcement to begin making arrests.

A line of law enforcement at Maunakea Kapulei Flores
Law enforcement on Maunkea on July 17, 2019. That day, 38 kupuna, or elders, many in their 70s and 80s, were arrested for blocking the access road.

Multiple agencies arrived on the scene; there were officers brought in from other islands, three state agencies, and the National Guard. It wasn’t long before kiaʻi, hundreds of whom had gathered there around their kupuna, were sitting in front of a massive militarized police presence dressed in riot gear and armed with chemical dispersants and a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) — a sonic weapon developed for use by the US military that emits high-frequency sounds at extreme volumes to disperse crowds.

Whatever aggression law enforcement expected from the crowd that day never materialized. Kia‘i sat in purposeful silence as 38 of their kupuna, many in their 70s and 80s, were arrested and escorted — and, in several instances, carried — away to awaiting police vans, crying but resolute. The air above the crowd was periodically punctured by sobs, singing, and chanting. “We didn’t want to give the police any reason to escalate,” said Perez. “Our discipline was our safety.”

Images and video footage of the arrests sparked public outcry across the island chain and overseas. It was the stark, visible disparity between the resistance and the state response that galvanized a native movement and brought supporters from around the world to their cause.

For nearly nine months after, kupuna never left the spot they first occupied. A tent was erected to shelter them as they sat on the road, and a volunteer village formed overnight, equipped with a kitchen, solar trailers, and even a “university” grounded in Native Hawaiian science and culture. They hosted locals and musicians from neighboring islands, curious tourists, relatives from other Indigenous movements — the camp flew flags gifted to them from Palestine, Tibet, Guam, Standing Rock, Cherokee, and Navajo, Aotearoa, and the Indigenous Australian people, among others. Even Hollywood celebrities like Jason Momoa and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who felt connected to the movement through their Polynesian heritage, came to pay their respects.

A team of medics was also on hand to assist kupuna, some of whom experienced altitude sickness and even mild strokes while keeping watch over their sacred mountain. Many kupuna had preexisting health conditions that made their taking a stand challenging — and yet, they stayed.

After five months and $15 million spent on officers and supplies to manage the conflict, Ige withdrew state and county law enforcement from the mountain. At the same time, he requested additional funding from the House Finance Committee as a “contingency amount for any upcoming projects that may attract community activism, including but not limited to Maunakea.”

In late December, kiaʻi reached a temporary agreement with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to clear the access road with his assurance that TMT would not attempt to begin construction until the end of February 2020. They caught a break when the deal expired; the observatory’s leadership had yet to determine when construction could begin.

In the midst of the pandemic, the future is uncertain. Kiaʻi don’t know when or if they’ll return to the mountain to resume their standoff. Since the lockdown, some have returned to the mountain to stand at the ahu, the altar erected alongside where their camp once stood, and for years where many have offered prayers. It is ground that they hope someday to only have to hold in prayer, rather than resistance.

A battle for the heavens

The new giant telescope promises access to “the very edge of the observable Universe,” an opportunity to discover places that were previously unreachable to humankind.

“It will enable a new frontier of discoveries about the contents, nature, and evolution of the universe, including the search for life on other planets,” the University of California, one of the project’s funders, said in a statement to Vox. “The potential for scientific discoveries is truly unlimited.”

But kiaʻi say it’s precisely this argument that gives cause for opposition: There are some places that humans aren’t meant to go, and the summit of Maunakea is one of them.

The summit is firmly the province of the gods. Historically, only select individuals — such as the kahuna, or priests, or the ali‘i, high chiefs — were permitted on the mountain in order to perform ceremonies of affairs, and they wouldn’t stay long. It is sacred not only in its religious capacity but also because of the lack of oxygen.

At 13,796 feet, there is 40 percent less air pressure at the summit than at sea level. Visitors are advised to heed signs of altitude sickness and pulmonary and cerebral edemas. Even employees at existing observatories have reported feeling fatigued working at that elevation.

“It’s a place where humans don’t belong,” says Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the kupuna arrested that day. “Where gods reside.”

Maunakea protector Noe Noe Wong-Wilson in a police van with handcuffs Kapulei Flores
Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the 38 kupuna arrested for blocking the access road to Maunakea, on July 17, 2019.

The area between Maunakea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai volcanic mountains are sensitive environments and culturally significant landscapes. Roughly 20 miles from Kona to the west and almost 30 miles from Hilo to the east, the area is extremely remote.

The only other substantial activity in that area is at the Pōhakuloa Training Area, the largest military installation in the Pacific, where the US Army conducts live-fire training a few miles down the road. On those rare nights when the harsh weather conditions would relent, kiaʻi still had to fall asleep to the sound of machine gun fire carried over the camp by an eastward wind. And as they laid their heads down in their tents, they could feel tremors underneath them from the impact of explosions. “It feels like a little earthquake,” says Wong-Wilson. “Every time, it just hurt our soul.”

TMT proponents say they don’t understand why Kanaka and locals would go through the trouble to contest a telescope, an instrument of science that beckons humankind to reach for a higher purpose. Many have reasoned that the telescope must represent other longstanding issues for the Hawaiian people — such as the 1893 illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom by American and European businessmen, aided by the US military, which paved the way for US possession of the islands and, eventually, Hawaii’s induction into statehood. “I understand that talking about TMT is a way to express some frustration over these issues that have not been addressed in the past,” Gordon Squires, vice president of external affairs for the TMT International Observatory, told Hawaii News Now.

It’s a position those in the movement have heard repeatedly from their opposition, and to Kamanamaikalani Beamer, a longtime advocate for the preservation of Maunakea and an associate professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa’s School of Law and School of Hawaiian Knowledge, the argument is entirely dismissive. “Trying to say, ‘Look, we’re sorry [about] the overthrow, but don’t make us hurt for it’ is so dislocated from the reality of the situation. The scale, the amount of degradation, and the density of the existing telescope facilities on Maunakea — it’s all too much.”

Squires, meanwhile, has called the project — whose budget has now climbed from its initial projection of $1.4 billion to $2.4 billion — “a bargain for the people of Hawaii and the people of the world as we understand our place in the universe.”

But what many onlookers find perplexing, and what opponents of the telescope certainly find frustrating, is that TMT already has the licenses and land required to develop on a backup site: La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands. It is a far less contentious option, and yet Maunakea remains TMT’s first choice for the project; the summit’s higher altitude and cooler temperatures make it a “slightly better” site to capture infrared light, Harvard’s astronomy department chair, Avi Loeb, told the Associated Press, thereby enhancing the telescope’s imaging capabilities.

“I think we can all agree that Maunakea is a great place to view the stars,” says Beamer. “But that’s not all Maunakea is.”

TMT leadership and proponents have also vehemently denied that the project’s presence would disturb any cultural resources or sites at the summit. But historical mismanagement of the summit’s natural and cultural resources has been well documented since the first observatory was constructed; kia‘i have no doubt that the addition of an 18-story building — slated to be the largest building on the Big Island — will be any different.

“In the Western perspective, people want to draw a line in the dirt and say, ‘It’s only sacred in this spot here, where you stand; therefore, we can build 500 feet to the left of that because that’s not sacred anymore.’ And we say that the landscape of the summit, which has no line drawn around it, is a spiritual landscape,” says Wong-Wilson. “Once they dig two stories into the ground and put in all the roads and outbuildings, and then the five-acre structure, they’ll have done damage that’s irreparable. The way that it looks now will never be recovered, and that, to me, is unacceptable. All the money in the world will not make up for that.”

The fight ahead

There’s no telling what the fight ahead looks like for the movement, other than that it will be difficult.

While the TMT International Observatory has announced that construction will not likely begin until 2021, the project is pursuing significant funding from the National Science Foundation, which would present a new set of federal regulatory obstacles that could further postpone construction by at least another three years. Still, Squires says it isn’t a question of “if” construction would happen, but “when.”

“We’re absolutely committed to finding a way forward in Hawaii,” he said to Hawaii News Now on July 15, exactly one year since the most recent standoff began. The University of California also doubled down on its commitment to the project, saying, “TMT remains committed to integrating science and culture, providing the best possible stewardship of Maunakea, enriching Hawaiian culture and heritage, and supporting educational opportunities as it enables this global scientific collaboration centered in Hawaii in the interest of humanity.”

The governor’s office did not respond to Vox about the state’s involvement in the private project’s progress in the future. But in February, Ige traveled to Japan — one of two countries investing public funds into the project — and met with key TMT stakeholders there, signaling his commitment, as he stated in his emergency proclamation a year ago, “to seeing this project through.”

As far as kiaʻi are concerned, though, they still have a job to do: protect the mountain; stop the project for good. In July, to commemorate a year since this latest standoff and the kupuna arrests, a slew of online events and actions was organized for their supporters to participate in “#TMTshutdown week,” including topic-focused talks via Zoom, film screenings, and a letter-signing campaign to TMT’s board of governors, project partners, and other affiliated stakeholders urging them to halt any further attempts at construction. Kiaʻi also recently submitted testimony at a UC Board of Regents meeting on July 30, where its chair John Pérez concluded that the board would continue discussions of the telescope at a later date. Meanwhile, charges against the 38 kupuna still stand.

While kiaʻi can’t afford rest, they might spare a moment to marvel at what has transpired over the past year. “I think most people thought we would get squashed. We were up against a billion-dollar project,” says Beamer. “And yet we were able to turn the tide. Despite all that it takes to stand against something like this, to risk what we’ve spent our lives building, people did it anyway. And we did it out of courage.”

On July 15, 2019, construction for TMT was scheduled to begin. One year later, it still hasn’t broken ground.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

07 Aug 13:41

Congress To Consider National Right To Repair Law For First Time

by Karl Bode

About five years ago, frustration at John Deere's draconian tractor DRM culminated in a grassroots "right to repair" movement. The company's crackdown on "unauthorized repairs" turned countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists, after DRM and the company's EULA prohibited the lion's share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned. These restrictions only worked to drive up costs for owners, who faced either paying significantly more money for "authorized" repair, or toying around with pirated firmware just to ensure the products they owned actually worked.

Since then, the right to repair movement has expanded dramatically, with a heavy focus on companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony and their attempts to monopolize repair, driving up consumer costs, and resulting in greater waste.

It has also extended into the medical arena, where device manufacturers enjoy a monopoly on tools, documentation, and replacement parts, making it a nightmare to get many pieces of medical equipment repaired. That has, unsurprisingly, become even more of a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic due to mass hospitalizations and resource constraints, with medical professionals being forced to use grey market parts or DIY parts just to get ventilators to work.

Hoping to give the movement a shot of adrenaline, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Yvette D. Clark have introduced the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020 (pdf), which would exempt medical equipment owners and "servicers" from liability for copying service materials or breaking DRM if it was done so to improve COVID-19 aid. The legislation also pre-empts any agreements between hospitals and equipment manufacturers preventing hospital employees from working on their own equipment, something that's also become more of a problem during the pandemic.

From a Wyden statement:

"There is no excuse for leaving hospitals and patients stranded without necessary equipment during the most widespread pandemic to hit the U.S. in 100 years,” Wyden said. “It is just common sense to say that qualified technicians should be allowed to make emergency repairs or do preventative maintenance, and not have their hands tied by overly restrictive contracts and copyright laws, until this crisis is over."

While numerous states have attempted to pass right to repair legislation, none have succeeded so far. In large part because companies like Apple have lobbied extensively to thwart them, (falsely) claiming that letting customers and independent repair merchants fix devices (usually for far less money) would be a privacy and security nightmare. In Nebraska, Apple even tried to claim that such legislation would turn the state into a mecca for hackers (sounds pretty cool to me, but what do I know). Apple has also spent years bullying a small repair shop in Norway because he used refurbished Apple parts to fix devices.

This is the first time such legislation will be proposed on the federal level. As such, likely seeing it as a gateway to broader legislation, companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and John Deere will now likely do their best to (quietly) kill it, despite the positive impact it could have during a pandemic.

07 Aug 13:29

New cars can stay in their lane—but might not stop for parked cars

by Timothy B. Lee
A test vehicle collides with a dummy car at a AAA test track in California.

Enlarge / A test vehicle collides with a dummy car at a AAA test track in California. (credit: AAA)

In recent years, a number of car companies have—like Tesla—begun offering driver assistance systems that offer lane-keeping as well as adaptive cruise control. This might seem like a big step toward a "self-driving car," since a system like this can travel down the freeway for miles without human intervention. But a new report from AAA underscores the limitations of these systems.

Its most dramatic finding: the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) on the latest cars still struggle to avoid collisions with parked vehicles. They tested cars from BMW, Kia, and Subaru; none consistently avoided running into a fake car partially blocking the travel lane.

The researchers also examined the ADAS in the Cadillac CT6 and the Ford Edge, but these cars' systems weren't included in the parked-vehicle test because their driver assistance systems wouldn't engage on AAA's closed course. They were included in other tests conducted on public highways.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

07 Aug 13:23

Come With Me

by Reza
07 Aug 13:23

Google accidentally reveals the Pixel 5’s launch date

by Tyler Lee

When Google announced the Pixel 4a, the company also confirmed that they would be launching a 5G version of the Pixel 4a and also the Pixel 5 at a later date. The company mentioned that it would be coming in the fall, but when exactly? Turns out that October could be when.

This is according to a report from 9to5Google in which they were tipped off by a reader to the Google blog posted in France. It would seem that the French version of the Pixel 4a’s blog post differs slightly from the English version where it mentions that the Pixel 4a (5G) and the Pixel 5 will be available for pre-order on the 8th of October.

The mention has since been removed from the French blog, but it should still be viewable on Google cache (the irony is not lost on us). Given that this comes from a pretty official source, it’s safe to say that it is more than likely accurate, although Google has yet to confirm this themselves. Google has hosted its Pixel events in October in the past, so it wouldn’t be too presumptuous to think that they would continue that tradition this year.

Either way, we’ll have to wait for a couple more months until it happens. In the meantime, Google has discontinued the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, which means that if you don’t want to buy the Pixel 5, your only choice for now would be the Pixel 4a, or find a retailer with any remaining Pixel 4 inventory.

Source: 9to5Google

07 Aug 13:07

Federal Judge Calls Out Qualified Immunity's Contribution To Racist Policing

by Tim Cushing

If you only read one qualified immunity decision this year, make it this one. (At least until something better comes along. But this one will be hard to top.) [h/t MagentaRocks]

The decision [PDF] -- written by Judge Carlton W. Reeves for the Southern District of Mississippi -- deals with the abuse of a Black man by a white cop. Fortunately, the man lived to sue. Unfortunately, Supreme Court precedent means the officer will not be punished. But the opening of the opinion is unforgettable. It's a long recounting of the injustices perpetrated on Black people by white law enforcement officers.

Clarence Jamison wasn’t jaywalking.

He wasn’t outside playing with a toy gun.

He didn’t look like a “suspicious person.”

He wasn’t suspected of “selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.”

He wasn’t suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

He didn’t look like anyone suspected of a crime.

He wasn’t mentally ill and in need of help.

He wasn’t assisting an autistic patient who had wandered away from a group home.

He wasn’t walking home from an after-school job.

He wasn’t walking back from a restaurant.

He wasn’t hanging out on a college campus.

He wasn’t standing outside of his apartment.

He wasn’t inside his apartment eating ice cream.

He wasn’t sleeping in his bed.

He wasn’t sleeping in his car.

He didn’t make an “improper lane change.”

He didn’t have a broken tail light.

He wasn’t driving over the speed limit.

He wasn’t driving under the speed limit.

Every one of these is linked to a footnote that points to a news article or (in one case) a DOJ investigation dealing with white officers perpetrating violence and other rights violations against Black citizens. (The decision does not provide links to everything listed here. Although there are footnotes appended, only a couple contain actual URLs. I have linked to relevant stories where possible to provide context.)

The decision continues:

No, Clarence Jamison was a Black man driving a Mercedes convertible.

As he made his way home to South Carolina from a vacation in Arizona, Jamison was pulled over and subjected to one hundred and ten minutes of an armed police officer badgering him, pressuring him, lying to him, and then searching his car top-to-bottom for drugs.

Nothing was found. Jamison isn’t a drug courier. He’s a welder.

Unsatisfied, the officer then brought out a canine to sniff the car. The dog found nothing. So nearly two hours after it started, the officer left Jamison by the side of the road to put his car back together.

The officer claimed he had a right to perform the traffic stop. According to Officer Nick McClendon of the Richland Police Department, the temporary tag on the vehicle had "folded over," making it impossible to read. Officer McClendon testified that this sort of thing happens when temp tags aren't secured properly and the vehicle is traveling at highway speeds.

That's what McClendon swore to. This is what he said when he was confronted with actual facts:

When Officer McClendon was shown the cardboard tag during his deposition, it showed no signs of being creased. The officer claimed that it either could have folded without creasing or that someone had ironed out the crease.

Yeah, I'm sure Clarence Jamison -- frightened by a two-hour shakedown by a white cop -- did exactly that: went straight home and ironed his dealer plate.

Here's what Jamison testified he did after this two-hour roadside ordeal:

When I first got home, I couldn’t sleep. So I was up for like – I didn’t even sleep when I got home. I think I got some rest the next day because I was still mad just thinking about it and then when all this killing and stuff come on TV, that’s like a flashback. I said, man, this could have went this way. It had me thinking all kind of stuff because it was not even called for. . . .

Then I seen a story about the guy in South Carolina, in Charleston, a busted taillight. They stopped him for that and shot him in the back,33 and all that just went through my mind . . . .

I don’t even watch the news no more. I stopped watching the news because every time you turn it on something’s bad.

The court surmises Jamison is referring to the shooting of Walter Scott by South Carolina police officer Walter Slager. Scott was shot in the back by Slager as he ran away from the officer. Footage captured by a passerby's cellphone appeared to show Officer Slager planting his Taser on the ground near where Scott fell. When the shots were fired, Scott was nearly 20 feet away from Slager. Nevertheless, Officer Slager radioed for help, claiming Scott had tried to grab his Taser.

Moving on from this point, Judge Reeves does something very few courts have: he runs down the history of Section 1983 lawsuits and their ties to both the 14th Amendment and the history of racism perpetrated by law enforcement.

Jamison brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a statute that has its origins in the Civil War and “Reconstruction,” the brief era that followed the bloodshed. If the Civil War was the only war in our nation’s history dedicated to the proposition that Black lives matter, Reconstruction was dedicated to the proposition that Black futures matter, too.

Following this came the 14th Amendment. These were all positive developments, but whites in the South didn't think so. This includes Mississippi, where this case originates. Whites resented the rights given to Blacks, even though they were the same rights enjoyed by white people. Racism ensued.

In Mississippi, it became a criminal offense for blacks to hunt or fish,” and a U.S. Army General reported that “white militias, with telltale names such as the Jeff Davis Guards, were springing up across” the state.

[...]

The terrorism in Mississippi was unparalleled. During the first three months of 1870, 63 Black Mississippians “were murdered . . . and nobody served a day for these crimes.” In 1872, the U.S. Attorney for Mississippi wrote that Klan violence was ubiquitous and that “only the presence of the army kept the Klan from overrunning north Mississippi completely."

Section 1983 -- which allows citizens to sue government employees for rights violations -- is derived from the Ku Klux Klan Act. Congress realized local law enforcement agencies were acting like unofficial wings of the KKK, frequently engaging in violence against Black people. Unfortunately, this proved to be little more than a speed bump as far as systemic racism went.

“By 1873, many white Southerners were calling for ‘Redemption’ – the return of white supremacy and the removal of rights for blacks – instead of Reconstruction.” The federal system largely abandoned the emancipationist efforts of the Reconstruction Era. And the violence returned. “In 1874, 29 African-Americans were massacred in Vicksburg, according to Congressional investigators. The next year, amidst rumors of an African-American plot to storm the town, the Mayor of Clinton, Mississippi gathered a white paramilitary unit which hunted and killed an estimated 30 to 50 African-Americans.” And in 1876, U.S. Marshal James Pierce said, “Almost the entire white population of Mississippi is one vast mob.”

It took nearly 100 years for federal courts to reverse the bigotry of the Southern emancipation backlash.

It was against this backdrop that the Supreme Court attempted to resuscitate Section 1983. In 1961, the Court decided Monroe v. Pape, a case where “13 Chicago police officers broke into [a Black family’s] home in the early morning, routed them from bed, made them stand naked in the living room, and ransacked every room, emptying drawers and ripping mattress covers.” The Justices held that Section 1983 provides a remedy for people deprived of their constitutional rights by state officials. Accordingly, the Court found that the Monroe family could pursue their lawsuit against the officers.

Clarence Jamison, a Black man traveling through Mississippi -- probably noticed things hadn't improved much over the last 50 years. Here's a brief glimpse of his treatment by Officer McClendon:

According to Officer McClendon, he walked back to the passenger side of Jamison’s car before hearing from NCIC. He later admitted in his deposition that his goal when he returned to Jamison’s car was to obtain consent to search the car. Once he reached the passenger side window, Officer McClendon returned Jamison’s documents and struck up a conversation without mentioning that the EPIC background check came back clear. Thinking he was free to go after receiving his documents, Jamison says he prepared to leave.

[...]

According to Jamison, however, as he prepared to leave, Officer McClendon put his hand over the passenger door threshold of Jamison’s car and told him to, “Hold on a minute.” Officer McClendon then asked Jamison – for the first time – if he could search Jamison’s car. “For what?” Jamison replied. Officer McClendon changed the conversation, asking him what he did for a living. They discussed Jamison’s work as a welder.

Officer McClendon asked Jamison – for the second time – if he could search the car. Jamison again asked, “For what?” Officer McClendon said he had received a phone call reporting that there were 10 kilos of cocaine in Jamison’s car. That was a lie. Jamison did not consent to the search.

Officer McClendon then made a third request to search the car. Jamison responded, “there is nothing in my car.” They started talking about officers “planting stuff” in people’s cars. At this point, Officer McClendon “scrunched down,” placed his hand into the car, and patted the inside of the passenger door. As he did this, Officer McClendon made his fourth request saying, “Come on, man. Let me search your car.” Officer McClendon moved his arm further into the car at this point, while patting it with his hand.

As if four asks were not enough, Officer McClendon then made his fifth and final request. He lied again, “I need to search your car . . . because I got the phone call [about] 10 kilos of cocaine.”

Jamison -- tiring of McClendon and perhaps feeling this would speed things up -- agreed to a search. A very invasive and thorough search was conducted but nothing was found.

Officer McClendon later testified that he searched Jamison’s car “from the engine compartment to the trunk to the undercarriage to underneath the engine to the back seats to anywhere to account for all the voids inside the vehicle.”

[...]

Officer McClendon admitted in his deposition that he did not find “anything suspicious whatsoever.”

When the search fails, maybe it's time to call in the Yes Man, which is actually a dog that can give cops permission to engage in searches.

However, he asked Jamison if he could “deploy [his] canine.” Jamison says he initially refused. Officer McClendon asked again, though, and Jamison relented, saying “Yes, go ahead.” Officer McClendon “deployed [his] dog around the vehicle.” The dog gave no indication, “so it confirmed that there was nothing inside the vehicle.”

It may not have ended in death or injury. But it was an injustice all the same. The suspicionless search lasted almost two hours. That's two hours Clarence Jamison will never have back. And it's two hours he could have used at that point, as the court notes:

This explains why [Jamison] was tired. Here he was, standing on the side of a busy interstate at night for almost two hours against his will so Officer McClendon could satisfy his goal of searching Jamison’s vehicle. In that amount of time, Dorothy and Toto could have made it up and down the yellow brick road and back to Kansas. See Lee Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Oz, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA (Mar. 19, 2010) (noting the 101-minute run time of the 1939 film). If Jamison was driving at 70 MPH before being stopped, in the 110 minutes he was held on the side of the road he would have gotten another 128 miles closer to home, through Rankin, Scott, Newton, and Lauderdale counties and more than 40 miles into Alabama.

But at the end of all of this, there's nothing for Clarence Jamison, who was subjected to what appears to be a racially motivated fishing expedition by a white cop. Why? Because the Supreme Court has made it almost impossible to hold cops accountable for their rights violations, especially when a cop is clever enough to violate rights in a way the court hasn't addressed before.

Given the lack of precedent that places the Constitutional question “beyond debate,” Jamison’s claim cannot proceed. Officer McClendon is entitled to qualified immunity as to Jamison’s prolonged detention and unlawful search claims.

This isn't acceptable, the judge points out. The Supreme Court has ordained abuse of rights by narrowing its self-crafted qualified immunity doctrine to such a sharp point it's almost impossible for plaintiffs to overcome. This is complete bullshit says Judge Reeves, even as he recognizes he cannot rule any other way. Here's a list of rights violations deemed to be acceptable by courts, due to a lack of on-point precedent.

A review of our qualified immunity precedent makes clear that the Court has dispensed with any pretense of balancing competing values. Our courts have shielded a police officer who shot a child while the officer was attempting to shoot the family dog; prison guards who forced a prisoner to sleep in cells “covered in feces” for days; police officers who stole over $225,000 worth of property; a deputy who bodyslammed a woman after she simply “ignored [the deputy’s] command and walked away”; an officer who seriously burned a woman after detonating a “flashbang” device in the bedroom where she was sleeping; an officer who deployed a dog against a suspect who “claim[ed] that he surrendered by raising his hands in the air”; and an officer who shot an unarmed woman eight times after she threw a knife and glass at a police dog that was attacking her brother.

The courts are supposed to protect citizens' rights. The Supreme Court has made it impossible for courts to do that.

If Section 1983 was created to make the courts “guardians of the people’s federal rights,’” what kind of guardians have the courts become? One only has to look at the evolution of the doctrine to answer that question.

Once, qualified immunity protected officers who acted in good faith. The doctrine now protects all officers, no matter how egregious their conduct, if the law they broke was not “clearly established.”

Nearly 60 years later, politicians, who are unable to continue ignoring police violence against citizens, are looking to strip this protection away from officers. But they're fighting an uphill battle against entrenched unions, powerful law enforcement allies in legislatures, and the Supreme Court itself. And the nation's top court seems unwilling to correct its unforced error. Qualified immunity has given cops permission slips to engage in rights violations and severe misconduct. Crime, for the most part, continues to remain at historic lows. Despite this, police officers are still killing people at the rate of ~1,000/year with no sign of slowing down. That's on top of rights violations that never seem to decline, no matter how much criminal activity does. Qualified immunity encourages abuse and that encouragement -- the Supreme Court's implicit blessing -- is still felt most by Black citizens who have been the target of police violence and abuse for well over 200 years.