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01 Dec 17:43

San Francisco allows police to use robots to remotely kill suspects

by Ron Amadeo
A Talon robot, one of the models in the SFPD robot lineup.

Enlarge / A Talon robot, one of the models in the SFPD robot lineup. (credit: QinetiQ)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to allow the San Francisco Police Department to use lethal robots against suspects, ushering the sci-fi dystopia trope into reality. As the AP reports, the robots would be remote-controlled—not autonomous—and would use explosives to kill or incapacitate suspects when lives are at stake.

The police have had bomb disposal robots forever, but the Pandora's box of weaponizing them was originally opened by the Dallas Police Department. In 2016, after failed negotiations with a holed-up active shooter, the DPD wired up a disposal robot with explosives, drove it up to the suspect, and detonated it, killing the shooter. The SFPD now has the authority to make this a tactic.

The police equipment policy being drafted details the SFPD's current robot lineup. The SFPD has 17 robots in total, 12 of which are currently functioning. The AP says that the police department doesn't have any "pre-armed" robots yet and "has no plans to arm robots with guns" but that it could rig up explosives to a robot. Some bomb disposal robots do their "disposal" work by firing a shotgun shell at the bomb, so in essence, they already are rolling guns. Like most police gear, these robots have close ties to the military, and some of the bomb disposal robots owned by the SFPD, like the Talon robot, are also sold to the military configured as remote-controlled machine-gun platforms.

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30 Nov 18:22

OnePlus beats Google with four years of major OS updates

by Ron Amadeo
OnePlus beats Google with four years of major OS updates

Enlarge (credit: OnePlus)

Android OEMs still don't provide the six years of updates you get with Apple phones, but some manufacturers are trying to close that gap. OnePlus is adding an extra year to its smartphone update promise and is now offering four years of major OS updates and five years of security updates.

Timeline-wise, this plan matches Samsung's, though Samsung offers monthly security updates and OnePlus doesn't. The company is still only promising security updates every other month, so it can't do too much bragging. Android-maker Google—who you'd think would have the best update plan—is in a distant third, with only three years of OS updates and five years of security updates.

There's still the timing of updates to consider. Execution-wise, OnePlus is faster than Samsung, as it took OnePlus just one month to ship Android 13 to its latest flagship, whereas Samsung took two months. Google wins here, as it's still the only Android company that offers an Apple-like update experience with day-one updates.

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30 Nov 12:51

The Senate votes to avert a rail strike — and rejects paid sick leave

by Li Zhou
Freight rail cars loaded with lumber sit on tracks at the Port of Los Angeles on November 22, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

A measure to approve seven paid sick days for rail workers has failed in the upper chamber.

For the first time in roughly 30 years, Congress has intervened ahead of a potential rail strike, following calls from President Joe Biden to do so.

At Biden’s request, both chambers took action this week, passing a resolution requiring workers to accept a labor agreement the Biden administration negotiated in September. The House attempted to address a key concern of rail workers, also passing a resolution that guaranteed them seven days paid sick leave, but that measure stalled in the Senate after failing to clear the 60-vote threshold it needed for passage.

The White House-brokered deal included an increase in pay and an additional personal day, but it did not address demands workers had over paid sick leave. Currently, rail workers don’t have guaranteed paid sick days for short-term needs and have to use vacation time instead. They do have access to paid leave for longer-term illnesses, according to the Association of American Railroads, but for unexpected issues like an unplanned illness or a medical emergency, workers have said they have few options. In practice, workers often need to get time off approved in advance, and could be disciplined for taking a day ad hoc.

The addition of a single personal day in the September agreement was intended to acknowledge this issue, though it fell short of doing so — and has prompted multiple unions to reject the deal.

Unions had hoped that Congress would pass a provision on sick days after their negotiations with the railroads broke down earlier this month. That push created an unlikely alliance in the Senate that paired staunch progressives — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who led congressional calls for adopting sick leave language — with conservatives like Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who accused Democrats of abandoning workers by pushing the Biden-negotiated deal.

Ultimately, six Republican lawmakers — Sens. Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Mike Braun (R-IN), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) — joined every Democrat except for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in voting to approve the paid sick leave measure. But it wasn’t enough. Now unions will have to accept the agreement negotiated in September, averting a potential strike, but leaving one of their key demands unmet.

Congress’s role in curtailing rail strikes, briefly explained

Congress’s approach to this rail dispute is indicative of how much power they have in resolving such conflicts.

The Railway Labor Act, which was passed in 1926, gives lawmakers significant leeway over how they could approach the current situation. In addition to approving the tentative agreement, Congress could also add provisions to it, like the House tried to do with paid sick time. Lawmakers could also extend the amount of time that railroads and workers have to negotiate or set up an independent body to help determine a resolution. Unions had signaled they weren’t interested in additional negotiation time since there had already been so many delays in talks, and little likelihood the railroads would grant further benefits.

Previously, Congress ended a strike that took place in 1992 by establishing an arbitration system for both parties to reach an agreement. “Given that they have the power to force a settlement, I don’t think there are any limits on that,” says Cliff Winston, an economic policy expert at Brookings.

As is the case with many bills, the main limitation that lawmakers ran up against was the amount of political support the measures needed to pass. In the end, the effort was doomed by the lack of Republican support in the Senate.

“It’s shameful the vast majority of Republican Senators blocked essential rail workers from receiving guaranteed paid sick leave,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted following the vote.

Democrats’ vote on paid sick days follows blowback from labor

The vote, and the looming strike, placed Democrats in a difficult position.

In his statement urging congressional action, Biden referred to himself as a “proud pro-labor president,” a title his recent actions seemed to contradict. Although he’s certainly been supportive of unions in the past, his calls for congressional action to approve the agreement without sick days created an opening for Republicans to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy. Cruz, for instance, tweeted that he voted for sick leave in part because “I just don’t agree with Biden & the Democrats voting to screw the union workers.”

Democrats’ choices also raised the ire of multiple unions. “Passing legislation that excludes paid sick leave won’t address rail service issues. Rather, it will worsen supply chain issues and further sicken, infuriate, and disenfranchise Railroad Workers as they continue shouldering the burdens of the railroads’ mismanagement,” wrote the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

The AFL-CIO, one of the largest labor federations in the country, also criticized the lack of sick leave ahead of Thursday’s vote.

“While the tentative agreement unions negotiated this year included many critical gains — significant wage increases, caps on health care premiums, and prevention of crew reduction — it also fell short by not including provisions on paid sick leave or fair scheduling,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in a statement.

But Biden has emphasized that he felt he had to call on Congress to act for the greater good of the US economy. He’s said he was worried any modifications to the existing agreement could cause delays and raise the risk of a strike. In his statement, Biden focused heavily on how significant the economic fallout would be if there is no resolution to this standoff. More than 750,000 people could be out of work during the strike, and transportation of food, fuel, and other commodities could come to a standstill, he noted.

Democrats’ votes this week marked an attempt to balance the demands of labor with concerns about the economic effects that could result if they don’t move quickly enough to address the issue. They avoided being blamed for a strike that could have caused major economic disruptions in a time of rising costs. But the ultimate outcome also forced a contract on workers that omitted one of their major asks.

Update, December 1, 5:30 pm ET: This story was originally published on November 29 and has been updated multiple times, most recently to reflect a Senate vote on the rail strike.

29 Nov 17:31

Orion flies far beyond the Moon, returns an instantly iconic photo

by Eric Berger
Orion, the Moon, and Earth in one photo.

Enlarge / Orion, the Moon, and Earth in one photo. (credit: NASA)

NASA's Orion spacecraft reached the farthest outbound point in its journey from Earth on Monday, a distance of more than 430,000 km from humanity's home world. This is nearly double the distance between Earth and the Moon and is farther than the Apollo capsule traveled during NASA's lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

From this vantage point, on Monday, a camera attached to the solar panels on board Orion's service module snapped photos of the Moon and, just beyond, the Earth. These were lovely, lonely, and evocative images.

"The imagery was crazy," said the Artemis I mission's lead flight director, Rick LaBrode. "It’s really hard to articulate what the feeling is. It’s really amazing to be here, and see that."

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29 Nov 17:30

update: governor yanked telework for state employees and my office is in chaos

by Ask a Manager

This post, update: governor yanked telework for state employees and my office is in chaos , was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest of the year I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose office was in chaos after the governor yanked telework for state employees? Here’s the update.

Soon after my letter posted and there was related press coverage, two things happened. The first was that Governor Youngkin’s administration backed way, way off the enforcement of the new telework policy with only my agency. We heard through official channels, but nothing in email, that all employees and supervisors were to “use their best judgment” when July 5 rolled around and to “be flexible and use common sense.” So if an employee struggled to abide by the new telework agreement, that was okay. My friends in multiple other agencies said this was NOT the case in their offices. The second thing is that the Governor’s staff were cracking down on leaks, specifically this one. It’s no a secret that Youngkin decided to run for president soon after he became Governor, and he has been laying the foundation for that since he took office. Leaks are considered a fireable offense so while the Youngkin staff were nice in meetings, they were privately trying to find out who contacted you and other media outlets. They chatted with multiple friends of mine across different agencies, asking specific questions and names of potential leakers.

July 5 came and went with no fuss. You couldn’t tell the difference between the previous week and start of Youngkin’s new telework agreement.

Regarding the ADA accommodations, there was a lot of intense press scrutiny so the Youngkin administration backed off that matter too. One minute our ADA agreements were being scrutinized, and the next we weren’t required to show or do anything beyond what we had already done. I haven’t heard anything about the ADA since I wrote you.

Regarding the office space challenges, I did what you said. I drafted an email that outlined all the resources my staff required to return to the office. I never heard back, and my agency head hasn’t brought up the subject since the negative press coverage. I consider that a closed matter.

The most concerning detail is that we learned all the telework agreements were going to be printed and signed by hand by the Governor’s Chief of Staff. We asked multiple times about who was going to print them, where this information was going to be stored, and how long the Youngkin administration had to retain this information per FOIA. To this day, none of us got any sort of response. I’m still very concerned that all of my personal health information, which I gave under duress, is sitting in a random office or unlocked storage room somewhere where anyone can read it, copy it, etc. Quite frankly, I’m afraid to ask.

Given the hoopla around requiring a signed telework agreement on July 5, multiple agency employees and a few of my direct reports never got theirs back. Technically, those people are supposed to be working Monday-Friday, full-time in the office, but I decided to honor my direct reports’ telework agreements as if they’d been signed by the Governor’s office. I didn’t want the people on my staff who didn’t have signed agreements being resentful of the others who did. I assumed my decision would fall under the “use your best judgment” directive the Youngkin administration gave us.

While this update may seem like telework screeched to a halt, things are ramping up again. After seeing several empty cubes and offices in our space, high-level managers above me are now insisting that people are not adhering to their telework agreements so anyone who is out of compliance will face official disciplinary action.

Finally, a number of high-level, long-time people quit for a variety of reasons, including the new telework policy rollout and the Governor’s use of state agencies for his presidential ambitions. (We don’t do politics at my agency. One of my coworker’s official government email address is now on multiple GOP campaign mailing lists, and they are furious because they only signed up for official press releases.) I love what I do, and I wanted to retire here, but I’m nearing my breaking point. If I’m forced to participate in ratting out my direct reports over their telework agreements, I don’t know what I’ll do.

I wish I had a better update. Your advice and reader comments were awesome though!

29 Nov 13:09

Twitter staff cuts enabled spam porn deluge that drowned out China protest news

by Ashley Belanger
Twitter staff cuts enabled spam porn deluge that drowned out China protest news

Enlarge (credit: SOPA Images / Contributor | LightRocket)

This weekend, widespread protests erupted in China in what amounted to “the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades,” AP News reported. Many protesters attempted to document events live to spread awareness and inspire solidarity across Twitter. Demonstrations were so powerful that Chinese authorities actually seemed to cave, appeasing some of the protesters’ demands by easing the severe lockdown restrictions that sparked the protests.

This could have been a moment that showed how Twitter under Elon Musk is still a relevant breaking-news source, still a place where free speech demonstrations reach the masses, and thus, still the only place to track escalating protests like these. Instead, The Washington Post reported that a flood of “useless tweets” effectively buried live footage from protests. This blocked users from easily following protest news, while Twitter seemingly did nothing to stop what researchers described as an apparent Chinese influence operation.

For hours, these tweets dropped Chinese city names where protests occurred into posts that were mostly advertising pornography and adult escort services. And it worked, preventing users attempting to search city names in Chinese from easily seeing updates on the protests. Researchers told The Post that the tweets were posted from a range of Chinese-language accounts that hadn’t been used for months or even years. The tweets began appearing early Sunday, shortly after protesters started calling for Communist Party leaders to resign.

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25 Nov 17:05

Sneaky ways cops could access data to widely prosecute abortions in the US

by Ashley Belanger
Sneaky ways cops could access data to widely prosecute abortions in the US

Enlarge (credit: David McNew / Contributor | Getty Images News)

It's not clear yet what role tech companies will play in helping police access data to prosecute abortions in post-Roe America, but it has already become apparent that law enforcement is willing to be sneaky when seeking data.

Cops revealed one potential tactic they could use back in June, when Meta faced scrutiny from reproductive rights activists for complying with a search warrant request from police in Madison County, Nebraska. The Nebraska cops told Meta they were investigating a crime under the state’s “Prohibited Acts with Skeletal Remains.”

But what they were actually investigating was a case involving a woman, Jessica Burgess, who was suspected of aiding her 17-year-old daughter, Celeste Burgess, in procuring an unlawful abortion in the state at 23 weeks. The mother and daughter previously told police that Celeste miscarried, but—in part because of data Meta supplied—the mother is now being prosecuted for unlawfully aiding her daughter in an abortion. Celeste is being prosecuted as an adult for other crimes.

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25 Nov 17:02

Report: FTC “likely” to file suit to block Microsoft/Activision merger

by Kyle Orland
Just a few of the Activision franchises that will become Microsoft properties if and when the acquisition is finalized.

Enlarge / Just a few of the Activision franchises that will become Microsoft properties if and when the acquisition is finalized. (credit: Microsoft / Activision)

The Federal Trade Commission will "likely" move to file an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft and Activision Blizzard to block the companies' planned $69 billion merger deal. That's according to a new Politico report citing "three [unnamed] people with knowledge of the matter."

While Politico writes that a lawsuit is still "not guaranteed," it adds that FTC staffers "are skeptical of the companies' arguments" that the deal will not be anticompetitive. The sources also confirmed that "much of the heavy lifting is complete" in the commission's investigation, and that a suit could be filed as early as next month.

Sony, the main opponent of Microsoft's proposed purchase, has argued publicly that an existing contractual three-year guarantee to keep Activision's best-selling Call of Duty franchise on PlayStation is "inadequate on many levels." In response, Microsoft Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has publicly promised to continue shipping Call of Duty games on PlayStation "as long as there's a PlayStation out there to ship to." It's not clear if the companies have memorialized that offer as a legal agreement, though; The New York Times reported this week that Microsoft had offered a "10-year deal to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation."

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25 Nov 17:00

Scientists debate the role of a virus in multiple sclerosis

by Undark Magazine
Scientists debate the role of a virus in multiple sclerosis

Enlarge (credit: CHRISTOPH BURGSTEDT/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

Ryan Grant was in his 20s and serving in the military when he learned that the numbness and tingling in his hands and feet, as well as his unshakeable fatigue, were symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Like nearly a million other people with MS in the United States, Grant had been feeling his immune system attack his central nervous system. The insulation around his nerves was crumbling, weakening the signals between his brain and body.

The disease can have a wide range of symptoms and outcomes. Now 43, Grant has lost the ability to walk, and he has moved into a veterans’ home in Oregon, so that his wife and children don’t have to be his caretakers. He’s all too familiar with the course of the illness and can name risk factors he did and didn’t share with other MS patients, three-quarters of whom are female. But until recently, he hadn’t heard that many scientists now believe the most important factor behind MS is a virus.

For decades, researchers suspected that Epstein-Barr virus, a common childhood infection, is linked to multiple sclerosis. In January, the journal Science pushed that connection into headlines when it published the results of a two-decade study of people who, like Grant, have served in the military. The study’s researchers concluded that EBV infection is “the leading cause” of MS.

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23 Nov 03:26

Thinking about taking your computer to the repair shop? Be very afraid

by Dan Goodin
Thinking about taking your computer to the repair shop? Be very afraid

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve ever worried about the privacy of your sensitive data when seeking a computer or phone repair, a new study suggests you have good reason. It found that privacy violations occurred at least 50 percent of the time, not surprisingly with female customers bearing the brunt.

Researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recovered logs from laptops after receiving overnight repairs from 12 commercial shops. The logs showed that technicians from six of the locations had accessed personal data and that two of those shops also copied data onto a personal device. Devices belonging to females were more likely to be snooped on, and that snooping tended to seek more sensitive data, including both sexually revealing and non-sexual pictures, documents, and financial information.

Blown away

“We were blown away by the results,” Hassan Khan, one of the researchers, said in an interview. Especially concerning, he said, was the copying of data, which happened during repairs for one from a male customer and the other from a female. “We thought they would just look at [the data] at most.”

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22 Nov 20:46

First efficacy data on bivalent boosters shows they work against infection

by Beth Mole
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, speaks alongside COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha during a briefing on COVID-19 at the White House on November 22, 2022, in Washington, DC. Fauci spoke on the updated COVID-19 booster shots and encouraged individuals to get their vaccines. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, speaks alongside COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha during a briefing on COVID-19 at the White House on November 22, 2022, in Washington, DC. Fauci spoke on the updated COVID-19 booster shots and encouraged individuals to get their vaccines. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) (credit: Getty | Win McNamee)

The updated bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine increased protection against symptomatic disease compared with the original monovalent vaccine given as recently as two months ago.

That's the takeaway from a study released Tuesday morning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which offered the first clinical efficacy data for the bivalent shot since its national rollout in September.

In adults, the relative effectiveness of the bivalent vaccine's protection against symptomatic infection ranged from about 30 percent to up to 56 percent compared with that of the monovalent vaccine, with the relative efficacy estimated to be larger the more time had passed since a person's last monovalent shot.

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22 Nov 18:45

Musk recruits engineers for “Twitter 2.0” after mass layoffs and resignations

by Jon Brodkin
Elon Musk's Twitter account displayed on a phone screen with the Twitter logo in the background.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Having gutted Twitter's staff, Elon Musk told remaining employees he plans to hire new engineers and salespeople, The Verge reported Monday. "During an all-hands meeting with Twitter employees today, Musk said that the company is done with layoffs and actively recruiting for roles in engineering and sales and that employees are encouraged to make referrals, according to two people who attended and a partial recording obtained by The Verge," the report said.

Musk completed his $44 billion purchase of Twitter on October 27 and laid off about half of the company's 7,500 employees. He sent an ultimatum to the remaining staff last week, saying they must commit to "working long hours at high intensity" to keep their jobs; the ultimatum came with the choice of staying at the company or resigning with three months of severance.

Some sales employees who opted to stay after Musk's ultimatum were reportedly laid off shortly after. With the latest departures, Twitter was reportedly left with about 2,700 employees. Musk also laid off about 5,000 contractors and banned remote work, while warning staff of a "dire" economic outlook.

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22 Nov 18:12

Network-crashing leap seconds to be abandoned by 2035, for at least a century

by Kevin Purdy
An astronomical clock in Prague, Czech Republic.

Enlarge / An astronomical clock in Prague, Czech Republic. (credit: Getty Images)

There are not many things you can get Facebook, Google, the United States, France, and Linus Torvalds to agree on, but one of them has come to pass.

A near-unanimous vote on Friday in Versailles, France, by parties to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM in its native French) on Resolution 4 means that starting in 2035, the leap second, the remarkably complicated way of aligning the Earth's inconsistent rotation with atomic-precision timekeeping, will see its use discontinued. Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, will run without them until 2135. It was unclear whether any leap seconds might occur before then, though it seems unlikely.

The assumption is that within those 100 years, time-focused scientists (metrologists) will have found a way to synchronize time as measured by humans to time as experienced by our planet orbiting the Sun. But most people will not notice any difference at all, even as the time difference could reach up to one minute by the end of that 100 years.

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22 Nov 11:27

Pfizer CEO claims 400% price hike on COVID vaccines will be “free”

by Beth Mole
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talks during a press conference with the European Commission president after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in Puurs, on April 23, 2021.

Enlarge / Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talks during a press conference with the European Commission president after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in Puurs, on April 23, 2021. (credit: Getty | John Thys)

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla claimed at a news event last week that the company's COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be "free to all Americans," despite the company's plan to raise the price of the vaccine roughly 400 percent—a price difference that will be picked up by health insurers.

The company said in October that it plans to raise the price of a dose of its COVID-19 vaccine from about $30 to somewhere between $110 and $130 as it moves the shots to the commercial market next year.

Until now, all COVID-19 vaccines in the US have been bought by the US government, which paid $30.48 per dose in its latest vaccine supply agreement from June. The US government had previously paid $24 per dose in July 2021 and $19.50 per dose in July 2020. The government offered all the doses to Americans for free.

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22 Nov 11:26

Decline of key changes in popular music

by Nathan Yau

Chris Dalla Riva analyzed key changes in songs that made the Billboard Hot 100, between 1958 and 2022. Key changes are near non-existent after 2010. The most interesting part is why:

Thus, if you changed the key of “Juicy,” Biggie wouldn’t necessarily have to change how he raps, but if you changed the key of “Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland would have to sing different pitches. If you picked the wrong key, those pitches might be outside of her vocal range. In short, key doesn’t matter as much in hip-hop.

As hip-hop grew in popularity, the use of computers in recording also exploded too. Whereas the guitar and piano lend themselves to certain keys, the computer is key-agnostic. If I record a song in the key of C major into digital recording software, like Logic or ProTools, and then decide I don’t like that key, I don’t have to play it again in that new key. I can just use my software to shift it into that different key. I’m no longer constrained by my instrument.

See also the increasing similarity of Billboard songs.

Tags: Billboard, keys, music, Tedium

19 Nov 11:46

Ideas

by Reza

18 Nov 19:24

It Begins: The EU Summons Musk To Appear Before Them

by Mike Masnick

Earlier this week, we wrote about how the EU seemed to practically be salivating over getting its hands on Elon Musk now that he owned Twitter. The first half of that post was about how he was at risk of running afoul of his GDPR commitments, potentially allowing the jurisdiction over GDPR enforcement to fall away from just the Irish data protection authority and to any other EU authority. That’s notable because many people believe that the Irish DPC is way too friendly to the companies they regulate. For the time being, Musk may have staved off the GDPR issue by naming an “acting data protection officer” (DPO) to be the main point of contact with the Irish.

However, much of the article talked about the upcoming Digital Services Act in the EU, and how Elon had (ridiculously, stupidly) said publicly that he completely agreed with its approach, even as Twitter had been actively pushing back on the problems with the DSA.

Some aspects of the DSA have now officially entered into force, though it’s all really in a preliminary state, as the really serious stuff doesn’t kick off until early 2024. But there are some requirements in the meantime, including Twitter needing to report how many active users it has to the European Commission to determine if it’s designated as a “Very Large Online Platform” (VLOP), though I prefer the comment a friend in the space recently made calling them ROUS (from The Princess Bride).

As TechCrunch is reporting, it’s unclear how much Twitter has done to be ready to comply, as the entire drama with Musk and the takeover going back many months likely stalled some of the decision-making. And… that might be a problem if no one is left to pay attention:

TechCrunch has also heard concerns about Twitter’s ability to comply with the DSA from another direction. A source familiar with how Twitter was preparing for dialled up EU regulation — pre-Musk takeover — told us “lots” of work had been done but said it’s all been “stymied” by the transition.

As if on cue, the European Parliament (not the European Commission…) has now decided to summon Musk to show up and explain what the fuck he’s doing.

While much of this is just grandstanding, not unlike when Congress summons tech CEOs, it’s not at all clear that Musk has any clue how to actually deal with the EU, and the fairly complex nature of the DSA and what’s expected of him (if you’re interested in understanding just how messy the DSA is, listen to our recent podcast with two DSA experts).

Musk, of course, will say that he has plenty of experience dealing with foreign regulators and policymakers (and enforcers) as he’s had to deal with them at Tesla and SpaceX. But everything he’s said and done to date suggests he has no clue about the details and nuances (and political realities) as it pertains to regulations around speech, the internet, and social media. I can’t imagine any of this will end well.

18 Nov 16:57

Going home for the holidays? Boost, mask, and test beforehand.

by Allie Volpe
Holiday candles and a rapid Covid-19 test set against a red background.
Dion Lee for Vox/Getty Images

Steps to take to protect your family from Covid-19, RSV, and flu.

Winter 2020 was the season of Zoom holidays. By 2021, the omicron surge spoiled end-of-year plans. So far, the 2022 holiday season is off to a bumpy start with an early, sharp surge of flu and respiratory syncytial virus cases with an expected wave of Covid-19 cases on the horizon.

With a lack of national and local precautionary guidance, individuals are now on their own to gauge risk and protection. However, Americans have more tools in their arsenal when it comes to protecting themselves against Covid this holiday season: vaccines, boosters, tests, masks, knowledge of how the virus spreads. Keep these best practices in mind, experts say, and you can celebrate like it’s 2019. “This is going to be the first year we’re actually going to go visit our family for Christmas because we haven’t done it the previous two years because I’ve been too nervous,” says Sarah Ruff, a family medicine physician at UNC Family Medicine. “There’s really no reason to not do it this year because we do have all these tools.”

Keep your most vulnerable guests top of mind

The amount of risk the group is willing to take should depend on the guest list. Think about the people who will attend each gathering this season. Elderly people, those who are immunocompromised or who have other medical conditions, or newborns (vaccines are available to babies 6 months or older) are most susceptible to severe cases of Covid-19. Take precautions in order to best protect them. “It does make sense to think of the most vulnerable person when you’re trying to make decisions about what precautions to take,” Ruff says.

Make a plan with attendees on precautions. Maybe you’ll all take a rapid test before coming inside, maybe you’ll wear masks when you’re near Grandma, maybe your host will keep the windows open, or maybe you’ll all choose to gather outside. Getting vaccinated, boosted, and wearing masks in public places prior to the gathering should be sufficient protection for most families, even those with older relatives, Ruff says.

Make sure you’re up to date with your Covid booster (and flu shot)

The most effective way to avoid Covid-19 this holiday season is to stay up-to-date on your vaccines, says Bernard Camins, the medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System. Most people are eligible for a bivalent booster at least two months after completing their first two shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In an October press briefing, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha recommended Americans receive their boosters before Thanksgiving in order to gain the most protection this holiday season. If you recently recovered from Covid, wait three months before getting boosted, Camins says. Schedule your annual flu shot, too, which you can get the same day as your Covid booster.

Be strategic with your masking

While nationwide mask mandates have expired, it’s still a good idea to keep N95 or KN95 masks on hand for travel purposes. Wear a mask at the airport and during takeoff and landing or if the flight is short, keep it on for the entire flight, Camins says. “It’s relatively safe if you’re up in the air because the air is HEPA-filtered,” he says. “When you’re taxiing, when you’re deplaning, when they turn off the engines, you want to make sure your mask is on.”

For train or bus travel, where the air isn’t as well-ventilated as on planes, Camins suggests masking for the entire trip.

Ensure all guests test for Covid-19 before the event

According to CDC guidelines, if you have symptoms of Covid-19, test immediately. If you’ve been exposed, wait five days and then test. However, if you’ve been around other people lately in any capacity, “you can no longer tell who among your vicinity was positive for Covid,” Camins says. “You just assume you were exposed prior to your event.” He suggests serial testing in the days leading up to your party. For example, if you’re gathering for Thanksgiving, do a rapid test on the Sunday and Tuesday before the holiday, and then once more on Thanksgiving, he says.

If you’re showing symptoms such as fever, body ache, sore throat, cough, and chills, but are still testing negative for Covid-19, you should consider staying home. Because RSV and flu are circulating, it’s possible you could risk infecting a loved one with another respiratory virus. “You shouldn’t be going anywhere if you have a fever,” Ruff says. “You want to make sure you’re at least 24 hours [without] having a fever.”

For people with common colds, Camins says as long as they wear a mask, they can attend. Ruff says to be transparent with your family in such a case and ask them if they’re comfortable with you coming.

Stay aware of certain Covid trends

Since reported case data isn’t released as regularly as in the past, and is likely an undercount due to rapid tests taken at home, Ruff says to keep an eye on the CDC Community Level, which measures hospitalizations and cases and offers prevention strategies for each tier of community spread. You can enter the state and county where you’ll be having Thanksgiving to check community levels and determine what amount of precaution you’ll take. “If we’re going to a higher-risk area, it may be worth putting your mask on when you’re going out in public around people you don’t know, and maybe you choose not to wear your mask around your family who’s all vaccinated,” Ruff says, “but when we all go out as a big group, maybe you do.”

For all intents and purposes, Camins says this holiday season is a return to form. Just take a little extra care in the days leading up to your gathering and you can celebrate like years past. “Can people sit around the table again instead of having the grandma and grandpa eating by themselves in another room?” Camins says. “I think we can.”

Even Better is here to offer deeply sourced, actionable advice for helping you live a better life. Do you have a question on money and work; friends, family, and community; or personal growth and health? Send us your question by filling out this form. We might turn it into a story.

18 Nov 12:02

Bad News For The Internet: Congress Looking To Sneak In Dangerous ‘Save The Kids!’ Internet Bill Into Year-End Omnibus

by Mike Masnick

Over the last week or so, I keep hearing about a big push among activists and lawmakers to try to get the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) into the year-end “must pass” omnibus bill. Earlier this week, one of the main parents pushing for the bill went on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN and stumped for it. And, the latest report from Axios confirms that lawmakers are looking to include it in the lameduck omnibus, or possibly the NDAA (despite it having absolutely nothing to do with defense spending).

The likeliest path forward for the bills is for them to be added to the year-end defense or spending bill. “We’re at a point where a combination of the victims, and the technology, make it absolutely mandatory we move forward,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a sponsor of the Kids Online Safety Act, told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

“I think it’s going to move,” Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, said this week at an event in Washington. “I think it could actually go — it’s one of those very rare pieces of legislation that is getting bipartisan support.”

Anyway, let’s be clear about all this: the people pushing for KOSA are legitimately worried about the safety of kids online. And many of those involved have stories of real trauma. But their stumping for KOSA is misguided. It will not help protect children. It will make things much more dangerous for children. It’s an extraordinarily dangerous bill for kids (and adults).

Back in February, I detailed just how dangerous this bill is, in that it tries to deal with “protecting children” by pushing websites to more actively surveil everyone. Many of the people pushing for the bill, including the one who went on CNN this week, talk about children who have died by suicide. Which is, obviously, quite tragic. But all of it seems to assume (falsely) that suicide prevention is simply a matter of internet companies somehow… spying on their kids more. It’s not that simple. Indeed, the greater surveillance has way more consequences for tons of other people, including kids who also need to learn the value of privacy.

If you dig into the language of KOSA, you quickly realize how problematic it would be in practice. It uses extremely vague and fuzzy language that will create dangerous problems. In earlier versions of the bill, people quickly pointed out that some of the surveillance provisions would force companies to reveal information about kids to their parents — potentially including things that might “out” LGBTQ kids to their parents. That should be seen as problematic for obvious reasons. The bill was amended to effectively say “but don’t do that,” but still leaves things vague enough that companies are caught in an impossible position.

Now the end result is basically “don’t have anyone on your platform end up doing something bad.” But, how does that work in practice?

Advocates for the bill keep saying “it just imposes a ‘duty of care'” on platforms. But that misunderstands basically everything about everything. A “duty of care” is one of those things that sounds good to people who have no idea how anything works. As we’ve noted, a duty of care is the “friendly sounding way” to threaten free speech and innovation. That’s because whether or not you met your obligations is determined after something bad happened. And it will involve a long and costly legal battle to determine (in heightened circumstances, often involving a horrible incident) whether or not a website could have magically prevented a bad thing from happening. But, of course, in that context, the bad thing will have already happened, making it difficult to separate the website from the bad thing, and making it impossible to see whether or not the “bad thing” could have been reasonably foreseen.

But, at the very least, it means that any time anything bad happens that is even remotely connected to a website, the website gets sued and has to convince a court that it took appropriate measures. What that means in practice is that websites get ridiculously restrictive to avoid any possible bad thing from happening — in the process limiting tons of good stuff as well.

The whole bill is designed to do two very silly things: make it nearly impossible for websites to offer something new and, even worse, the bill looks to offload any blame on any bad thing on those websites. It especially seeks to remove blame from parents for failing to do their job as a parent. It is the ultimate “let’s just blame the internet for anything bad” bill.

As I noted a couple months ago, the internet is not Disneyland. We shouldn’t want to make it Disneyland, because if we do, we lose a lot. Bad things happen in the world. And sometimes there’s nothing to blame for the bad thing happening.

I don’t talk about it much, but in high school a friend died by suicide. It’s not worth getting into the details, but the suicide was done in a manner designed to make someone else feel terrible as well (and cast a pall of “blame” on that person — which was traumatic for all involved). But, one thing that was an important lesson is that if you spend all your time looking to blame people for someone’s death by suicide, you’re not going to do much good, and, in fact, it creates this unfortunate scenario where it encourages others to consider suicide as a way to “get back” at others. That’s not helpful at all. For anyone.

Unfortunately, people do die by suicide. And we should be focusing more effort on helping people get through difficult times, and making sure that therapy and counselling is available to all who need it. But trying to retroactively hold social media companies to account for those cases, because they enabled people to talk to each other, throws out so much useful and good — including all of the people who were helped to move away from potential suicidal ideation by finding a community or a tribe who better understood them. Or those who found resources to help them through those difficult times.

Under a bill like KOSA all of that becomes more difficult, while actively encouraging greater surveillance and less privacy. It’s not a good approach.

And it’s especially ridiculous for such a bill to be rushed through via a must-pass bill, rather than having the kind of debate and discussion that such a serious issue not only deserves, but requires.

But, of course, almost no one wants to speak out against KOSA, because the media and politicians trot out parents who went through a truly traumatic experience, and no one wants to be seen as the person who is said to be standing in the way of that. But the simple fact is that KOSA will not magically prevent suicides. It might actually lead to more. And it will do many other damaging things in the meantime, including ramping up surveillance, limiting the ability of websites to innovate, and making it much more difficult for young people to find and connect with actual support and friends.

17 Nov 23:31

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet deliver a fully open world beset by technical problems

by Andrew Cunningham
Winding up to catch a ninth (!) generation of Pokémon.

Enlarge / Winding up to catch a ninth (!) generation of Pokémon. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

The Pokémon franchise has been nudging closer and closer to a fully open world since Sword and Shield appeared on the Switch in 2019. Those games and their DLC packs introduced a few dedicated free-range areas where you could roam around mostly at your leisure, but towns and caves and other areas were still strictly linear.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus came even closer. Nearly all of its world map was a free-roaming open area, but the sections were still cordoned off from one another by way of a central hub town. More importantly, progression was still largely linear—the game still introduced you to each area in a set order based on the story quests you had accomplished.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, both coming to the Switch on November 18, finally make the transition to a fully open world. After accomplishing a handful of introductory quests, the vast majority of the world map opens up to you, and you can accomplish most of the game's quests in whatever order you want.

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17 Nov 19:53

The two biggest challenges facing Nancy Pelosi’s successor

by Li Zhou
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledges applause from lawmakers after speaking on the House floor at the US Capitol on November 17. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

Pelosi is stepping down as Democratic leader. Her successor has big shoes to fill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime Democratic leader known for standing up to former President Donald Trump and ushering her party through major policy wins like the Affordable Care Act, is stepping down from her role as the head of the House Democrats.

Pelosi announced her decision Thursday after Republicans officially retook control of the House earlier this week. It also comes after her husband, Paul Pelosi, was brutally attacked with a hammer earlier this year by an assailant allegedly looking for the speaker herself.

“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi said in remarks announcing the move. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus I so greatly respect.”

Pelosi’s decision, while somewhat anticipated, still marks a seismic change for the caucus.

When the party won back the House in 2018, Pelosi said she wouldn’t stay in the role of Democratic leader for more than four years. Back then, she promised to be a bridge leader, paving the way for a new generation of talent. In recent days, it was unclear whether she’d stand by this position given Democrats’ stronger-than-expected performance in the midterms and calls from some members for her to keep her role.

Her shoes, ultimately, will be exceedingly tough ones to fill. Pelosi has led her caucus since 2007, when she was the first woman ever elected as speaker. Since then, she’s become an outsized presence, synonymous with her unwillingness to give in to Republican threats on issues like government shutdowns, and her effectiveness shepherding a fractious caucus through significant legislative achievements, including the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans, in turn, have vilified her throughout her tenure as the top Democrat, making Pelosi one of their favorite political targets.

Following her decision to leave this role, the question turns to who will replace Pelosi, how they’ll be able to unite a still-divided group of Democrats in the House, and whether they can provide the same formidable opposition to the GOP.

Who will replace her?

The next leader could well be Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who’s long been the rumored favorite for the role and is Pelosi’s handpicked successor, according to Puck News. Jeffries, a New York lawmaker who was just elected for his sixth term, has been reaching out to fellow Democrats about his interest in the position and consolidating support. Currently, he’s the fifth-ranking Democrat as the head of the House Democratic Caucus, and is perhaps best known for serving as a manager during Trump’s first impeachment trial.

Jeffries would be the first Black party leader in the House and would face the challenge of navigating a wide-ranging caucus, including progressive members he’s clashed with in the past. A former corporate attorney, Jeffries has faced distrust from some progressives for his support from and for business interests, as well as his backing of a political action committee aimed at defeating progressive challengers.

Jeffries, along with Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), compose a younger trio of lawmakers who could take on the leadership roles currently held by Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

Younger members in the House, like 52-year-old Jefferies, have been waiting years for changes at the top in order to allow a new generation of lawmakers to take on these positions. Given Democrats’ lack of term limits for leadership positions, Pelosi’s retirement marks their best chance — and perhaps only chance for years to come — to move up.

What’s next for Pelosi herself?

Pelosi is leaving her job as leader, but she’ll stay on as a House representative, offering counsel both to her own members as well as President Joe Biden. As a speaker emeritus, Pelosi will help guide the transition to her successor and help Democrats navigate their roles in the minority countering House Republicans and likely Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Historically, there’s been frustration about the lack of pipeline for ambitious Democrats to rise, and Pelosi’s decision now enables her to pass on knowledge and strategy while allowing new leaders to take the helm.

Will the divisions in the party be containable?

One of the challenges of leadership is uniting a wide-ranging Democratic caucus that includes both staunch progressives like the Squad and more moderate members like Rep. Josh Gottheimer, one of the heads of the bipartisan Problem Solver’s Caucus.

Although Democrats have had their fair share of differences, Pelosi managed to build trust and influence across the different factions in the caucus and keep people united on tough votes.

Pelosi’s record and experience enabled her to establish these ties: As Ella Nilsen explained for Vox, she was an early member of the progressive caucus and one of the most outspoken lawmakers against the Iraq War. That history, combined with the more left-leaning politics of newer progressives helped her find a middle ground: Among Democrats, she was seen as neither overly radical nor too conservative. In past contests for the speakership, she was described by progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the most progressive option on the docket.

Always pragmatic, Pelosi also doled out committee assignments and fundraising support as a way of speaking to various lawmakers’ interests and concerns. She stood her ground in the face of pressure from both wings of Democrats as well, helping them deliver on key priorities. In 2020, for example, Pelosi helped secure a Covid-19 aid deal after moderates inked out a compromise and made it one of their chief issues.

During the last two years, Pelosi’s kept her caucus united to advance the American Rescue Plan, the IRA, and the infrastructure bill, the last of which a handful of progressives voted against. Previously, she helped secure votes for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, another effort that involved extensive negotiations with different lawmakers aimed at focusing on their policy interests.

Her successor will have to do the same to present a united front against Republicans and to advance Democratic policies should they find themselves back in the majority.

Will the new leader effectively push back on Republicans?

Pelosi has established herself as unafraid to call out Republicans, including during the Trump presidency when she was one of his chief antagonists. During his administration, Pelosi notably worked to put the responsibility for one of the longest government shutdowns in American history on his shoulders, and steered the House through two impeachment trials confronting the former president on his abuse of power related both to foreign policy and the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

This year, she’s been a champion of the January 6 committee, with video from the panel highlighting her role in criticizing Trump and attempting to call for National Guard back-up from surrounding states.

Pelosi’s outspoken critiques of the GOP and the prominence of her position have made her a prime target of Republican political attacks. For years, Republicans have sought to vilify Pelosi in campaign ads and rhetoric that have treated her as one of their biggest opponents on the left. She’s historically embraced this role, encouraging members to use her as a foil, and to highlight their opposition to her to win reelection when necessary.

Recently, the attacks took a more sinister turn, seemingly inspiring the assault of her husband, and underscoring the connection between Republican rhetoric and political violence. “We are all grateful for all the prayers and well wishes as [Paul] continues his recovery,” Pelosi said in her remarks.

The new leader will have to demonstrate that they’re able to stand their ground against the GOP, which is set to mount an aggressive and chaotic series of investigations against the Biden administration in the next two years. That’s likely to include outspoken pushback against these inquiries, and a focus on criticizing bad-faith efforts to investigate and even impeach administration officials.

17 Nov 13:19

FDA approval puts lab-grown meat one step closer to your dinner plate

by Kenny Torrella
A knife and fork cutting a piece of lab-grown chicken meat on a dinner plate with greens and bruschetta.
UPSIDE Foods’ cultivated chicken made from growing animal cells. | Terry Chea/AP Photo

The FDA has given a California startup approval to sell its lab-grown “cultivated” chicken. Now the USDA has to weigh in.

On Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave approval to Upside Foods, a startup based in the San Francisco area, to sell its lab-grown, or “cultivated,” chicken. The product — which is biologically indistinguishable from chicken meat taken from a slaughtered bird — is made by growing animal cells in bioreactors, which are fed a mix of nutrients to develop into fat and muscle tissue. Though the company still needs USDA approval before it can sell to consumers, it’s a major step forward in the race to what could be an ethically and environmentally superior form of meat.

“We evaluated the information Upside Foods submitted to the agency and have no further questions at this time about the firm’s safety conclusion,” the FDA announced in a statement Wednesday. “The firm will use animal cell culture technology to take living cells from chickens and grow the cells in a controlled environment to make the cultured animal cell food.”

In a press release, Upside Foods said it will now work with the USDA to finalize the approval process before it can finally be sold to consumers. If granted USDA approval, their chicken will likely first be sold in small quantities at Atelier Crenn, a restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, who announced a partnership with Upside Foods late last year.

According to Wired, Upside’s cultivated chicken has been approved through the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” process, or GRAS, in which the FDA reviews a food company’s production process and final product and gives it a “no further questions” letter if it’s deemed safe to consume.

“Today we are one step closer to your dining tables as Upside Foods becomes the first company in the world to receive the US FDA green light — that means the FDA has evaluated our production process and accepts our conclusion that our cultivated chicken is safe to eat,” Upside wrote on its website.

In late 2020, Singapore became the first country to approve the sale of cultivated meat, a chicken product from the US-based startup Eat Just, which has been sold at a loss in small quantities at a high-end restaurant, a hotel, and through a food delivery service in the Southeast Asian city-state.

The taste of cultivated meat

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to taste Upside’s cultivated chicken, and a few of its other products, at the company’s Emeryville, California, production facility outside San Francisco. I’ve been vegan for 15 years, but it reminded me of the poultry of my youth — gamy and crispy. Upside Foods’ production facility can produce around 50,000 pounds of cultivated meat a year, and the startup plans to eventually expand to produce 400,000 pounds of meat a year.

The novel meat goes by many names: lab-grown, cultivated, cell-based, and cell-cultured, to list just a few. For years, the “lab-grown” descriptor was accurate, given that efforts hadn’t gone much further than the lab. Now, some of the 100 startups around the world working to get it on your dinner plate are moving out of the lab and into small production facilities as they gear up for regulatory approval. But their offerings are wholly distinct from the vast array of plant-based meat products already on the market, like those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which are made with plant ingredients like soy, wheat, peas, beans, starches, and oil.

Cultivated meat, on the other hand, is real meat, but made without slaughtering or harming any animals. Startups take a biopsy of a living animal, a minimally invasive procedure, and create cell lines to avoid the need for continual biopsies. The cells are then grown in bioreactors — large stainless steel tanks — meant to mimic the inside of an animal, meaning the cells are kept at a certain temperature and fed a mix of nutrients, like amino acids, sugars, salt, and proteins, to help them proliferate and develop into fat or muscle tissue.

The FDA approval is the culmination of seven years of R&D for Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, which has attracted more than $600 million in investments, including from Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and the meat giant Cargill. And the approval comes almost a decade after the cultivated meat field held its unofficial kickoff in London, when Dutch scientist Mark Post, a pioneer in the industry who co-founded the startup Mosa Meat, debuted a $325,000 cultivated hamburger in 2013.

Since then, cultivated meat companies have sprouted up around the world, concentrated in the US, Europe, Israel, and Singapore, armed with billions in venture capital funding.

Designing the meat of the future

Despite the pending US regulatory approval and enormous R&D war chest, you won’t find slaughter-free meat on grocery store shelves or fast food menus anytime soon; it’s still highly expensive to produce. Since the $325,000 burger in 2013, many startups have claimed they’ve been able to make it at a fraction of that cost, with estimates ranging from the tens of thousands of dollars per pound in the late 2010s down to thousands or hundreds of dollars per pound in the last few years.

Cultivated meat has long been promoted by its boosters as a technology that, if affordably produced at scale, could reduce our dependence on conventional animal agriculture and its multitude of social costs: environmental degradation, animal cruelty, and looming public health threats such as antibiotic resistance and zoonotic risk.

But as the hype around cell-cultured meat has been building over the last decade, so too has the skepticism. Some experts say startups will never be able to produce the stuff in large-enough quantities and at a low-enough price to ever displace conventional meat production. It’s a question of economic, manufacturing, and biological constraints.

Even some startups making cultivated meat are skeptical about the possibility of making 100 percent cultivated meat efficiently enough to compete with slaughtered meat on price, and are going the route of making “hybrid meat” products — that is, products mostly made from plants, with enough cultivated fat or muscle tissue sprinkled in to make it taste meatier than your average veggie burger.

Today’s announcement brings cultivated meat startups a step closer to testing the viability of their technology — and the prescience of their skeptics.

17 Nov 03:18

The GOP captures the House — and is ready for revenge

by Nicole Narea
McCarthy, clean shaven in a navy suit, red tie, and white shirt, smiles. His silver hair shines under a bright stage light. Behind him is a screen that reads “Take back the House.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at an election night event celebrating GOP gains in the 2022 midterms. | Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images

Get ready for more oversight, investigations, and maybe even impeachment.

Democrats have lost control of the US House of Representatives and are now staring down at least two years of gridlock — and even more animosity — in Congress.

Democrats’ path to holding their House majority became increasingly narrow in recent days. Though the party was surprisingly competitive in some races, and held some swing seats thought to be beyond their reach, the GOP ultimately outcompeted them, picking up seats in New York, turning in a dominant performance in Florida (aided by newly gerrymandered districts), and flipping seats in the West.

Republicans won’t have the large majority they hoped for ahead of Election Day, however. Democrats were projected to lose at least 10 seats in the House, according to the Cook Political Report. The wind appeared to be under the GOP’s wings in the final weeks of the campaign, as concerns about inflation dominated in the polls and their closing message on crime appeared to resonate. Republicans needed just five seats for control. With some races still uncalled, they’re not on track to get too many more than that.

It’s an unusual margin for the party of the incumbent president, which typically fares poorly in midterm elections, and especially so given President Joe Biden’s approval ratings, though slightly up from their previous low, are still underwater. But seemingly buoyed by their defense of abortion access, pro-democracy stance, and stylistic differences with the GOP, Democrats managed to run ahead of expectations.

The small Republican majority will mean the likelihood that major legislation is passed in the new Congress is slim, particularly because Democrats held the Senate — and Biden still has veto power, though he indicated on Twitter that he’s willing to work with Republicans if they come to the table to address “the need to lower costs, protect the right to choose, and preserve our democracy.”

But even with a small majority, Republicans will still have power over what comes up for votes, investigations, and oversight.

“They don’t hand the gavels out in small, medium, and large size. There’s one size gavel with the ability to subpoena and hold this government accountable,” current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to be the new House speaker, said on Fox News Wednesday night. “I believe that this conference will rally together.”

McCarthy has also already indicated that he intends to refuse any increase to the debt ceiling absent cuts to programs that are priorities for Democrats, including clean energy investments and Social Security.

That could lead to a situation in which the US risks defaulting on its debt if the parties can’t come to an agreement, dealing a devastating blow to the economy. Democrats have discussed advancing legislation that would take the debt ceiling off the table, but it’s unclear whether there’s time to do so, with a little less than two months left in the current Congress.

The most significant consequence of Republican control in the House might be even more partisan ugliness than we’ve seen over the last two years. In August, before the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, McCarthy gave a preview of what’s to come: “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it,” he said in audio posted to Twitter by a Main Street Nashville reporter.

Republicans are ready to take revenge

Republicans are coming into power ready to get back at Democrats for what they perceive as four years of overreach, including their two impeachments of former President Donald Trump (with 10 Republican votes on the second occasion) and their investigation of the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Biden and his family — including the business dealings of the president’s son, Hunter Biden — are Republicans’ top targets. They also want to probe the origins of Covid-19 and the US’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is expected to lead a broad investigation of the Justice Department and the FBI following the August raid on Mar-a-Lago, which led to calls from Trump-aligned candidates to “defund the FBI.”

In July, some Republicans were also pushing for an investigation of the House select committee investigating January 6, suggesting it might involve subpoenaing members of that committee, including outgoing Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois once they are private citizens next year. They were also considering whether to investigate Pelosi’s role in Capitol security enforcement; intelligence and security failures; and the treatment of insurrectionists who have been jailed for their involvement, seemingly in a bid to rewrite the narrative of what happened that day.

Trump allies have also reportedly advocated for hearings and investigations into his groundless claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

A big question is whether Republicans will move to impeach Biden. Republicans have already filed nine impeachment resolutions against Biden and officials in his administration, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) alone accounting for five of them. But party leadership is hesitant to act on them too hastily. The GOP could also pursue the impeachment of members of Biden’s Cabinet, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland, among others.

Still, all of that doesn’t have the White House too worried. Officials are reportedly hoping that Republican efforts will backfire and allow Biden to contrast himself against the party in the lead-up to 2024, should he choose to run.

Exactly how much House Republicans are able to accomplish will depend on their ability to remain relatively unified. Their caucus will have a lot of ideological diversity, and there are likely to be vocal members of the far right calling for even more aggressive action on impeachment and investigations, as well as more moderate members demanding the party avoid overreach. McCarthy already faced the first test of his ability to cater to various segments of his caucus in his bid for speakership, and it is unlikely to be his last.

Update, November 17, 10:22 am: This story was originally published on November 16 and has been updated to include comments from McCarthy and Biden reacting to Republicans capturing the House.

17 Nov 03:17

Record number of parents miss work as respiratory illnesses spike in kids

by Beth Mole
Parents work on their computers while their son entertains himself at their home in Boston in April 2020.

Enlarge / Parents work on their computers while their son entertains himself at their home in Boston in April 2020. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

Respiratory illnesses are raging this fall, slamming children particularly hard. Cases of influenza-like illnesses are off to a startlingly strong and early start this season. RSV—respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus—continues to skyrocket. A stew of SARS-CoV-2 variants is still simmering in the background. And the rabble of usual cold-season viruses, such as rhinoviruses and enteroviruses, is also making the rounds.

With the surge in infections, children's hospitals around the country have reported being at capacity or overwhelmed, as Ars has reported before. But another effect of the crush of viruses is a squeeze on the workforce. As The Washington Post first reported Tuesday, the US broke its record last month for people missing work due to childcare problems—such as having children home sick and childcare facilities or schools shuttered due to staffing shortages and sickness.

In October, more than 100,000 employed Americans missed work for childcare-related problems, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is more missing workers than in any other month in recent records, including the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many childcare facilities and schools closed down for extended periods. At the height of pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020, the number of Americans missing work for childcare problems only reached the low 90,000s.

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16 Nov 19:09

Never Give Up

by Reza
16 Nov 18:10

If You Thought The FTC Was Going To Fuck Over Elon, Just Wait Until He Learns About The EU

by Mike Masnick

We’ve already pointed out that the new Twitter under Elon Musk may be facing some big challenges from the FTC in the US. The company is under a consent decree, and it’s not clear that Musk is complying with the terms of the consent decree. And unlike SEC violations, violating an FTC consent decree can hurt. Between the FTC and the DOJ, they can make it hurt. The fact that basically all of the remaining Twitter execs whose necks were on the line for potentially violating the FTC consent decree quit at the same time should tell you something (I guarantee it told the FTC something).

That said, the FTC may be the least of Musk’s problems once the EU gets ahold of him. Natasha Lomas, over at TechCrunch, has an interesting article detailing how the Musk-run Twitter may be falling out of compliance with the GDPR in the EU. That’s potentially a big deal, given that the GDPR can lead to pretty massive fines.

Under the EU’s GDPR, meanwhile, Twitter is obliged — in just one very basic requirement — to have a data protection officer (DPO) to provide a contact point for regulators.

Hence the departure of Kieran, its first and only DPO since the role was created at the company in 2018, has not gone unnoticed by its data protection watchdog in Ireland — as we also reported Friday. But the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC)’s concerns are already spiraling wider than Twitter’s compliance with notifications about core personnel: Last week, the authority — currently Twitter’s lead EU DPA under the GDPR’s OSS — put the social media firm on watch by signaling public concern when it said it would be putting questions to the company about the status of its main establishment in Ireland at a meeting scheduled for early this week, to discuss all the recent privacy changes since the Musk takeover.

Twitter has not commented publicly on the DPC’s warning nor on the departures of senior regulator-facing staffers. Indeed, since Musk took over, its communications department appears to have been dismantled and the company no longer responds to press requests for comment — so it was not possible to obtain an official statement from Twitter about these departures or on the substance of our report.

Not great! And, timing wise, it’s potentially much, much worse. Though, to understand why you need to know a bit of what’s been happening in the EU under the GDPR (something I’d pretty much guarantee that Musk has no idea about, though Twitter’s mostly departed legal team most likely did).

Right now there’s a bit of a turf war over the GDPR. You see, as it stands, under this “one-stop shop” (OSS) policy, Twitter really only has to deal with the Irish data protection authority (DPA). Indeed, a bunch of American tech companies have all basically done the same thing in the (possibly correct!) belief that the Irish DPC is probably the most business/innovation friendly of the various DPAs out there.

And that’s been pissing off Brussels. As we reported earlier this year, EU officials in Brussels have been whining that the GDPR has been a mess, but reading between the lines, they’re really complaining that the Irish DPC simply hasn’t been willing to stand up to American tech companies and fine them for things that the folks in Brussels are mad about. The technocrats in Brussels have been making noises about updating the GDPR to effectively take power out of the hands of the local DPAs, and to stop tech companies from forum shopping for DPAs.

So… that means, right now, the Irish DPC has tremendous incentive to find a head to scalp to prove that it’s up to the task of regulating data protection issues within American tech companies.

Enter Elon Musk (and exit everyone who could have explained this to him).

It could get even worse, as described above in the TechCrunch article, because by screwing up the OSS process, Twitter could open itself up to facing regulatory scrutiny from other, much, much, less forgiving DPAs:

If the DPC assesses (or is informed by Musk) that it no longer has its main establishment in Ireland, the company will crash out of the OSS — opening it up to being regulated by the data protection authority across the bloc’s 27 Member States, which would become competent to oversee its business.

In practice, that means any EU data protection authority would be able to act directly on concerns it has that local users’ data is at risk — with the power to instigate their own investigations and take enforcement actions. So Ireland’s more business-friendly regulator would no longer be leading the handling of any GDPR concerns about Twitter; probes could be simultaneously opened up all over the EU — including in Member States like France and Germany where data protection authorities have a reputation for being quicker to the punch (and/or more aggressive) in responding to complaints compared to Ireland.

If Twitter loses its ability to claim main establishment in Ireland, it would therefore drastically amp up the complexity, cost and risk of achieving GDPR compliance. (Reminder: Penalties under the regulation can scale up to 4% of annual global turnover — so these are not rules a normal CEO would ignore.)

So, all this fucking around seems likely to turn into “finding out” no matter what. The Irish DPC has strong incentives to make an example of Twitter… and if it does not, then lots of others may pile on instead.

That said, the TechCrunch article also includes some kind of eye-opening details that I don’t recall being mentioned publicly before:

The structure Twitter was relying upon to participate in the GDPR’s OSS includes a system of mandatory privacy and security reviews for new products — to enable the Irish entity to insert its feedback and exert influence over product development.

Under this framework, the board of the Irish company was able to raise concerns about planned new features ahead of launch, with input then fed back to U.S. product development teams to be incorporated into products before launch — thereby, assuming the protocol was correctly followed, empowering a local decision-making capacity inside the EU.

However, per our source, the situation at Twitter since Musk took over is that no information is being provided about what products are being worked on in the U.S. to the Irish entity’s management — nor is the Irish entity’s management able to provide any input into any product Musk is working on since it is not being kept apprised of what’s being developed.

Products in development at Twitter are not even being submitted into review pipelines anymore, much less getting reviews before being shipped, according to our source, who told us the system has essentially stopped operating.

So… that seems… not great? I mean, it is very much inline with the EU view of regulation where they often believe regulators should be seen as “partners” with the tech companies, but it still seems highly questionable that the company would allow Irish regulators “to insert… feedback and exert influence over product development.” If that’s an accurate portrayal of the situation, then it would be a good thing for Musk to cut it off, though it’s unclear if this was done on purpose or through sheer cluelessness.

And, of course, things are only likely to get worse for Elon in the EU. The DSA is coming into effect on January 1, 2024. And it’s going to be a huge mess. Like a tremendously big mess. But as we discussed on the podcast in that link, over the next year, there is still a lot of work to be done, often by the big tech companies, to define the exact parameters of how the DSA will work in practice.

Yes, there is some nonsense in the fact that the law is already passed and set to go into effect, but the actual rules are still being written, but that’s the process, so you have to deal with it. For the past few years, as we’ve pointed out, Twitter has been a vocal participant in the dialogue around the DSA, and has done a fair bit to push the final rules in better directions (it could have been much, much worse).

It’s unclear how (or if) an Elon-run Twitter will continue participating. Yes, back in May, Elon met with Thierry Breton, who is leading the process for the DSA, and made some monumentally stupid remarks saying he completely agreed with the DSA’s approach, which will lead to tremendous government-induced censorship. And Breton has been salivating ever since, even gleefully (and somewhat obnoxiously) tweeting about how the EU will control Twitter’s content moderation going forward:

None of that bodes well for Twitter in the EU going forward. Right now is when Twitter should be heavily engaged in helping to define the actual rules under the DSA and how the company will interact with EU enforcers. But I can’t imagine there are many people left at Twitter who even know this is happening.

Yes, I’m sure when the EU comes down on Elon’s Twitter, he’ll whine about the unfairness of government regulations. And, in some cases with the EU, he’s not wrong. But, he should at least be aware of the fucking process, and how it’s playing out right now, rather than just ignoring it entirely and then complaining when they crush him later.

16 Nov 16:56

Why some Republican senators are revolting against Mitch McConnell

by Li Zhou
Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Capitol building, with a decorated ceiling visible behind him.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters after meeting with Senate Republicans at the Capitol on November 15, 2022, in Washington, DC. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

They’re mad about the midterms, and the party’s lack of clear policy agenda.

After facing his first leadership challenge in 15 years, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has won reelection to that role, defeating a last minute bid from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

Republicans elected McConnell 37-10-1, with one senator voting present, according to CNN. That vote followed a contentious lunch discussion on Tuesday as members of the party tried to reckon with a disappointing midterms performance that some blamed on the minority leader.

Those who opposed McConnell had a number of grievances: They saw him as responsible for Republicans’ failure to win any new seats in the upper chamber, arguing that he didn’t give candidates enough of an agenda to run on. They also wanted more control over policy going forward, saying he hasn’t been inclusive enough when it comes to establishing legislative priorities.

In an attempt to express his frustration, Scott, the head of the Republicans’ campaign arm, announced his challenge on Monday. “The status quo is broken and big change is needed. It’s time for new leadership in the Senate,” Scott said in a post that followed a vigorous three-and-a-half-hour lunch discussion, during which Republicans discussed what they needed to do differently in order to win in the future.

Scott’s candidacy was always a long shot. To win the minority leader position, he needed a majority of the 49-member conference, or at least 25 votes. In the end, he fell short, with just 10 Republicans — including Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) — supporting his candidacy. Some lawmakers, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), had called for the leadership vote to be delayed until after the Georgia runoff, but a motion to push the vote failed as well.

McConnell was widely expected to win given the support he had from many members and his record as leader, including his success in stacking the courts with Republican judges. “I have the votes. I will be elected. The only issue is whether it will be sooner or later,” he emphasized during a press conference on Tuesday.

The Republican dissent — much like the conflict in the House, however — is a clear sign that certain lawmakers aren’t fully satisfied with how the party is being run, and signals more soul-searching about its direction ahead of 2024.

Why some Republicans are mad at McConnell

The frustration with McConnell centered on a few issues: First, that Republicans didn’t have a pitch to voters other than that they aren’t Democrats, and second, that the process for developing policy has been top-down.

“What leadership didn’t do on our side was give our candidates any affirmative agenda to run on that would actually appeal to working-class and independent voters,” Hawley, one of the vocal Scott supporters, told Vox.

Because they were in the minority during the current Congress, Republicans didn’t have legislative wins to emphasize like Democrats did, leading to disagreements between McConnell and Scott over what approach to take when it came to messaging.

The two have long clashed over whether Republicans should put forth a specific policy agenda explaining what they would do with a majority, or focus more broadly on attacks on Democrats and issues like people’s discontent with inflation. McConnell has favored the latter, while Scott introduced his own policy wish list earlier this year. Scott’s list included many policies that the party’s most traditional conservatives were against, and he garnered blowback, including a public rebuke from McConnell, for pushing unpopular proposals like sunsetting Social Security and Medicare.

This cycle, Republicans had a decent chance of winning back Senate control, but failed to do so after losing key states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where candidates that the party chose were further to the right and dinged for being of poor quality. Since then, Republicans have been reflecting on the cause of such losses, as well as who is responsible for them.

McConnell this week emphasized, as he has before, that candidate quality was a serious problem for the conference, a subject he and Scott have also differed on previously. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Scott headed this past cycle, has been reluctant to get involved in Republican primaries, arguing that doing so disregards the will of the voters, while McConnell has advocated for steering voters toward candidates with the best chance of being competitive in general elections.

Separately, Republicans expressed concerns that the legislative process wasn’t an open one that factored in different members’ input. Multiple lawmakers noted that this experience could be improved to add in different people’s suggestions. Hawley said, too, that Republicans should stop supporting deals that give Democrats legislative wins.

“You’ve got to make your case clearly of what we’re for. I just believe that that has to be very interactive with all senators, it can’t be laid upon our lap in 2,000-page bills that none of us have any idea [of] or input in how we got that,” Braun, a Scott backer, told reporters.

There have been critiques in both parties about how the legislative process currently works, with policies often created by small groups sanctioned by party leaders, or designed by leaders themselves.

There have also been plenty of complaints about how last-minute deals between party bosses lead to sudden votes on massive bills like the bipartisan infrastructure package and the Inflation Reduction Act, which can force lawmakers to make a quick decision on lengthy policies they haven’t had time to review or debate.

Scott promised he wouldn’t surprise members with legislation, and that he wouldn’t pressure people to vote in a way that’s counter to their constituents’ interests.

McConnell — and others — pointed to his record

In his own defense, McConnell pointed to his record leading the conference in both the majority and minority — experience that’s included confirming multiple Supreme Court Justices and conservative judges.

“Obviously he got a lot of judges confirmed, three confirmed in the Supreme Court,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who backed McConnell, told Vox. “Leadership roles are hard and you got 49 different personalities in there that everybody wants to do it their way, you’re herding cats.”

McConnell’s experience was clearly sufficient for many Republicans, who acknowledge that things could be improved, but say they’re still satisfied with the general leadership they have now. “I think a lot of it is people are disappointed with the outcome of the election,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters regarding the discontent some members have expressed.

While McConnell decisively won Wednesday’s election, Republicans said they welcomed the discussion about how things were being run and how they could potentially be improved in the future. Many indicated that the party needed to do some self-reflection ahead of 2024, when they have a more favorable map and hope to avoid the losses they experienced this cycle.

“We’ve not been hitting it out of the park … for a couple of decades and that’s because we don’t have a game plan for Americans,” said Braun.

Update, November 16, 3:25 pm: This story has been updated to reflect that Sen. Mitch McConnell has won the race for GOP Senate minority leader against Sen. Rick Scott.

16 Nov 13:11

In-N-Out Trademark Tourism Allows It To Keep Mark For ‘Double-Double’ In Canada

by Dark Helmet

In-N-Out is In-N-At it again. In our many posts on the burger chain, we’ve discussed the company’s habit of what I’ll call trademark tourism. In posts that have focused primarily on its trademarks in Australia, we’ve detailed out how In-N-Out will conduct a popup restaurant in these countries that it otherwise has zero brick and mortar presence in, usually once a year or so, simply to satisfy the use-in-commerce requirements to retain its registered trademarks. This allows the company to lock up language and branding in a country it refuses to operate in generally, other than these bullshit events designed solely to allow it to keep these trademarks active and registered.

It should be obvious to everyone that this sucks. It wasn’t the point of trademark laws in general and it’s a naked attempt to game the system on a technicality. But In-N-Out keeps getting away with it, and not just in Australia.

Way back in 2019, Tim Horton’s asked asked Canada’s trademark office to review the trademark In-N-Out has for “double-double,” the chain’s famous burger order. As in Australia, In-N-Out has no permanent storefronts in Canada. But, just as in Australia, the company shows up with its popup trucks every once in a while to keep its registered mark.

In 2019, Tim Hortons Canadian IP Holdings Corporation requested a review of In-N-Out’s ownership of the trademark. If a company holds a trademark, but cannot show that it has been used over the last three years, the trademark can be expunged, leaving the word or phrase free game for another user to register. But the Canadian Intellectual Property Office decided that In-N-Out Burger had been actively using the trademark, because of the company’s annual burger sales at the Langley Good Times Cruise-In.

“In addition to using its cookout trucks in certain locations in the United States, the owner [In-N-Out Burger] has also used its cookout trucks to sell food products in Canada for many years,” wrote Timothy Stevenson, a member of the Trademarks Opposition Board, in a Nov. 1 ruling.

There’s a reason Tim Horton’s has an interest in this particular trademark. In Canada, a double-double is best known as a coffee order with two creams and two sugars.

Now, Tim Horton’s probably doesn’t want to risk a trademark infringement suit from In-N-Out, especially when the latter doesn’t even truly operate within the country other than this one event it does. An event in which In-N-Out makes no profit, by the way. The company covers its own costs and then the rest goes to charity. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but I’m driving the point here that In-N-Out isn’t clinging to this trademark because it wants to do business in Canada. It clearly doesn’t.

The annual burger sale is not for profit. It covers its costs, and then any money above that goes to the Cruise-In Society, which distributes the cash to local charitable causes.

But according to the trademark office, that doesn’t matter. All that In-N-Out needs to do is participate in this charity event once every three years and it gets to keep its trademark.

Again, that isn’t what trademark laws are designed for. The public is very much not being served by allowing the company to retain the mark. For 364 days a year, there’s no public confusion even possible in Canada.

Trademark tourism of this kind simply shouldn’t be allowed, full stop.

16 Nov 02:56

Devin Nunes Learns That If He’s Going To Sue For Suggesting His Family Hired Undocumented Workers, Part Of The Lawsuit Is Finding Out If The Workers Are Documented

by Mike Masnick

Well, well, well. As you may recall, back in 2019 Devin Nunes and his bumbling lawyer Steven Biss sued Esquire magazine and reporter Ryan Lizza because Nunes really did not like this article about Nunes’ parents and their family farm, which is actually in Iowa, rather than California as many people believed. It’s an interesting article, in large part because of the way the town sort of freaked out when they realized Lizza was working on an article. The headline of the article talks about a “politically explosive secret,” and I took it to mean the fact that the farm that Nunes’ regularly talked about had (very quietly) moved to Iowa, rather than staying in California. But, there is at least a vague suggestion that the farm might hire undocumented workers, since that was standard practice for farms in that part of Iowa. Lizza’s article doesn’t come out and say that, but it does note this:

Other dairy farmers in the area helped me understand why the Nunes family might be so secretive about the farm: Midwestern dairies tend to run on undocumented labor. The northwest-Iowa dairy community is small. Most of the farmers know one another, and most belong to a regional trade group called the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance (though WIDA told me NuStar is not a member). One dairy farmer said that the threat of raids from ICE is so acute that WIDA members have discussed forming a NATO-like pact that would treat a raid on one dairy as a raid on all of them. The other pact members would provide labor to the raided dairy until it got back on its feet.

In every conversation I had with dairy farmers and industry insiders in northwest Iowa, it was taken as a fact that the local dairies are wholly dependent on undocumented labor. The low unemployment rate (it’s 2 percent in Osceola County), the low profit margins in the dairy business, and the global glut of milk that keeps prices low make hiring outside of the readily available pool of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala unthinkable.

“Eighty percent of the Latino population out here in northwest Iowa is undocumented,” estimated one dairy farmer in the area who knows the Nunes family and often sees them while buying hay in nearby Rock Valley. “It would be great if we had enough unemployed Americans in northwest Iowa to milk the cows. But there’s just not. We have a very tight labor pool around here.” This person said the system was broken, leaving dairy farmers no choice. “I would love it if all my guys could be legal.”

And, at the time, you could see how Nunes, as a high ranking Republican Congress member, thought that… might not look good, given the GOP’s stance on undocumented workers and immigration.

So, Nunes sued. And then, his family and their farm also sued (also using Biss). The cases weren’t going well for Nunes or his family (they were going really poorly actually), but they got a reprieve thanks to a truly bizarre 8th Circuit ruling that argued that a tweet Lizza made after the lawsuit had been filed could be defamatory in “republishing” the article while on notice that Nunes claimed its false. You can read that link to understand why that ruling is bad and wrong, but the case has continued.

That said, there has been some craziness around the depositions in the case including one involving an attempted deposition of an employee of the Nunes’ farm, NuStar Farms. The employee showed up with a lawyer hired by the farm, who advised the employee to plead the 5th regarding questions about his documents. Steven Biss then interrupted the deposition, paused it, and when they came back the lawyer said he was no longer representing the employee. There was a lot more of this kind of thing as well. Just go read the original post.

Anyway, that case has continued, and as Liz Dye over at Above the Law first noted, if you’re going to sue someone claiming it’s defamation to merely suggest that all the farms around where your family’s farm is hire undocumented workers, well, whether or not your farm has undocumented workers is one of those things that’s going to come out in court.

Lizza and Hearst have filed quite an incredible motion for summary judgment. And, at the very least it suggests you’d have to be not very smart at all to sue for defamation over a claim regarding whether or not there were undocumented workers on your farm. While parts of the motion are redacted, it’s not too difficult to see that much of what’s in there suggests that the Nunes family not only likely hired undocumented workers, but they knew about it. Specifically, NuStar, after submitting an employee roster to the Social Security Agency was informed that the majority of their employees received “no match” notices, which does not definitively prove that they are undocumented, but certainly raises… concerns about their documentation.

NuStar produced a verified employee roster with their names, proffered SSNs, dates of employment, and dates of birth… In response to the Court’s order, the SSA reported that data for 76%, or 243 of 319, of NuStar employees listed did not match its records….

This data is consistent with two so-called “no-match” letters the SSA sent NuStar in November 2019 and December 2020… The letters state that, for tax year 2018, 20 of 27 NuStar employees (74%) did not match SSA records , and for tax year 2019, 14 of 19 employees (74%) did not match….

Also, during Nunes’ testimony, he revealed that he, personally had first-hand knowledge of his family’s hiring practices.

The Congressman testified that he has “firsthand knowledge” of how his family hires farm workers, from when he worked with them in California on ventures they “all… shared”:

I mean, I do have obviously firsthand knowledge… about when I did it way back in the day, the way that we did it. I was trained by my mother and my grandmother… on what to do. … I can’t imagine that they changed when they went there.”

As the lawyers note in the filing, the claim that the farm couldn’t possibly know whether or not the workers were undocumented is at odds with the law:

Perhaps, like the Congressman, the NuStar Plaintiffs will persist in claiming ignorance until an employee has said out loud that they are unauthorized. But that is not even the standard the government must meet to prosecute knowing hire violations under federal immigration law….

Nunes also claimed that as an employer to look into whether or not someone here is undocumented is not allowed. But the motion points out that there is, in fact, a E-Verify tool provided by the government that tons of employers used. Nunes, during deposition, dodged questions about using E-Verify, but the motion points out that he didn’t seem to feel that way as a Congressman who talked about verification all the time.

The Congressman’s position in this case is that any employer verification to “find out whether somebody’s here illegally” is “discriminatory and illegal.”… (“Even if the [verification] tool existed, [employers] can’t use it.”). His reasoning extends to the government’s tool E-Verify, which is authorized by statute, allows instant comparison of the I-9 to government records, and is used by over a million employers…. When asked if E-Verify may be used lawfully, he would not answer directly, citing its “discriminatory nature” and saying “it is unlawful to use E-Verify to target people . . . .” … (“Q. Would it surprise you to learn that the United States government uses it? A. That’s your opinion.”). [REDACTED] Because “there is no way” to verify someone’s status, he claims the only way one could know a worker is undocumented is if the worker admits it—he has never known an “illegal” worker because although he has “worked with people in agriculture . . . [his] whole life[,] [n]ot one person ever came up to [him] and said, oh, I’m illegal. Not one.”

The above testimony is at odds with the Congressman’s 19-year career as a legislator, when he continually tried to pass laws that addressed I-9 verification requirements for dairy workers and confronted the reality that unauthorized workers are ubiquitous on dairy farms.

Between 2003 and 2019, the Congressman co-sponsored eight bills (voting for a ninth) on the shortage of authorized farm workers, particularly in dairies….. The bills sought to amend a visa (H-2A) that applies only where “there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified” in the U.S.—i.e., only where there is a labor shortage—to cover farm and dairy workers. … These efforts mirror his public statements where, [REDACTED] he approvingly cited the “Bracero Program,” which until 1964 allowed Mexican nationals to work in the United States on short contracts in agriculture…. The Congressman has said in interviews that “security along with a permit system of some kind, and then a verification system” has “always been the solution.”

The Congressman’s legislative record and public statements belie his testimony that verifying work eligibility is “illegal,” and “there is no way . . . to know” authorization status…. As a lawmaker, far from treating E-Verify as “illegal,” he tried three times to make an electronic verification “system modeled after . . . E-Verify” mandatory, publicly lauding it. … (saying on Fox News, E-Verify has “worked really, really well” and should be mandatory).

Ooops.

Also, this:

The Congressman’s bills also contradict his testimony that “nobody’s hiring unauthorized workers.” … The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (“FWMA”) of 2019 (which he cosponsored) and 2021 (which he voted for) would give status to unauthorized workers already working in the U.S. yet who are “inadmissible or deportable from the United States,” i.e., unauthorized…. This would make little sense if “nobody” hired unauthorized workers because it is “impossible,” as the Congressman claimed at his deposition…. (in Fox News interview, saying, “[E]veryone knows that, in this country, we have got millions of people that are here on either expired permits, or they never had a permit in the first place.”).

Oh, and this:

Six times, the Congressman tried to eliminate penalties for farm workers who falsified SSNs.

Huh. They also mention nine other bills he worked on regarding farm workers. Yet, in deposition when asked if he recalls any bills he co-sponsored related to labor in the agriculture industry, Nunes answered “No.” The filing notes that this deposition took place just a few months after he had voted for just such a bill.

There’s a lot more in the filing, but, really, it’s kind of astounding that this case was ever filed in the first place. It’s equally astounding that Biss and Nunes didn’t think that all of this would come out.

15 Nov 18:26

Public Records Expose Indian Government’s Full Access To Nation’s Internet Traffic

by Tim Cushing

The government of India continues to increase its monitoring of residents’ day-to-day lives. Like pretty much every other country in the world, India relies on the internet to handle communications, data, and multiple services used by residents.

The government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has become less democratic and more authoritarian. To keep dissent to a minimum, the government has repeatedly expanded its power to surveil internet traffic and communications, under the theory that doing so will somehow make the nation more secure.

Expansions of government power are codified with alarming regularity — much of it focused on controlling narratives, snooping on residents, and bending foreign social media platforms to its will.

Under Modi’s government, platforms and service providers have been stripped of safe harbor protections in order to be held directly responsible for user-generated content. In addition, the government has added compelled assistance mandates, which force service providers to log tons of user data continuously and provide government on-demand access to this information. The end result has been proactive removal of questionable content by service providers in order to avoid being punished by the Modi government for allowing “illegal” content to be spread by India’s internet users.

The government’s cyber law continues to morph, stripping protections and expanding government power with each iteration. Expansive mandated access to internet data and communications have resulted in ever more proactive activity from service providers — something inadvertently exposed in public records obtained by Entrackr.

“All ILD [international long distance] and ISP [internet service provider] licensees are mandated to connect their systems to the CMS [Centralized Monitoring System] facility,” and “law enforcement agencies are provided facility for on-line and real-time monitoring of traffic,” the Internet Service Providers Association of India said in a filing with the Department of Telecommunications obtained by Entrackr under the RTI [Right to Information] Act.

“This facility makes the obligation of providing physical space (10 work stations with access control) a redundant real estate facility at the Licensee gateway locations,” ISPAI said.

Whoops. There’s a lot of quiet parts being said out loud here. First off, the service providers group is admitting it gives the government on-demand and real-time access to traffic flowing through their servers and services. But the second part is even worse: the data the government already has access to (thanks to these mandates) makes in-house access by government surveillance entities redundant. The overall point seems to be that ISPs are already at max compliance, so there’s no need to mandate on-location access points.

Not only is this remote access so easy to use ISPs and long distance providers feel on-site access would be redundant, it’s also so easy to use the government doesn’t even need to inform or otherwise involve the entities housing this data. As early as 2015, the Indian government was already accessing this data without service providers’ knowledge. All that appears to have changed is that this access is now codified.

“Interception through LIS happened by interception requests which were made by law enforcement agencies to the Nodal Officers of the TSPs,” the Internet Freedom Foundation said in 2020. The CMS, however, undercuts these requests by letting the government access data in real time without individual requests.

Entrackr says the scale of the government’s access is “unclear.” Well, when service providers aren’t even given notification that their data and traffic are being accessed, it’s left up to the government to be honest about how often it’s using these powers. Cutting ISPs out of the equation allows the government to keep its own set of books, so to speak. And when government surveillance is almost completely discretionary, it’s highly unlikely the data collected by the government on its internet surveillance activities will be accurate.

All of this makes Indian residents little more than data generators the government can surveil at will. They’re not really citizens. They’re just open wallets and open books to a government that, under its current leadership, considers citizens something to be governed, rather than something it serves.