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10 Dec 13:00

A nebbishy bank teller discovers he’s trapped in a video game in Free Guy

by Jennifer Ouellette

Ryan Reynolds stars in Free Guy.

A lowly bank teller discovers he's actually a non playable character in an open-world video game in Free Guy, a forthcoming film from 20th Century Fox. Director Shawn Levy debuted the first trailer this weekend at the 2019 Comic Con Experience (CCXP) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, describing it as "a superhero origin story except without the tights, powers, or pre-existing IP," according to Deadline Hollywood. Stars Ryan Reynolds and Joe Keery (Steve Harrington on Stranger Things) were also on hand for the event.

Per the official synopsis, Free Guy is about "a bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, decides to become the hero of his own story…one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way…before it is too late."

The trailer opens with cheery bank teller Guy (Reynolds) waking up and heading to work. He remains completely unfazed as he encounters all manner of bizarre occurrences en route: shootouts, explosions, a guy with a flame-thrower, and his pal Joe getting thrown through a storefront window. ("Whoa-ho! Mondays! Amirite, Joe?")

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10 Dec 12:56

Ex-Governor Tries To Silence A Critic With A Bar Complaint; Gains Critic 70,000+ New Twitter Followers

by Tim Cushing

The whitest boy on the beach, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, has decided to bring his beach-grabbing exploits to the attention of everyone.

Of course, that's not what Huckabee actually wanted to do. He wanted his privatizing of the area where water meets land to remain as unnoticed as he wishes his front yard was. But if we've learned anything at all over the years, it's that the more you try to stop people from talking about your beachfront property, the less likely it is that you'll get them to stop talking about it.

Huckabee's $6 million mansion in the Florida panhandle proves money can't buy quite as much happiness as it used to. Huckabee thought he had purchased a chunk of beach to go with his beach house. Florida beachgoers felt otherwise. They used "his" beach like they used the beach anywhere else along the coast.

Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal has compiled a few choice quotes from Huckabee regarding the disrespecting of his $6 million beachfront property.

“I’ve had underage kids smoking pot and openly drinking,” Huckabee wrote. (Did he check their IDs?)

Further confirming millennial's negative stereotypes about “boomers,” Huckabee enumerated complaints in the letter about everything from loud music to beach parties to dog poop to used prophylactics.  

At one point, he even described witnessing a sexual encounter atop our shimmering emerald coast waters. “Two weeks ago, a young couple stripped naked and conducted various sex acts including intercourse on a YOLO board in clear sight of the beach in front of my home at 2 in the afternoon…”

Fun stuff. Huckabee says he bought the beach along with the house. Governor Rick Scott agreed, passing a law that privatized a bunch of previously-public land in 2018. (It was sort of walked back a few months later.)  A bunch of Floridians disagree and have been working to codify public access to beaches panhandle millionaires believe they own. Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder has been leading the charge, doing pro bono work for non-profit "Florida Beaches for All."

Uhlfelder has also been taking a few Twitter jabs at Mike Huckabee, much to the former governor's dismay. Here's Steve Bousquet's summation of recent events, which have culminated in a very stupid move by the $6 million man.

When a persistent critic, a lawyer on the public side of the beach access battle, tweeted back with sarcasm and humor, Huckabee tried to silence him by filing a formal complaint with the Florida Bar. The complaint should be tossed out as a sham and an abuse of the system of disciplining lawyers.

In his Bar complaint, Huckabee accuses lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder of “vile and unprofessional attacks” and “repeatedly posting disparaging information about me,” which Huckabee claims violate Bar rules on integrity of the legal profession. Huckabee argues that the Bar is the right forum because the lawyer’s Twitter profile mentions his law practice.

Yes, Huckabee has filed a bar complaint in hopes of shutting down this persistent critic -- one who suggested Huckabee's Secret Service nickname should be "beach thief." The complaint [PDF] is quite the read, with Huckabee (through legal representation) explaining just how awful (and allegedly unethical) it is to be mocked on social media.

This is not a case in which an attorney is generally commenting about some public matter. Rather, Mr. Uhlfelder is directly targeting me for harassment while I am an adverse party during ongoing litigation. He accused me of being a thief, disparaged me and my family, and continued to harass me even when I blocked his account. Mr. Uhlfelder's conduct is an embarrassment to the reputation of the Florida Bar.

Whew. OK then. The complaint contains numerous screenshots from Uhlfelder's Twitter account doing things like calling Huckabee out for blocking him. It also contains tweets noting that Huckabee has called Uhlfelder an "ambulance chaser" and suggested the lawyer "follow Jesus" rather than Huckabee. (On Twitter, I guess…)

What it doesn't show is anything Uhlfelder should be reprimanded for. Sure, Uhlfelder could be a bit more tactful when interacting with litigation opponents on social media, but the Florida Bar rules don't specifically prohibit this sort of behavior. Lawyers aren't allowed to "disparage" or "humiliate" opposing litigants, but it would be a stretch to call Uhlfelder's mostly-innocuous tweaking of the easily-offended Huckabee a violation of this rule.

What Huckabee has managed to do is draw more attention to both his own questionable actions and the movement targeting the law that turned public beaches into private yards last year. Uhlfelder had fewer than 500 Twitter followers prior to Huckabee's complaint. Now, he has over 70,000.

Huckabee tried to silence a critic by handing him a bigger megaphone. If Huckabee's skin had just been a little thicker, this could have been contained to the tiny part of Twitter that cares about the dynamics of Florida beachfront legislation. Instead, it's now all about Huckabee and his inability to handle criticism. Huckabee now has thousands of new critics, almost none of whom can be hit with a bar complaint.

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10 Dec 12:54

Revolving Door Revolves Some More: Head Of Copyright Office Leaves To Join MPAA

by Mike Masnick

For many years we've been covering the rather disturbing revolving door between the US Copyright Office and Hollywood. This includes a bunch of copyright maximalists going back and forth between entertainment industry lobbying organizations and government positions. It seems to happen over and over and over again. Indeed, the former head of the Copyright Office, Maria Pallante, now leads the Association of American Publishers, where she's been advocating for ever more ridiculous copyright laws.

And, now we find out that the current head of the Copyright Office, Karyn Temple, a former RIAA VP, who only just became the official Copyright Register (after a few years of being the "interim" Copyright Register after Pallante was fired), has jumped ship to the MPAA. Because of course.

Karyn A. Temple, one of the world’s leading authorities on copyright, has been named Senior Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel at the Motion Picture Association, Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin announced today.

Temple will join the association in January after serving more than eight years in the U.S. Copyright Office, most recently as the Register of Copyrights, where she fulfilled her statutory authority to administer U.S. copyright law and advise members of the U.S. Congress, federal courts, and executive branch agencies on issues of copyright law and policy.

This is all perfectly legal, but given some of the many questions people have raised over the years about why the Copyright Office frequently appears to be more an arm of Hollywood, rather than the American public (as is supposed to be the case), this move should raise a few more eyebrows. It won't, of course. This is just how things are done.

But even Hollywood folks should be concerned about this. For all the laughable claims it makes about how we need more "respect" for copyright, the one doing the most to undermine that respect is Hollywood itself, with such a blatant display of "soft corruption." No one actually believes the Copyright Office has any of the public's interests in mind, when the head of the office is simultaneously lining up her next job directly with Hollywood's biggest lobbyist.

No one respects copyright because Hollywood has made sure it deserves no respect.

Oh, and I guess it deserves mention that the reason the MPAA needed a General Counsel is because the last one got arrested on charges of blackmail and sexual assault.

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10 Dec 12:54

Attorney General To Law Enforcement Critics: Good Luck Getting A Cop When You Need One

by Tim Cushing

Attorney General Barr to America: Fuck you, you ungrateful bastards. You're on your own.

Attorney General Bill Barr suggested in a speech Tuesday night that continued police protection for certain “communities” in the United States could ultimately depend on those communities showing more “respect and support” for law enforcement.

More specifically, vis-a-vis the general public being invited to go fuck itself:

“I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers,” Barr told the crowd. “And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves―and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”

There are a few ways to read the AG's comments. We're welcome to any one of them because neither the AG nor the DOJ has offered any clarifying comments on Barr's comments, which read like a veiled threat to communities that don't show the proper amount of respect.

The very most charitable way to read this statement by Barr still does no favors to cops. Elliot Hannon of Slate suggests it might link back to comments Bill Barr has made about America's least popular war.

A more benign interpretation of Barr’s comments is: If police are vilified, it is harder to get people to do police work, which, in turn, could make it difficult―or even impossible―to perform the vital functions of law enforcement anywhere. Hence, communities could end up with inadequate policing services. Barr’s reference during his speech―and in previous remarks―to how soldiers were treated returning home from the Vietnam War suggests this reading. “In the Vietnam era, our country learned a lesson. I remember that our brave troops who served in that conflict weren’t treated very well in many cases when they came home, and sometimes they bore the brunt of people who were opposed to the war,” he said. “The respect and gratitude owed to them was not given. And it took decades for the American people finally to realize that.

Even if we are to assume this "benign" interpretation is more aligned with Barr's meaning than the less charitable (but possibly more accurate) interpretations we'll soon be delving into, this is Barr equating domestic law enforcement officers with soldiers returning from a war. It's an interpretation that buys into the self-delusion so common to law enforcement today. Rather than recognize they're public servants there to protect and serve the public, they've decided they're soldiers in a war zone surrounded by enemies. This should be an awkward position. Somehow it isn't. The people cops consider enemies are the same ones making sure their paychecks clear.

That's the most charitable reading: that cops are vets of the New Vietnam -- persecuted by the uncomprehending masses who churlishly refuse to be grateful for all the freedom secured by law enforcement blood.

Here are the more awful alternatives, in descending order of awfulness.

Option 1: Barr is suggesting cops will engage in "work slowdown" if they're not properly appreciated for the work they do. As community pressure to improve relations increases, cops will respond by doing less enforcement. If the line between regular cop business and the sort of shit that might result in discipline is no longer afforded the level of ambiguity cops have become accustomed to, they'll walk away from anything that might reflect badly on them should they choose to intervene in the manner they've become accustomed to.

This translation of Barr's remarks makes cops look like criminals of opportunity. (And they make Barr look like a union boss.) When the going gets tough, the self-appointed toughs get slacking. When public opinion and a lack of oversight favors applications of excessive force and routine rights violations, cops are willing to work. When they don't, cops won't.

The worst interpretation of Barr's comments is this: cops are a criminal organization running a protection racket. If citizens aren't willing to cough up enough respect, cops will no longer act as protectors. It's pretty close to the interpretation directly above this. The difference, though, is this: the relationship between cops and the people they're supposed to serve is not one of mutual respect. It's a one way street "guarded" by extortionists.

This may be what Barr is implying. It's not surprising he won't own up to it if it is. These comments were given to law enforcement members gathered to receive service awards. The choir got what it came for: an affirmation of their elevation above the people they serve, no matter which interpretation of Barr's comments you select.

This is dangerous stuff. This isn't just Barr big-upping his fellow cops. This is Barr telling cops they're more equal than the people who employ them. This is Barr saying cops are heroes even when so many are undeserving of this title. This is ugly and it's going to make what's already a problem even worse. Law enforcement officers have spent decades cultivating an "us vs. them" attitude that has nothing to do with cops and robbers, and everything to do with separating themselves further from anyone who could hold them accountable for their actions. Barr has affirmed their "rightness" and he's demonstrated he'll back the blue, no matter how much damage it does to the communities these officers serve.

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10 Dec 12:46

Everything is Great

by Reza
09 Dec 18:21

The Government Has Taken At Least 1,100 Children From Their Parents Since Family Separations Officially Ended

by John Washington

“You can’t imagine the pain,” Dennis said. “If you’re not a dad, you don’t know what it’s like.” I reached Dennis by phone in a small town in the Copán Department of Honduras, where he lives with his wife and three children. For five months this year, the family was fractured across borders. Sonia, age 11, had been separated from Dennis after they crossed into the United States and turned themselves in to the Border Patrol to ask for asylum. Dennis was deported from Texas, and Sonia sent to a shelter in New York.

The U.S. government is still taking children from their parents after they cross the border. Since the supposed end of family separation — in the summer of 2018, after a federal judge’s injunction and President Donald Trump’s executive order reversing the deeply controversial policy — more than 1,100 children have been taken from their parents, according to the government’s own data. There may be more, since that data has been plagued by bad record keeping and inconsistencies. The government alleges that separations now only happen when a parent has a criminal history or is unfit to care for a child, but an ongoing lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that the current policy still violates the rights of children and families. Border Patrol agents, untrained in child welfare, make decisions that some parents are unfit to stay with their children based solely on brief interactions with them while they are held in custody.

Dennis picks coffee during the harvest season and works other basic jobs when he can, but he struggles to put food on the table and pay for his kids’ school supplies. In April, unable to find steady work in the coffee fields and receiving regular threats from a creditor, he headed north, hoping to find safety and opportunity in the United States. “We were barely eating. I couldn’t give my kids a life,” Dennis told me. (He preferred that I only use first names for him and his family due to safety concerns.) Thinking that his two boys — ages 2 1/2 and 7 — were too young to travel, Dennis took Sonia and together they left Honduras. They trekked through Guatemala and Mexico by bus, train, and on foot. They were robbed once, terrified the whole way, and had to beg for food. They slept wherever they could — sometimes in the woods, along the tracks, or, when they could scrounge enough money together, in migrant flophouses.

After about a month of travel, Dennis and Sonia crossed the Rio Grande in a small raft outside of McAllen, Texas, on the morning of May 17. They walked for hours before they turned themselves in to a Border Patrol agent and were taken to a processing center, where they were locked up in one of the freezing-cold temporary holding centers known as hieleras, or iceboxes. Only a few hours later, a Border Patrol agent took Dennis and Sonia and locked them in separate rooms. It was the last time he would see his daughter for five months.

Border Patrol agents, untrained in child welfare, make decisions that some parents are unfit to stay with their children based solely on brief interactions.

For the next 11 days, Dennis remained in the hielera, asking repeatedly to see his daughter. Border Patrol officers tried to get him to sign papers that were in English, which he couldn’t read. He refused. “You can’t see her,” a Border Patrol agent told him about his daughter. The agent said that she was fine, but wouldn’t tell him where she was. Border Patrol transferred Dennis to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Port Isabel, Texas. They told him that because of a previous deportation and a felony — a 10-year-old charge for using false work authorization papers — he was ineligible for asylum. For the next 30 days of his detention, he knew nothing of his daughter or her whereabouts. Finally, an agent called him over and told him that she was on the phone. The call was brief. They both cried. He told her to be strong. He told her that they were going to send him away. Two weeks later, without talking to his daughter again, he was deported back to Honduras. “I’m a man, but I cried. I cried,” he told me. “Oh, it was so hard.”

Sonia was in New York in an Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR, shelter, where she was living with a number of other children. In Honduras, after Dennis’s deportation, the rest of the family waited in agony for nearly 5 months, until October 9, when Sonia was released and then flown home. “My wife,” Dennis said, “she didn’t eat, didn’t sleep. You can’t imagine the suffering. And, don’t forget,” he reminded me, “she had two other kids to raise.”

In 2018, much of the world looked on aghast as U.S. immigration agents separated thousands of children from their parents in an unprecedented anti-immigrant crackdown. In one notorious instance captured on audio, Border Patrol agents laughed and joked at desperate children crying for their parents. The separations, part of a series of policy changes to limit total immigration and effectively shutter refugee and asylum programs, stemmed from the so-called zero-tolerance policy that began in El Paso in 2017 and was rolled out border-wide in the spring of 2018. The administration had announced that it would seek to prosecute all people who illegally crossed the border (despite the fact that, according to U.S. law, it is not illegal for an asylum-seeker to cross the border), but it later emerged that the government had specifically targeted families. A strict zero tolerance policy — prosecuting every individual who was apprehended — was always beyond capacity. The focus on families was part of a distinct effort by the Department of Homeland Security and the White House to try and dissuade — by subjecting parents and children to the terror of separation — more people from coming to the United States.

After widespread uproar and international condemnation, Trump issued an executive order to halt the separations on June 20, 2018. Six days later, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued an injunction, demanding the reunification of parents with their children within 30 days. For children under the age of 5, the deadline was 14 days. For some, however, it was too late. Parents had already lost custody, been deported, or even lost track of their children. Even for those who were reunified, trauma had set in. In 2018, the number of publicly known separations was 2,800. In fact, as the government revealed this October after pressure from the ACLU lawsuit, that original count was over 1,500 children short. Furthermore, the government has admitted that more than 1,100 additional families have been separated since the executive order and injunction — bringing the total number of children impacted to at least 5,446. That number may still be an undercount and will continue to rise if immigration officials’ current practices continue.

The government has admitted that 1,100 additional families have been separated — bringing the total number of children impacted to at least 5,446.

The grounds for the ongoing separations — the 1,100 new cases — stem from a carve-out in Sabraw’s injunction: that children should not be separated “absent a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child.” That language, the ACLU and others allege in an ongoing lawsuit, is being interpreted too broadly by the government, resulting in unwarranted separations. ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who has been litigating against the government on behalf of a class of separated families, called the ongoing separation policy “as shocking as it is unlawful.”

The reason that Dennis and Sonia were separated, for example, goes back to 2008, when Dennis’s wife was pregnant with Sonia, and Dennis came to the U.S. to find work and support his family. He made it to Minnesota and was loaned false papers to get a job, but he was quickly picked up and charged with forgery. He spent three months in a federal prison before being deported. Eleven years later, that conviction led to Sonia being taken from him. “You could call any child expert from anywhere in the country, and they would tell you that these parents are not a danger to the child,” Gelernt said in a September 20 hearing. “The government is simply saying, ‘We are going to take away children because the court said we could.’”

In a brief filed to the court in July, ACLU attorneys pointed out cases in which children were taken from their parents for “the most minor or nonviolent criminal history.” The reasons for separation cited in those cases included marijuana possession convictions, a 27-year-old drug possession charge, and a charge of “malicious destruction of property value” over a total of $5. An 8-month-old was separated from his father for a “fictitious or fraudulent statement.” A mother who broke her leg at the border had her 5-year-old taken from her while she was in emergency surgery, and ORR did not release the child for 79 days.

In an example of a dubious determination made by the Border Patrol of a father being “unfit” to care for his 1-year-old daughter, an agent separated the two because the father left his daughter in a wet diaper while she was sleeping. She had been sick and, after caring for her and taking her to the hospital on two separate occasions for a high fever, the father “wanted to let her sleep instead of waking her to change her diaper,” according to the ACLU brief. Nonetheless, a female guard took his daughter from his arms, criticized him for not changing the diaper, and even called him a bad father. The government’s own documents show that the father has no other criminal history.

In another instance, a 3-year-old girl was separated from her father due to Customs and Border Protection’s allegation that he was not actually her parent. Although the father’s name does not appear on the child’s birth certificate, he presented other documentation showing parentage and requested a DNA test as proof. Officials ignored his request and separated the family. After an attorney intervened, the family took a DNA test and confirmed paternity. Meanwhile, the daughter was sexually abused while in ORR care and, according to the brief, “appears to be severely regressing in development.”

CBP did not respond to a request for comment.

The ACLU’s brief received some coverage this summer, but many of the most egregious stories it collected went unmentioned. Overall, even as the separations have continued, media attention has flagged. From a high of 2,000 stories a month in the summer of 2018, this fall has seen an average of only 50 to 100 stories a month that mention family separation, according to an analysis by Pamela Mejia, head of research at Berkeley Media Studies Group. Mejia told me that the issue had “reached a saturation point” for many people: “The overwhelming number of stories that generate outrage has made it harder to keep anything in the headlines.”

“At this point, no government official can plausibly claim that they are unaware of the damage these separations are doing to the children, yet they continue to do it.”

At first, the child victims of the government’s actions were easy to empathize with. There was no “crime frame,” as Mejia put it, to explain away the children’s suffering, in contrast to the way that immigration is often covered. Whether denominating migrants as “illegals,” seeing them as “hordes” or “invaders,” or using a broad brush to associate them with crime or terrorism, politicians and the media alike often wield anti-immigrant or dehumanizing language when discussing immigration. Young children, however, are something different. The broad consensus in 2018 was that the family separation policy was an outrageous and unnecessary cruelty.

But, despite the outrage, the policy continued and now there’s a sense of “futility that this is going to keep happening,” Mejia said. Gelernt likewise attributed the lack of ongoing coverage to “media burnout,” noting especially that there are more than 200 kids under the age of 5 who have been separated from their families. It’s hard to cover so many heartrending stories, Gelernt said. And now, simply, “People think it’s over.”

But it’s not. Sabraw, the southern California judge who issued the injunction in 2018, is expected to rule soon on the ACLU’s challenge to the continued separations. But even if he again orders the government to reunify families, or narrows immigration officials’ latitude in carrying out separations, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the government can, or will, comply. CBP, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, has already proven negligent in keeping track of the separated children — calling families who had undergone separation, for example, “deleted family units.” Some children still remain unaccounted for.

“At this point, no government official can plausibly claim that they are unaware of the damage these separations are doing to the children,” Gelernt told me, “yet they continue to do it.”

In late November, back in Copán, Sonia graduated from sixth grade. One of her favorite things to do, Dennis told me, is to draw with her younger brothers. She is also teaching the older of the two boys to read, practicing his letters with him. She’ll go into seventh grade soon, but her father worries about her growing up in what he described as a gang-ridden town. Honduras has one of the highest incidence rates of violence against women in the world. He also doesn’t know how he’ll be able to pay for her high school. “I know it’s desperate,” he said, “but I’m thinking of heading north again. I can’t see how else to do it.”

Sonia doesn’t talk much about her time separated from her family, but Dennis notices that she’s changed, and he and his wife are worried: “She told me she didn’t feel good. She was just crying at first [while in the ORR facility]; that’s all she did.” Now when she goes quiet sometimes, her parents wonder if she’s still affected by the trauma. As Dennis contemplated aloud another potential trip north in search of personal and financial security, he reflected, “I just ask that we have enough food to eat every day. I just want my family to be safe.”

The post The Government Has Taken At Least 1,100 Children From Their Parents Since Family Separations Officially Ended appeared first on The Intercept.

09 Dec 16:50

Verizon reportedly blocks archivists from Yahoo Groups days before deletion

by Kate Cox
Screenshot of the Yahoo Groups home page, showing a collection of people jumping in the air and a message that says,

Enlarge / The Yahoo Groups home page (for now). (credit: Yahoo)

An ad-hoc group scrambling to archive as much content as possible from Yahoo Groups ahead of the site's final demise next week is running into trouble as more than a hundred volunteer archivists say Yahoo's parent company, Verizon, has banned their accounts.

Yahoo Groups has been on the wane for years, but Verizon announced its official date of death two months ago. Users were blocked from uploading or posting new content to the site as of October 28, and all content currently on the site is slated to be deleted on December 14—less than one week from now.

Members of the Archive Team have been working rapidly to preserve content from as many groups as possible in that six-week time frame. The volunteers have been using "semi-automated" scripts to join groups rapidly and are using a third-party tool known as PGOffline to access messages, photos, and files not captured by Verizon/Yahoo's data download or export tool. They estimate that as a result of this weekend's blocks, they have now lost access to 80 percent of the material they were attempting to preserve.

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09 Dec 15:10

Anti-Doping Agency Bans Russia From International Sports Events For 4 Years

The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned Russia from major events for the next four years, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Here, a man walks in front of the Russian Olympic Committee headquarters in Moscow on Monday.

Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 9:50 a.m.

The World Anti-Doping Agency's executive committee says Russian athletes can't compete under their flag at international events for the next four years, declaring Russia's Anti-Doping Agency to be non-compliant with its rules. The committee says critical data about Russia's athletics programs was "neither complete nor fully authentic."

WADA says Russia won't be able to take part in high-profile events such as the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo or the 2022 World Cup and Winter Olympics in Beijing, because it has continued to provide fake information.

The ban applies to Russian officials and agencies in its sports apparatus — but it also offers a pathway for Russian athletes to compete if they can prove they're "clean." WADA says it now has a list of all Russian athletes who are suspected of doping — including a core group of 145 athletes it says are the "most suspicious."

"For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport," WADA President Sir Craig Reedie said as his agency announced the penalty. He added, "The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA's reinstatement conditions, approved by the ExCo in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today."

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency now has 21 days to accept or dispute the sanction. If it appeals, the case would move to arbitration by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The decision prompted an angry response from U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, who issued a statement saying, "To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law."

Calling for "a revolt against this broken system to force reform" at the global level, Tygart accused both WADA and the International Olympic Committee of bowing to Russian pressure. He called WADA's partial ban a "horrendous Groundhog Day of Russian corruption and domination."

Russian athletes could still compete in Tokyo's Summer Olympics next year, WADA says, but they would have to fulfill a number of requirements, from showing they aren't implicated in cheating to having no drug-positive findings in their records.

Russia's well-publicized doping program cast a cloud over its trip to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where athletes who were deemed clean were forced to abandon their national colors and celebrate victories without their country's flag or anthem. Now WADA says Russian athletes will face similar circumstances in upcoming high-profile events, because of the extensive fabrications its investigators found in Russia's athletics programs.

WADA says that in files that were copied from Russian computer systems, "some data were removed, others altered and, in some cases, system messages were fabricated in an effort to hamper the work of WADA investigators. In addition, measures were taken to conceal these manipulations by back-dating of computer systems and data files in an attempt to make it appear that the Moscow data had been in their current state since 2015."

In addition to the four-year ban, WADA says Russia must also pay a fine of up to $100,000 — an amount it says is the maximum allowed under its rules.

At last year's Olympics, Russia sent a diminished team of 168 athletes to South Korea — and despite tighter scrutiny and the International Olympic Committee's assurances of fair play, two athletes (including a bronze medalist in curling) failed drug tests for banned substances at the games. The country won gold medals in only two disciplines: women's figure skating and men's ice hockey.

Similar to the Pyeongchang Olympics, the new WADA ban means Russia's flag cannot be flown at any major sports event in the next four years. And Russian government officials — including President Vladimir Putin and other leaders — are barred from attending any of those major sports events.

Russia would also be forbidden from both hosting any landmark sports events during the ban — and from bidding to host future events. The country is also barred from bidding to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The new ban comes one year after WADA took the controversial step of reinstating Russia's anti-doping regulator, lifting a previous ban on Russia in the face of heavy opposition.

WADA says its executive committee responded "in the strongest possible terms," short of a blanket ban on all Russian athletes. But the body also chose not to impose "any special monitoring or supervision or takeover of RUSADA's anti-doping activities" over the four-year period, saying recent audits of the agency have found that it is "effective" in helping to fight doping in Russia.

By imposing a punishment that's very similar to previous sanctions — with a ban that allows athletes to compete under a neutral flag — WADA is opening itself to criticisms that it still hasn't gone far enough to address Russia's systematic cheating. Those critics have long called for a total ban on Russian athletes, to ensure the country's leaders get the message.

"If we don't have meaningful consequences, I don't think we're ever going to see a change," former WADA official Rob Koehler recently told NPR's Tom Goldman. Koehler, who now runs the organization Global Athlete, added, "In the long term, athletes will suffer. So we're looking at the next generation we're trying to help here."

For the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to be reinstated, Russia must satisfy the international agency's requirement that RUSADA's "independence is being respected and there is no improper outside interference with its operations," WADA says, implying that the biggest problems in Russian athletics reside in its sports and government agencies, not in its doping agency.

09 Dec 14:30

Cameras May Catch Texting Drivers in Montgomery County


A new set of eyes may soon be watching some Maryland roads: Surveillance cameras that can see if drivers are using their cellphones.

Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker asked Democratic Maryland Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher Monday to file a bill that would allow the county to use automated cameras to catch distracted drivers and issue tickets. If implemented, it would be the first program of its kind in the country, news outlets reported.

The cameras would work similarly to red light cameras and would be mounted on poles or on other county vehicles, capturing footage through the drivers' window. Police officers and artificial intelligence will identify the offense and tickets would be mailed out.

The proposed plan has some officials worried about privacy

"This technology is creepy to me in a Peeping Tom type of way," said John Townsend, a public affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents 1 million motorists in Maryland.

Hucker said he understands the privacy concerns but mentioned the same privacy argument was initially used against red light and speeding cameras.

Maryland outlawed handheld phone usage while driving in 2013 but 38,000 crashes last year in the state involved distracted driving, news outlets reported.

Waldstreicher said he plans to introduce the bill in Annapolis on behalf of Hucker.

"All we're doing is asking the state to give us the authority to debate this," Hucker said. "We know there are far too many fatalities and serious crashes on our road and we need to look at every possible tool to address them."

09 Dec 14:23

U.S. Lobbyists Seek Brexit Deal That Raises Drug Prices, Shreds Consumer Safeguards

Boris Johnson’s election on December 12 hinges on the British prime minister’s promise to leave the European Union. Johnson has remade the Conservative Party, pushing out longtime party members wary of a firm break from the EU, to cast the election as a chance to build a parliamentary majority focused on finalizing Brexit.

The original Brexit referendum that passed in June 2016 pitted populists against the establishment, with banks funneling huge amounts of money to oppose the referendum, which was cast as a measure to return taxes and power to local British citizens, while restoring the sovereignty of the U.K.’s borders against what was cast as unfair trade and uncontrolled migration.

But the politics of the deal have shifted over time, with hard-liners gaining power within Tory leadership and demanding a radical break from the EU. Corporate lobbyists now see an opportunity to use Johnson’s proposed swift exit from the EU as a way to forge bilateral trade deals, including one between the U.S. and the U.K, that would outsource local authority to rules set by an array of international business interests. A wide range of industries are primed to take advantage of the deal to evade EU consumer safeguards and drug pricing rules. Representatives from American pork to Silicon Valley and everything in between are trying to influence the negotiations.

Departing the EU could mean that British consumers would no longer be protected by broad EU-wide regulations on chemicals, food, and cosmetics, among other products. Several international corporate groups have pushed to ensure that in the event of Brexit, such safeguards are abandoned in exchange for a regulatory standard that conforms to the norms of the U.S.

Consultants working directly on the Brexit deal in London and in Washington, D.C., have asked to limit the ability of British regulators to set the price for pharmaceutical drugs, lift safety restrictions on pesticides and agricultural products, and constrain the ability for the U.K. to enact its own data privacy laws.

In January, a lengthy hearing hosted by trade officials from both countries provided a forum in D.C. for industry to lay out its agenda on what should happen after Brexit. Before the hearing, two major industry groups sent letters outlining their agendas for the Brexit negotiations in 2019.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobby group that represents the largest drugmakers in the world, insisted that any U.S.-U.K. deal “must recognize that prices of medicines should be based on a variety of value criteria.” PhRMA called for changes in the way the U.K.’s National Health Service sets price controls through comparative effectiveness research, an effort to control the costs of drugs using clinical research.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a lobby group for the biopharmaceutical industry, made similar demands in a letter to trade officials for the U.K., calling to do more in “shouldering a fair share of the costs of innovation.” BIO suggests that in order to ensure fair treatment for drugmakers, companies should have the right to petition an “independent body” to overrule decisions made by the NHS.

At the hearing, Craig Thorn, a lobbyist representing the U.S.’s National Pork Producers Council, told the Trump administration that the proposed U.S.-U.K. deal present a “historic opportunity,” citing his client’s desire to continue trade with the U.K. by evading EU restrictions on certain feed additives and antibiotics used widely on American pork. Similarly, Floyd Gaibler, a representative of the U.S. Grains Council, said that the deal provides a window for American agriculture to avoid the EU restrictions on pesticides that have been or will soon be banned.

Silicon Valley, similarly, views Brexit as a chance to bypass EU-wide limits on data collection, or even new U.K.-based rules. Several technology lobbyists have pushed to provide trade provisions between the U.S. and U.K. that outlaw so-called data localization requirements. Some regulators have looked at the need for technology firms to store consumer data in local servers, to ensure that it is not resold or abused in any way.

Other corporate demands by U.S.-based groups are spelled out in a series of requests and testimony made by lobbyists before the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the federal agency entrusted with negotiating trade deals. Federal lobbying disclosures show a number of interests, including Cargill, IBM, Koch Industries, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers AssociationFord Motor Company, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Salesforce, have lobbied on the potential U.K. deal in recent months.

It’s not just U.S.-based interest groups seeking to retool corporate standards through a hard Brexit. The Institute of Economic Affairs, a major conservative think tank in London, has met repeatedly with Conservative Party leaders and American trade officials to shape a new U.S.-U.K. trade deal that mirrors the demands of industry groups.

Peter Allgeier, a former U.S. trade official, testifying on behalf of the Institute of Economic Affairs at the hearing earlier this year, called for rules that relax regulatory standards and bring the U.K. in line with an American approach to business. “In areas such as food safety and automobile standards, rigid prescriptive EU standards have stifled innovation and impeded U.S. exports,” said Allgeier.

Allgeier has worked closely with Shanker Singham, a consultant known as the “Brexiteers’ Brain” for his expansive influence over Tory trade strategy and Johnson’s approach to Brexit. Singham holds a position with the Institute of Economic Affairs as the organization’s director for trade policy.

The two men are also consultants to business interests while they help guide the direction of Brexit. In an email to The Intercept, Allgeier said that his “list of clients is proprietary information.” Singham, who did not respond to a request for comment, works with the European lobbying firm Grayling, which represents pharmaceutical firms such as AbbVie, Bayer, and Johnson & Johnson, according to EU disclosures.

The potential for a Brexit deal to serve as a corporate Trojan horse became a campaign issue last month when Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted documents detailing ongoing negotiations between representatives from the U.K.’s Department for International Trade, trade officials from the Trump administration, and industry, discussing the ongoing U.S.-U.K. trade agreement. “We are talking here about secret talks for a deal with Donald Trump after Brexit,” Corbyn declared, citing the potential for higher drug costs and privatization of the NHS.

Dean Baker, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted in an email to The Intercept that such regulatory demands by industry are “always part of trade deals.” Baker said that U.S. trade to the U.K. is relatively trivial, at around 2.5 percent of GDP, making incentives for rushing a trade agreement relatively small.

“On the other hand,” Baker wrote, “paying higher prices for drugs and being unable to regulate the Internet is likely to impose very substantial costs.”

“A government weighing these factors carefully would almost certainly refuse a deal, but a Johnson government that made Brexit front and center is likely to feel strong political pressure to have a deal with the hope few people will pay much attention to the content,” Baker noted. “Johnson could tout the deal as a big success. People would only see the negative effects years down the road.”

09 Dec 13:51

Hong Kong demonstrators see a massive turnout on the six month anniversary of protests

by Zeeshan Aleem
Black-clad protesters hold umbrellas and a sign saying “Road Closed” in front of building lit up for the night. Protesters block a road in Hong Kong following a day of pro-democracy demonstrations on December 8, 2019. | Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Protest groups say 800,000 people participated in pro-democracy demonstrations Sunday, the latest in a series of anti-government protests that began in June.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in one of the biggest displays of public protest the semi-autonomous territory has seen in months.

The size of the crowd suggested that the landslide victory of pro-democracy candidates in local elections two weeks ago has not satisfied the public’s concern about the territory’s pro-China leadership and lack of political autonomy.

Sunday’s action effectively took place on the six-month anniversary of the public protest that launched the current pro-democracy movement: a demonstration held in response to a controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed a person arrested in Hong Kong to face trial in mainland China. Those early protests have since evolved into calls for broader political freedoms and a demand that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign.

The Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy group, organized Sunday’s protest — the first protest by that group to receive police approval since August.

The group said the protest marked Lam’s “last chance” to accede to protester demands that include an independent investigation of police crackdowns on protesters, amnesty for arrested Hongkongers, and free elections.

“This march is also the biggest opportunity for Hongkongers to express their determination for democracy, and against police violence, to the international community, after the District Council elections and the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” the group said in a statement.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is a measure US President Donald Trump recently signed into law that would make it difficult for Hong Kong to maintain its special trade status with the US should it fail to maintain a sufficient degree of autonomy from mainland China.

Sunday’s protesters, many of whom were dressed in all black, were largely peaceful. “Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!” rang out in the streets of the city.

Toward the end of the march, people held their cell phones above their heads to light up the sky, and sang anti-government songs.

Organizers estimated that about 800,000 people — more than 10 percent of the city’s population — turned out; Kong Kong police claimed there were 180,000 people in the streets.

 Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Pro-democracy demonstrators flood the streets in Hong Kong on December 8, 2019.

Some protesters graffitied anti-Beijing messages onto a Bank of China building, and the Hong Kong police reported that some government buildings were struck by Molotov cocktails. March organizers condemned the attacks.

The day before the protests, the Hong Kong government said in a statement that it had “learned its lesson and will humbly listen to and accept criticism.”

That statement doesn’t mean, however, that Hong Kong’s officials will actually make the concessions the protesters are asking for.

Ultimately, the fundamental dynamics driving the protests from earlier this year are still at play: Many Hongkongers are deeply opposed to mainland China’s increasing and authoritarian control over local politics. But although it has special status, Hong Kong is currently a part of China, and Beijing ultimately gets final say on policy. And, it would appear that, if anything, the enormous international attention that these protests have generated has made Beijing more concerned than ever about giving people under its rule latitude to express themselves.

What the protesters want

While the protests in Hong Kong are largely leaderless, there are a few organizations that have sponsored demonstrations and that assist in disseminating information. One of these groups is the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized Sunday’s march, and that has helped organize many of the year’s other mass protests. The group has promised to keep up the marches until all of the protesters’ demands are met.

As Riley Beggin has explained for Vox, the protesters’ grievances and objectives have morphed over time:

The demonstrations began in early June as a challenge to legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China; critics feared the bill would allow Chinese officials to detain anyone seen as a threat.

Debate on the bill was postponed indefinitely due to the protests, but the demonstrations have continued as a platform for citizens to push back against what they call “police brutality” at the protests, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s dismissal of protesters as rioters and “stubborn children,” and Beijing’s growing influence in the city’s politics.

In October, Lam officially scrapped the extradition bill, but that didn’t slow protests, which had by that point evolved into a full-blown pro-democracy movement.

Although the bill is now off the table, protesters still demanding other reforms, as Vox’s Jen Kirby has explained, including: that arrested protesters be given amnesty, that the government retract its claim the protests are riots (as rioting is a criminal offense in Hong Kong punishable by up to 10 years in prison), and that the conduct of the police during the protests receive independent review.

Police crackdowns on the demonstrations have varied in intensity over the last six months, and have included violent showdowns with protesters, which have strained the relationship between police and protesters. Nearly 6,000 people have been arrested since protests began.

In addition to their demands around criminal justice, protesters also are calling for citizens to be given universal suffrage.

 Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
A crowd of pro-democracy protesters hold anti-government signs during the a march on December 9, 2019.

The key question here is whether Hong Kong’s government and its population can come to an understanding or compromise on Beijing’s influence over Hong Kong’s political affairs. As Rachel Withers has explained for Vox, historically Hong Kong has a unique degree of freedom from Beijing’s government, and Hongkongers are reluctant to give that up:

While Hong Kong is technically under the control of the People’s Republic of China, under the terms of the 1997 handover of power from the UK to China, the city is supposed to be allowed to govern itself until 2047 under a policy known as “one country, two systems.” Essentially, this means that while Hong Kong is under Chinese sovereignty, it is supposed to be free to retain its own political and legal systems. However, Beijing has been pressuring Hong Kong’s leaders to pass laws that bring it more closely in line with the Chinese government, including this recent extradition law, which is sponsored by the pro-Beijing government.

Many in Hong Kong fear the changes to come, particularly as 2047 draws near.

As a high school student told Reuters Sunday: “If we don’t stand out front today, we won’t have any chance to speak anymore. We will become real China and will not have any chance to protest.”

Pro-democracy candidates swept a recent election, but protesters want more

In the last week of November, Hongkongers took their grievances to the ballot box. As Vox’s Jen Kirby reported at the time, the results of the district council elections expressed a clear rebuke of Beijing’s attempts to control Hong Kong:

Sunday’s elections were a landslide for pro-democracy candidates, who won majorities in 17 out of 18 of Hong Kong’s district councils; previously they had majorities in none. Pro-Beijing candidates held 300 seats; they now hold just 58. Indeed, out of 452 seats up for grabs, pro-democracy candidates won about 80 percent, flipping more than half.

Turnout also hit record highs, with more than 2.9 million people voting — more than 70 percent of eligible voters. By comparison, turnout was just 47 percent in 2015. The swell in newly registered voters — approximately 390,000 — helped drive the record-high showing.

The results undermined Beijing’s narrative that the protests represented fringe opinions, and that there was a silent majority in Hong Kong that approved of mainland China’s increasing influence over the territory.

“The silent majority is more of a metaphor than a real group of people,” Samson Yuen, an assistant politics professor at Lingnan University, told the Atlantic following the election. “The voting results tell us it doesn’t exist.”

As Vox’s Kirby explained, the district council elections became an unexpected way for way for Hongkongers to register their dissatisfaction with the direction of the city’s political life:

[T]he district council elections are one of the few elections in Hong Kong that are almost fully democratic.

That’s not the case for the Legislative Council, the body that governs the entire territory, which is only partially directly elected, or for Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who was chosen by a 1,200-person committee that’s largely skewed to favor pro-Beijing candidates.

At the same time, Hong Kong’s councils don’t have a ton of power outside of individual districts; they’re mostly focused on neighborhood and quality of life issues. And usually, that’s what candidates run on.

But not so much this year, where the months-long protests colored the contest and turned it into another battleground for the future of Hong Kong.

But it’s apparent that hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers are still hungry for fundamental change — they want a more of a say in who represents them on the Legislative Council, and they want Carrie Lam out of office.

And the protesters have made it clear they plan to continue to demonstrate: “I will fight for freedom until I die,” one mother told Reuters. As long as they keep showing up in the streets, it’s unlikely that their concerns will fade from international attention.

09 Dec 13:31

90 percent of growth in high-tech jobs happened in just 5 metro areas

by Rani Molla
Boston skyline Boston: one of five cities where most of the growth in innovation jobs is happening | Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

As a result, wealth is also being concentrated in those areas.

Technology jobs and the economic prosperity they bring are being concentrated in fewer US cities, according to a new report from The Brookings Institution.

Since 2005, five metro areas — Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego — accounted for 90 percent of all US growth in “innovation sector” jobs, which Brookings defines as employment in the top science, technology, engineering, and math industries that include extensive research and development spending. Meanwhile, 343 metro areas lost a share of these jobs in that same period.

The result: Wealth and productivity are becoming even more concentrated in fewer, primarily coastal cities. One-third of the nation’s innovation jobs resides in just 16 counties; half are concentrated in 41 counties. These jobs are high-paying and contribute to overall faster wage growth in the areas they’re located, than in areas with fewer innovation jobs. They also result in a lot of secondary work — jobs created to help serve those workers.

These locations draw educated people and investment money from other places. Some 40 percent of adults have Bachelor’s degrees in the top 5 percent of metro areas with innovation job concentration, compared with 26 percent in the bottom three quartiles.

As the report stated: “These places enjoy the benefits of what economists call cumulative causation, through which their earlier knowledge and firm advantages now attract even more talented workers, startups, and investment, creating a gravitational pull toward the nation’s critical innovation sectors while simultaneously draining key talent and business activity from other places.”

Being an innovation city does have costs: These include worsening traffic, ballooning housing prices, and wage growth so high that smaller firms can’t compete. In theory, these spiraling costs should send jobs to cheaper areas, but the report notes that the inflection point is very high, and that when a company does move, its jobs don’t necessarily stay within the US.

The disparities between so-called innovation cities and those with declines in innovation employment aren’t because small and midsize inland cities like Kansas City and Des Moines don’t have tech aspirations and aren’t trying to grow and innovate. Rather, the very nature of tech leads to the divide. Tech companies need a lot of tech workers, and they need a lot of other tech companies to help support their operations. Over time, these places develop the necessary infrastructure — broadband, public transit, high quality of living — for continued innovation.

“Tech has a strikingly strong dependence on network effects or agglomeration effects, and therefore has winner-take-most dynamics,” Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director at Brookings’s Metropolitan Policy Program, told Recode. “It has become so efficient to have clusters of sophisticated activity workers in one place that the rich tend to get richer in these economies.”

 The Brookings Institution

This is a problem unique to the technology age.

“The traditional manufacturing and natural resources economy didn’t work at all this way,” Muro said. “That economy initially revolved around the price and location of resources— rivers, bays, forests, or highways — and that dictated geography.” In time, regional disparities started balancing out as manufacturing and corporate functions — and people — moved to less expensive areas like the Southeast, which could then “catch up.” In other words, you could get the same things and have the same jobs in cheaper places, so people did so, and the nation’s economic divides narrowed.

However, now that tech is a dominant and growing industry in the US, it’s having the opposite effect. As the report states, the “large benefits accrue to firms when they locate together in urban areas” and ensures that tech — rather than tending to spread out — further concentrates in urban areas.

Brookings suggests intensive government investment — direct funding, tax preferences, workforce development — to stem future regional economic divergence. The report lists a number of areas like Madison, Wisconsin; Albany, New York; and Provo, Utah, that have existing assets like universities that could potentially make them future innovation hubs, but this will only happen if there’s a concerted effort.

“As a nation, we need to be aware of the winner-take-most dynamics when we wonder why tech isn’t just spreading into the heartland, why it’s not naturally diffusing,” Muro said. “If we want that to happen, we’re likely going to need to take robust policy steps.”

08 Dec 14:18

White House declines to be involved in House impeachment inquiry, leaving defense to Republican lawmakers

by Katelyn Burns
President Donald Trump Holds Small Business Roundtable Discussion At The White House President Donald Trump hosts a roundtable discussion with small business owners and members of his administration in the Roosevelt Room at the White House December 06, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After complaining about being left out of House impeachment process, White House declines to participate.

The White House indicated Friday that it does not intend to mount a defense in the ongoing impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump. White House counsel Pat Cipollone made the announcement in a letter to House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) Friday, in which he called the proceedings “completely baseless.”

The letter clarifies some uncertainty created by a previous missive Cipollone sent to the Judiciary Committee in which he refused to make clear whether Trump would participate in upcoming hearings.

Nadler had encouraged Trump and the White House to participate in the process, promising the executive branch in a November 26 letter that all hearings would be “fair and informative.” While Trump has occasionally signaled openness to participating in the hearings, he has more often attacked them and their legitimacy, making the White House’s decision not to partake in the process largely in keeping with its impeachment strategy thus far.

“Your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness,” reads Cipollone’s Friday letter. “House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade. You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings.”

There will, however, be additional hearings, with the next session scheduled for Monday, and the absence of Trump and his legal advisors will leave his defense in the hands of his Republican allies on the Judiciary Committee.

Trump’s decision not to defend himself in House impeachment inquiry breaks with precedents established in both the Nixon and Clinton administrations, both of which sent White House counsel to question witnesses and present a legal defense. But according to a Friday letter to Nadler, House Republicans appear ready to fill this role.

The letter, sent by the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican member Rep. Doug Collins, requests Democrats call several figures to testify who feature prominently in conspiracy theories, including House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), the anonymous whistleblower, Hunter Biden, and former Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa.

Chalupa, in particular, has become a person of interest to Republicans given she is a figure in a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, which interfered in the 2016 election.

As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has explained, Republicans continue to push this conspiracy theory — which national security experts have identified as Russia propaganda — involving election meddling fo two reasons:

Their aim appears to be twofold: justifying the conspiracy theories Trump tried to leverage the Ukrainian government into investigating (and that are at the heart of the House’s impeachment inquiry), and drawing into question whether Trump actually benefitted from foreign interference.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee refused to call all of the witnesses requested in Collins’s letter when Republicans on that committee asked for them to be brought forward during Intelligence impeachment hearings. The Judiciary Committee is likely to do the same.

Overall, Trump’s decision to eschew this portion of the impeachment inquiry is likely to help speed it towards the Republican-controlled Senate portion of the process, where Trump is likely to find friendlier confines.

The president himself implied he would prefer quickly proceeding to a Senate trial in a tweet Thursday, writing, “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” and House Democrats have signaled they would like to soon move to the trial as well: If Pelosi can get to a House vote on articles of impeachment by December 20, the last legislative workday of the year, the Senate trial would presumably start in early in January.

What’s next in the impeachment inquiry

Democrats are getting closer to holding a vote on articles of impeachment, but aren’t there quite yet.

Following a series of House Intelligence Committee hearings held throughout the month of November, a report on its findings was advanced out of committee on a party line vote Tuesday and sent to Nadler’s Judiciary Committee for review.

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee took over the inquiry, calling several constitutional law experts to establish what constitutes an impeachable offense. It’s now up to Nadler’s committee to decide whether to draft articles of impeachment. Once those are drafted, the process, as explained by Vox’s Ella Nilsen, Li Zhou, and Matt Yglesias, would be:

The House Judiciary Committee would vote on these charges and then advance them to a vote by the full House. The House then decides if it officially wants to charge the president on these counts, a move that requires a simple majority to pass.

From there, a trial would be held in the Senate with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding as judge.

Trump seems to hope that trial is close at hand, and Democrats took another major step towards it on Thursday when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she asked senior House Democrats to begin drafting articles of impeachment.

Earlier this week, NBC’s Heidi Przybyla reported that the Judiciary Committee is considering at least the following:

  • One or two articles on abuse of power that center on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals
  • One article on contempt and obstruction of Congress, focused on the administration’s efforts to block witness testimony and refusal to provide requested evidence
  • One article “related to the Mueller report and Obstruction of Justice”

That plan would fit previous precedent for articles of impeachment, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained:

It seems that the Judiciary Committee will likely end up drawing up two to four articles of impeachment. That fits with our two modern examples of presidential impeachment inquiries. For Richard Nixon in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee drew up five articles of impeachment and approved three of them. For Bill Clinton in 1998, the Judiciary Committee drew up four articles and approved them all.

Exactly when those articles will be written is not yet clear; lawmakers have two weeks left of legislating before a winter break, meaning they could come as early as next week. On Monday, the Judiciary Committee will continue its hearings with a session featuring legal counsels from both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

08 Dec 14:15

Trump orders review of EPA water rules because “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times”

by Katelyn Burns
A gold plated toilet exhibited at the 2019 “Pure Luxury” show at the Contemporary History Forum. | Jan Woitas/picture alliance/Getty Images

Trump has often complained about environmental regulations, and now claims water efficient toilets are causing problems.

President Donald Trump’s latest effort to reshape US environmental regulations appears to involve toilets.

During a small business event at the White House Friday, Trump announced he has ordered a federal review of water efficiency standards pertaining to bathroom fixtures.

“People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once. They end up using more water,” Trump said, complaining that water flow in other fixtures has slowed to a trickle. “You can’t wash your hands practically, there’s so little water comes out of the faucet, and the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands, you end up using the same amount of water.”

Although Trump said during the event that the “EPA is looking at [water flow] very strongly, at my suggestion,” this review is actually mandated under 2018 legislation that directs the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate water regulations adopted before 2012.

These include the agency’s WaterSense program, which was first launched in 2006 in order to reduce the water use of fixtures like toilets. The requirement that toilets use a set amount of water began on the federal level in 1992, according to the Associated Press, when President George H.W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, a law mandating any toilets installed in homes after 1994 use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush.

The WaterSense framework takes that law a step further, and is an optional standard that aims to promote “awareness about the importance of water efficiency,” according to the EPA. WaterSense certified toilets, for instance, use only 1.28 gallons per flush, or 20 percent less water than the standard created by the Energy Policy Act.

Other fixtures and appliances can be WaterSense certified as well — for instance, faucets with flow rates of 1.5 gallons per minute (using at least 32 percent less water than standard) meet the criteria.

The Energy Policy Act and the WaterSense certification exist to try to curb water waste; toilets in particular have been viewed as a prime opportunity to do so by experts. According to the EPA, toilets consume the most water of any plumbing fixture in a typical American home, using about 30 percent of a household’s water each month.

The agency also argues that replacing old toilets (commodes manufactured before 1980 typically use five gallons of water for each flush) can help save money: Replacing older toilets with WaterSense fixtures could “save more than $110 per year in water costs, and $2,200 over the lifetime of the toilets,” according to an EPA fact sheet.

Trump did not mention any of this Friday; it also is not clear just who — if anyone — is actually complaining about the need to flush toilets multiple times to eliminate waste. But his claims represent yet another example of the president’s advocacy for rolling back federal measures meant to protect the environment.

Trump’s continuing attacks on the environment

A potential rollback of water use regulations would fit the administration’s continued efforts at deregulating the EPA. The New York Times has identified 53 separate rules that have completed the rollback process at the agency, and 32 more that are still in the works. The president has been a vocal skeptic of climate change since the earliest days of his candidacy for president, but nonetheless campaigned to “to promote clean air and water,” in 2016.

He has continued campaigning on that point, and has told audiences thanks to his policies, “We have among the cleanest and sharpest — crystal clean, you’ve heard me say, I want crystal clean — air and water anywhere on Earth.”

The quality of air and water in the US is mixed, with lead contamination and air pollution of increasing concern to scientists. Trump, however, has done little to address these issues, and began unraveling the environmental protections put in place by his predecessors almost immediately after assuming office, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has explained:

Most of these rollbacks’ impacts will be felt primarily in the long term, but already, particulate pollution is getting worse, reversing years of progress. A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimates that 9,700 more Americans died due to air pollution in 2018 than in 2016, in part due to regulatory changes. But the Trump administration is moving to restrict the range of evidence used to demonstrate air pollution’s harms, hoping to forestall the promulgation of new standards that would lead to stricter regulation.


Trump’s goal of boosting America’s natural resource extraction industries has been largely successful. There is no broad-based revival of the coal industry, but employment in coal mining has stabilized and is rising slightly in a reversal of recent trends. American oil output has soared to the point where net imports of crude oil and petroleum products are at their lowest level in generations and the country is likely to become a net exporter in the near future. Natural gas output, meanwhile, has soared to record highs, continuing a rapid growth pattern that began during the Obama presidency.

Trump’s policy of prioritizing natural resource extraction over environmental regulation has resulted in a growth in greenhouse gas emissions, with a report from the research firm Rhodium Group finding US carbon emissions rose 3.4 percent in 2018.

Countries around the world were told to lower emissions by almost that exact amount — 3.3 percent per year — starting in 2010 by the UN in order to keep global warming at just 1.5 degrees Celsius. (It is now, of course, too late for that, and global emissions must fall by 7.6 percent a year to reach that 1.5 degrees Celsius target.)

With that global temperature rise, water availability and quality is expected to shift; experts expect that water preservation will only become more urgent as time goes on, making the matter of how Americans flush their toilets more pressing that in may seem.

07 Dec 13:05

Nobel Winner Peter Handke Compared My Questions About Genocide in Bosnia to a “Calligraphy of Shit”

by Peter Maass

The Swedish Academy held a press conference on Friday for Peter Handke, the writer it selected as the winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. Handke’s lifetime work includes about a half-dozen books that downplay Serb massacres of Muslims in Bosnia, and his critics regard him as a genocide denier.

After about 15 minutes of questions and answers in the chandeliered conference hall at the Academy’s headquarters in Stockholm, I was given the microphone for what turned out to be the last questions of the day. I asked Handke why his books did not acknowledge the documented fact that thousands of Muslim boys and men were killed by Serb fighters in Srebrenica in 1995, and I asked whether he would now acknowledge that these mass killings had happened.

Over the next few minutes, Handke became combative and insulting, refusing to answer my questions about Srebrenica. He described receiving an anonymous letter that he said included toilet paper with a “calligraphy of shit,” and he added, “I tell you, I prefer the anonymous letter with toilet paper inside to your empty and ignorant questions.”

Back in 1992, I started covering the war in Bosnia and visited the concentration camps where Serbs tortured and murdered prisoners, almost all of whom were Muslim. In the winter of that year, I also reported on the sieges that Serb fighters had thrown over Sarajevo and several other cities, including Srebrenica. The Serbs’ strategy was brutally simple: starve and freeze the Muslims into surrender. The war continued until the summer of 1995, when the massacre at Srebrenica turned into the final straw for the U.S. and its allies, which bombed Serb targets and brought the war to an end.

Handke despises the journalists who covered the war and provided the first accounts of Serb crimes — in one of his books, he describes us as a “horde of foreign reporters every evening at a hotel bar” and implies we made up our stories. His sympathies, which broke to the surface with his 1996 book “A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia,” have been fairly obvious for quite a while. In 2006, he delivered a eulogy at the grave of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was not only the mastermind of the war in Bosnia, but was also ultimately deposed by his own people and extradited to The Hague to face trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Milosevic died of a heart attack before a verdict could be delivered.

The depths of Handke’s sympathies have not all been visible, however. After he was announced as the Nobel winner two months ago — he is now in Stockholm for the official ceremony in a few days — I began digging into his books and the Swedish Academy’s baffling decision to honor him with the world’s most influential literary award. One of the things I found out was that in 1999, Handke secretly obtained a Yugoslav passport from Milosevic’s outlaw regime; Handke subsequently claimed that he got it to make things easier when he traveled to Serbia.

Handke’s elevation to Nobel Prize laureate has generated an unprecedented amount of turmoil even within the Nobel organization. Just a few hours before the press conference, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter broke the news that one of the most prominent members of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, would boycott the award ceremony. Englund, who has reported on Bosnia, said, “To celebrate Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part.” And just a few days earlier, two members of the Nobel Committee for Literature, which plays a key role in choosing the winner, abruptly resigned from their posts, with one of them explicitly citing Handke.

In his books, as well as in comments he has made to reporters over the years, Handke plays with the facts of what happened in Bosnia, always asking whether we can really believe it, suggesting that Muslims might have bombed themselves in some instances, and arguing that even if some of the facts might be true, the Serbs might have been provoked into crimes by Muslims who resisted their dominance. These are the tactics of genocide denial: Throw doubt into the air so that people begin to question the truth. Handke tries to avoid direct confrontations with facts that have been established beyond any doubt whatsoever, and that’s why I asked the following:

International war crimes tribunals have established as fact that there was a genocide committed in Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed. And they have established as fact that there were other massacres. Why in your books have you not accepted and written these facts? Are you willing now to accept them?

Handke, who is Austrian-born and was speaking in English, then appeared to bait me.

“Continue your questions,” he said. “I like these questions. Is [this] the only one? I think you have a lot of questions. Continue, continue.”

I sensed this was a trap — with more questions, Handke would be able to avoid answering any single one.

“We’ll do them one at a time, one at a time,” I replied.

“Continue,” he said.

“No,” I responded. “This is your press conference.”

He then did something peculiar — he pulled a few pages of paper out of his coat pocket. Earlier in the press conference, he had mentioned receiving what he described as a letter from a New York Times culture reporter. This was apparently it.

“I start to read the letter,” Handke said. “Dear Peter — I don’t know this man, but he calls me ‘Dear Peter.’ Then he has a lot of questions.”

Handke then read excerpts of the letter, which, it became clear, was not a letter but a series of questions that its writer — whom Handke soon named as Alex Marshall — apparently wanted the Nobel winner to respond to. It was an ordinary query from a journalist, not a personal missive. Handke then pivoted and said he had received “a lot of wonderful letters” from readers who appreciated his books.

The winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature then turned on me. As Handke is not a native speaker of English, I have used ellipses in places where he had extraneous or ungrammatical words.

“Only one was an anonymous letter which didn’t come from the heart,” Handke said. “There was toilet paper in it. … It had a kind of calligraphy of shit. And I tell you, all you who … put these questions like this man, I tell you, I prefer the … anonymous letter with the toilet paper inside to your empty and ignorant questions.”

I no longer held the microphone, so I shouted out my response.

“Why do you refuse to answer the question about why you do not accept the verdict of international courts in your works?”

Handke started talking over me about halfway through, so I am not sure he heard my entire question, but he apparently heard enough to know what to say.

“I don’t want to answer you,” he replied. “I read this letter from the Dear Peter, I don’t know him, this man, his name. He calls himself a culture reporter from the New York Times. … His name is, I think, Alex Marshall. And I don’t want to answer any of your questions.”

An official from the Swedish Academy who held the microphone then intervened, asking the permanent secretary of the Academy, Anders Olsson, who was on the dais with Handke, to make a closing statement. Olsson made a reference to the readers of Handke’s books, and this seemed to incite Handke to make a closing insult. Looking at the journalists before him, he said, “My people are readers, not you.”

On December 10, in a white-tie ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall, King Carl XVI Gustaf is scheduled to present Handke with the gold medal of the Nobel Prize in Literature. At that moment, the Swedish royal family and the Swedish Academy will have officially and fully endorsed the work of a genocide denier.

The post Nobel Winner Peter Handke Compared My Questions About Genocide in Bosnia to a “Calligraphy of Shit” appeared first on The Intercept.

07 Dec 13:03

Carlos’ Family Objects to Publication of Video Detailing His Death

by by ProPublica

by ProPublica

The family of a teenage boy whose death ProPublica investigated has objected to the publication of a surveillance video that documented his last hours.

Yesterday, ProPublica published a detailed account of failings and missteps by the U.S. Border Patrol, in whose custody 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died. As part of the story, ProPublica published several moments from a lengthy surveillance video in which Carlos struggles on the floor of his cell and then stops moving. The video, which had not been shared with Congress or the public, contradicts the government’s claim that Carlos was discovered as a result of a “welfare check.’’ It shows that his cellmate awoke, saw his motionless body, and summoned Border Patrol agents.

Carlos’ family issued a statement today saying they had not seen the video in advance and that its publication has traumatized them:

It’s been really painful for our family to lose Carlos. We thought that not knowing what happened to him in that cell, whether he was all alone when he died, whether it was preventable, that we don’t know if we can hold the people responsible accountable— that that was the worst grief we could have, but having all these people watching him die on the internet is something we couldn’t have imagined in a movie or a nightmare.

The statement was issued by the Texas Civil Rights Project, whose lawyers represent the family. The group noted that it, too, had initially shared the video but said it stopped doing so after learning that the family did not approve of its distribution.The lawyers urged others “not publish further information without the consent of the family.”

After learning of the family’s objections, ProPublica’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg apologized for the pain caused by the release of the video.

We are very sorry to see the statement from the family of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez regarding our handling of the video of the circumstances surrounding his death. Before publication, we discussed the video with Carlos’ father and a close family member, describing the contents in detail and why we thought it was important to publish it. The family member asked us to limit the graphic content that was shown, and we made excisions based on his concerns. We apologize to the family for the pain the release of the video has caused them.

We continue, however, to believe that the American people need to see this video in order to understand the actions of their government and what really happened to Carlos.

Questions were also raised about whether the edited video was shown in advance to the family. ProPublica did not do so in this case because it does not typically disclose stories in advance of publication. “It was a judgment call,” Engelberg said, “the ethical questions surrounding this issue are complex.”

07 Dec 13:02

Disney's Decision Not To Renew SecuROM License Bricks 'Tron: Evolution'

by Timothy Geigner

Show of hands: who remembers SecuROM? Alright, put your hands down, we can't see each other anyway. So, SecuROM was a really bad DRM used by several publishers to "protect" video games, by which I mean it mostly just annoyed legitimate buyers, got some of those publishers sued, and ultimately made the game unplayable on modern operating systems. The track record is enough to make you wonder why anyone would use DRM at all after this whole debacle.

But... it's still happening. Back in 2010, Disney released the game Tron: Evolution. The game was laced with SecuROM and suffered many of the same problems as previously described. As an example of how you don't really own what you buy anymore, the game simply bricked when Disney decided not to renew its SaaS subscription for SecuROM software.

Players trying to launch Tron: Evolution are now met with a message telling them that the 'serial key has expired'. This applies to the retail version as well as the Steam version which is delisted from the store. The cause of this problem appears to be Disney not renewing their 'subscription' to the SecuROM activation system for this game. This means that even existing owners of the delisted game cannot play it for the foreseeable future.

Fun! Notably, those that pirated the game aren't having this issue. Also notable is that when at least one person opened up a support ticket with SecuROM itself to fix the issue, the SecuROM folks told that person:

"You are right with your assumption, we can't run this service anymore for Disney titles, therefore all activations are denied.

Best would be to contact Disney to get a refund for your purchase or convince them to release an uprotected version of the game."

So as not to lose sight of this, the DRM company told the legit purchaser of a game that they should try to get the publisher of the game to release a non-protected game so that it could once again be played. If that doesn't highlight the absurdity of this particular story for you, nothing will.

It also would have been one thing if Disney had been the slightest bit proactive about all of this. After all, the company knew it wasn't going to renew the SecuROM subscription and therefore knew that such a decision would brick a whole bunch of people's purchased games. Why not proactively release the game without DRM? Or alert purchasers, or the media, of what was coming? Why is it okay for Disney to essentially take back a product bought by a customer with no recompense?

The only reported communication from Disney is something like, "Yeah, we know, we'll do something about it someday."

Originally posted by Disney Games & Apps Support:
Hello raidebaron,

Our team is aware that the activation site for this game is no longer live and has since been shut down. At this time, if the game was not already previously installed it will no longer be able to be launched. We are looking into this hiccup and hoping to patch this in the future. However, at this time we do not have any current estimated time on when this will be.

Thank you for your patience.

No, thank you, Disney, for demonstrating that you don't really care all that much about your own customers.

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07 Dec 13:01

Beijing shifts from EV subsidies to setting quotas for automakers - Electrek

07 Dec 00:25

Flu Shot

"Wait, how often are you getting bitten by snakes? And why are you boiling water?" "Dunno, the CDC people keep showing up with complicated questions about the 'history of the property' and 'possible curses' but I kinda tune them out. At least one of them offered me the flu shot."
06 Dec 19:41

Two school shootings a day apart: Wisconsin reckons with impact of armed guards

Shootings a day apart at two high schools in Wisconsin have shaken the state and sparked a renewed debate over how to combat violence in American schools.

An Oshkosh police department resource officer shot a 16-year-old student Tuesday after the boy stabbed him in the officer’s office at Oshkosh West high school. A day earlier, a resource officer at Waukesha South high school helped clear students out of a classroom after a 17-year-old student pointed a pellet gun at another student’s head. Another police officer entered the room and shot the student.

Neither of the students who were shot suffered life-threatening injuries.

The Democratic governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers, called the shootings “breathtaking and tragic”.

“The trauma that happens because of this just ripples through the community,” Evers added. “It will take time for people to recover from this. Trauma is a significant issue. We have to be patient.”

The debate about the role of armed teachers or police in schools has been a constant in the wake of school shootings across the country. But rarely have armed resource officers been able to prevent a shooting.

Becky Galvan, center, consoles her daughter, Ashley Galvan, with her father, Jose Chavez, outside Waukesha South high school on Monday.
Becky Galvan, center, consoles her daughter, Ashley Galvan, with her father, Jose Chavez, outside Waukesha South high school on Monday. Photograph: Mike De Sisti/AP

An estimated 43% of public schools have armed officers on campus, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. The survey covered the 2015-2016 school year, the most recent year surveyed. That figure doesn’t include schools with armed private security guards or teachers and administrators who carry guns.

The US Department of Justice has adopted best practices for resource officers from the National Association of School Resources. Those guidelines call for resource officers to serve as police officers as well as teachers and mentors.

Nasro recommends such officers have three years of experience and says they should be willing to engage with students and have excellent communication skills. They should complete a school-based policing course before being assigned to the beat and complete an advanced school policing course Nasro provides within a year of completing the basic course. They also should complete biannual training on how lone officers should handle threats and assailants.

No Wisconsin laws spell out any special requirements for resource officers or restrictions on their weapons. But the state department of justice has adopted best practices similar to Nasro’s recommendations, calling for officers to work with schools on the extent of their duties, the skills they need, and where school discipline ends and illegal conduct begins. The state guidelines also suggest officers receive training in child development, restraint policies and de-escalation strategies.

It’s not clear what led to Tuesday’s stabbing at Oshkosh West high school, which has 1,700 students. The police chief, Dean Smith, said that the officer and the student got into an “altercation” in the officer’s office, the student stabbed the officer with an edged weapon – Smith declined to elaborate – and the officer opened fire with his 9mm pistol, hitting the student once. It’s unclear how many times the officer may have fired. Officials said the officer has 21 years of experience with the Oshkosh police department and has served as a school resource officer since 2017.

Sarah Rogstad, right, hugs Morgan Rogstad, grade 9, after the school shooting at Oshkosh West high school.
Sarah Rogstad, right, hugs Morgan Rogstad, grade 9, after the school shooting at Oshkosh West high school. Photograph: Wm. Glasheen/AP

At Waukesha South high school, 80 miles (130km) south of Oshkosh in suburban Milwaukee, a 17-year-old student apparently grew angry with another student and pointed a pellet gun at the other student. The school’s resource officer helped clear students from the classroom.

Linda Ager told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Waukesha shooting happened in the classroom of her husband, Brett Hart, a special education teacher at Waukesha South. Ager said her husband restrained the student until the resource officer arrived.

At some point, another officer entered the room and shot the student who refused to drop the weapon. Police said the boy pointed the gun at officers as they confronted him.

Police said the student with the pellet gun underwent surgery and was in stable condition.

“Today’s tragic event shows that trained school resource officers can save lives,” Vickie Cartwright, the Oshkosh superintendent, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

As school shootings have become more frequent, gun rights advocates and gun control advocates have sparred over how best to respond to them. Supporters of gun restrictions have argued that putting more guns in schools does little to prevent shootings and just puts students at greater risk.

Gabriela Mauricio, right, a 14-year-old freshman, hugs her mother, Meche Mauricio, outside Waukesha South high school.
Gabriela Mauricio, right, a 14-year-old freshman, hugs her mother, Meche Mauricio, outside Waukesha South high school. Photograph: Mike De Sisti/AP

Last year armed guards at three high-profile school shootings – Marshall county high school in Benton, Kentucky; Majory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida; and Santa Fe high school in Texas – were unable to stop those shootings. In Parkland, the school’s resource officer remained outside rather than enter the building to engage the shooter and try to stop it.

But gun-rights advocates believe having more armed educators and law enforcement in schools will help stop a shooter from going on a rampage.

“This confirms that action can, and should, be taken to mitigate harm and limit casualties when weapons are brought into school,” Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, said on Tuesday.

Evers, the Wisconsin governor, said he is committed to working with Republicans who control the legislature on increasing mental health funding for schools.

Evers said on WTMJ-Radio that he thinks Republicans will work with him on that, even though they did not provide as much funding for mental health programs as Evers requested in the state budget approved this summer. Republicans also refused to take up a pair of gun safety bills earlier this year that Evers said were part of the solution to combating violence in schools.

Evers, a former state superintendent of schools who worked as a principal, school superintendent and administrator before he was elected governor, said the issue is particularly striking for him, given his background and the fact that has three grown children and nine grandchildren. Two of his children attended the high school in Oshkosh where the shooting occurred.

“Our kids need help,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough to see how this has amplified over time. The time is now to take it on.”

06 Dec 19:27

The House has passed a bill to restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act

Representative Terri Sewell speaks in front of microphones flanked by Congress members outside Capitol building.
Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) speaks at a rally at the US Capitol for HR4, the “Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019,” on June 25, 2019.
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Six years after the Supreme Court stripped key parts of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, America’s signature legislation protecting voters of color, the House of Representatives passed a bill meant to restore those safeguards.

In a mostly party-line vote, the legislation was approved 228-187. The Voting Rights Advancement Act, introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), is a key part of Democrats’ agenda to expand voting rights. It would make it more difficult for states to discriminate against voters of color, and give the federal government a stronger ability to take action against states with a history of discrimination.

In a 2018 interview, Sewell bluntly described strict voter ID laws as “modern-day forms of voter suppression.”

“While we no longer have to count how many jelly beans are in a jar or recite all of the 67 counties of Alabama in order to be able to vote, we are seeing greater efforts putting restrictions on voting in the name of fraud,” she told Vox, referencing Jim Crow-era tactics used to keep black Alabamians from voting. She represents Selma, Alabama, a city that was at the forefront of the 1960s civil rights movement.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act is designed to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were invalidated by the US Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. Way back at the beginning of the legislative session, it was initially tucked into HR 1, the sweeping anti-corruption bill that was Democrats’ first priority of the year. Lawmakers ultimately decided to break it out because Sewell and Democratic leaders anticipated the possibility of a long, drawn-out legal battle over the voting rights bill — potentially all the way up to the US Supreme Court.

“Nearly 55 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we must protect the bedrock power of the ability of people to have the right to vote,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her weekly press conference Thursday.

For Sewell, this bill is rooted in a dark chapter of America’s history, one she does not want to see repeated, she told Vox last year.

“I’m a daughter of Selma. Nothing is more important to my constituency than restoring the Voting Rights Act,” Sewell said. “We first have to address the integrity of our elections.”

What the Voting Rights Advancement Act will do

The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated a portion of the Voting Rights Act relating to a “coverage formula,” which identified certain towns, counties, or states with a history of voter discrimination.

Essentially, if those places wanted to pass new voting laws, they had to undergo extra scrutiny from the federal government — an additional measure to protect voters from discriminatory laws being passed. In its decision, the Supreme Court asked Congress to come up with the standard for a coverage formula, something Congress hasn’t done.

As the Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk wrote last year, this has left a wide gap for states to pass laws discriminating against voters of color with little recourse.

What has mattered in the proliferation of a test round of new laws that make voting more difficult is that Congress currently does not wish to do so. There is functionally now no preemptive federal oversight of state and local voting laws. This will likely be the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Sewell’s bill would spell out exactly how a state, city, or other entity might have violated the Voting Rights Act and charge the US Department of Justice with doing more oversight, assigning election observers to states or municipalities with repeated problems.

Charging the federal government with taking a more active role is important, as a report by the federal Commission on Civil Rights found that even as the number of voting rights lawsuits has increased since 2013, only a small fraction of those have been brought by the US Department of Justice. Many of the rest have been filed by voting rights groups, which don’t have as much sway as the federal government.

If Sewell’s bill were passed today, she would like the federal government to take a closer look at 13 states with a history of voter discrimination: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New York, and Virginia.

“We can’t unring the bell,” Sewell added. “What we’ve seen is that since Shelby, more than 30 states have imposed greater requirements for voting, and in a lot of those states, we’ve seen elections take place that have later been found to have had intentional discrimination.”

06 Dec 19:25

Bernie Sanders unveils plan to boost broadband access, break up internet and cable titans

  • Bernie Sanders announces a plan to expand rural broadband internet access and break up giant internet service providers. 
  • The senator and 2020 presidential candidate's campaign criticizes companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. 
  • Several of Sanders' competitors such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have also released plans to boost access to broadband.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during Bernie Sanders Rally "Bernie's Back" in Queensbridge Park.

Lev Radin | LightRocket | Getty Images

Bernie Sanders unveiled a plan Friday to expand broadband internet access as part of a push to boost the economy and reduce corporate power over Americans.

In his sprawling "High-Speed Internet for All" proposal, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate calls to treat internet like a public utility. His campaign argues that the internet should not be a "price gouging profit machine" for companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

Sanders' plan would create $150 billion in grants and aid for local and state governments to build publicly owned broadband networks as part of the Green New Deal infrastructure initiative. The total would mark a massive increase over current funding for broadband development initiatives. The proposal would also break up what the campaign calls "internet service provider and cable monopolies," stop service providers from offering content and end what it calls "anticompetitive mergers."

Sanders and his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have pushed to boost high-speed internet access for rural and low-income Americans, saying it has become a necessity to succeed in school and business. The self-proclaimed democratic socialist has unveiled numerous plans to root out corporate influence as he runs near the top of a jammed primary field.

"Access to the internet is a necessity in today's economy, and it should be available for all. We are going to take on the greedy internet, telecom, and cable monopolies and put an end to their absurd prices gauging," Sanders said in a statement.

The plan would also require service providers to offer a "basic" broadband plan at an "affordable price." In addition, it would put $7.5 billion toward high-speed broadband in Native American communities and ensure that public housing residents have access to free broadband.

Several of Sanders' top Democratic competitors have called to pile more money into high-speed internet development. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg released plans to invest at least $80 billion into rural broadband, while former Vice President Joe Biden has proposed putting $20 billion into expanding rural internet access.

The candidates are jockeying for position in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with major rural pockets that host the first two primary nominating contests in February.

In August, the Federal Communications Commission announced $4.9 billion in funding over the next decade for "maintaining, improving and expanding affordable rural broadband."

Spokespeople for Comcast, AT&T and Verizon did not immediately respond to requests to comment on Sanders' plan.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

WATCH: Bernie Sanders on socialism

06 Dec 16:38

The Supreme Court considers a $12 billion plan to sabotage Obamacare

President Donald Trump greets Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In the past, when the Supreme Court’s heard a case involving the Affordable Care Act, the Court’s decision was the climax of a political circus that dominated front pages and cable news for months or even years. At least two past Obamacare cases were existential threats to the law itself.

A trio of consolidated cases the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday are, well, not that. Whatever the Court decides in Maine Community Health Options v. United States, Moda Health Plan v. United States, and Land of Lincoln Mutual Health v. United States, the Affordable Care Act will still be here the next day.

And yet Maine Community and its companion cases are, by any objective measure, huge. They involve an interesting question about what Congress must do if it wants to repeal part of a law. There’s also about $12 billion at stake.

Beginning in 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) led an attack on an Obamacare program known as “risk corridors,” which promised to offset financial losses for insurers who lost money on plans sold on the law’s individual insurance exchanges. The Affordable Care Act itself does not specifically appropriate any money to pay for the risk corridors, and Republican leaders took up Rubio’s crusade during the 2014 budget negotiations. As a result, appropriations bills included a provision preventing the federal government from using certain funds to make the required payments.

The significance of this provision, known as a rider, is the central issue in Maine Community and the two related cases. A divided federal appeals court held that it implicitly repealed Obamacare’s risk corridors. Several insurance companies urge the Supreme Court to reverse that decision, arguing that the risk corridor payments may still be made from a separate pool of government funds.

And there’s a good chance that these insurers will prevail. Their legal argument is strong — strong enough that the Trump administration barely defends the lower court’s reasoning in its brief, and primarily focuses on a different argument that was rejected by the court below. The mere fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case, moreover, is a positive sign for the insurers. If the Court simply wanted to stick it to Obamacare, the best outcome would be to let the lower court decision stand without Supreme Court review.

What are risk corridors?

To understand how risk corridors work, it’s helpful to first understand how insurers operate.

Insurance operates on a fairly basic model. Consumers pool their money together in a “risk pool.” Then, if one of those consumers experiences an unfortunate event — for a health insurer, this event could be an illness or an injury — the insurer pays money out of the pool to cover the unfortunate consumer’s costs.

To make this business model work, insurance companies must strike a delicate balance. If they charge premiums that are too high, they will lose consumers to their competitors. If they charge premiums that are too low, however, the results can be catastrophic: the risk pool will be depleted before the insurer has paid out all the money it owes. In the worst case scenario, the company can collapse and the consumers could be left with nothing.

Experienced insurers can rely on a wealth of data to determine how much they are likely to owe, given the mix of people who participate in their risk pool, and set appropriate premiums. But a problem arises if an insurer enters an unfamiliar market, where they are unlikely to have enough data on their new consumers to know how to set premiums.

Which brings us back to risk corridors. The entire purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to provide health coverage to people without health insurance, some of whom had lacked it for a long time. But that meant that Obamacare was asking insurers to enter a market made up of a large number of unfamiliar consumers.

Selling plans on the Obamacare exchanges was a huge risk for health insurers, at least in the early years, because many of those insurers needed to spend some time in this new market before they had enough data to know where to set premiums.

Obamacare’s risk corridors were a temporary, three-year program that helped insurers manage this risk. For the first three years that the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges were open, the government agreed to pay insurers that set premiums too low a percentage of their losses. Insurers who set their premiums too high, meanwhile, had to pay the government a portion of their excess profits.

Risk corridors are a common intervention when the government wants to entice health insurers to enter a new market. Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan signed into law by President George W. Bush, also used risk corridors.

In any event, much of the money owed to insurers under Obamacare’s risk corridor program — more than $12 billion in total — was never paid to insurers because of the rider seeking to block those payments. So the insurers sued, claiming that they are owed the money regardless of congressional Republicans’ efforts to undercut them.

Can Congress repeal a law without stating clearly that they are repealing a law?

The Affordable Care Act’s language establishing its risk corridors is mandatory. The federal government “shall pay” a fraction of the costs of insurers that underestimated their premiums by a sufficient amount.

So the insurers’ argument is fairly simple. Despite the appropriations rider, the government is still legally obligated to make these payments. The Affordable Care Act says that the government “shall pay” this money. There’s no ambiguity in the word “shall.”

The Trump administration, for what it’s worth, spends the bulk of its brief arguing that these payments are “contingent on appropriations” but the lower courts were not convinced by this argument. Instead, the appeals court claimed that the appropriations rider implicitly repealed the Affordable Care Act’s mandatory language requiring the government to make the risk corridor payments.

But there’s a bevy of precedents, many of them older than the United States itself, establishing that courts typically should not conclude that one statute implicitly repeals another. As the Supreme Court explained more than two centuries ago, “repeal by implication ought not to be presumed unless ... the inference be necessary and unavoidable.” Indeed, as the Supreme Court said in Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill (1978), this presumption against repeal “applies with even greater force when the claimed repeal rests solely on an Appropriations Act.”

The Court returned to this theme most recently in Epic Systems v. Lewis (2018), where Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the Court that “a party seeking to suggest that two statutes cannot be harmonized, and that one displaces the other, bears the heavy burden of showing ‘a clearly expressed congressional intention’ that such a result should follow.”

Having laid out this strong presumption, it’s worth examining the text of the rider itself. That text provides that “none of the funds made available by this Act” from certain health care related appropriations “may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111–148 (relating to risk corridors).” The key words here are “by this Act.”

The rider prohibits money appropriated under specific spending bills from being used to fund the risk corridors, but it does not prevent the government from making these payments from another source of funds.

And it turns out that another source of funds does exist. The federal government’s Judgment Fund “pays court judgments and compromise settlements of lawsuits against the government.” Thus, if the Supreme Court determined that the federal government is obligated to make risk corridor payments under the Affordable Care Act, those payments may be made out of the Judgment Fund without violating the appropriations rider.

If the history of litigation challenging the Affordable Care Act teaches us anything, it’s that no legal argument that seeks to undercut Obamacare can be completely dismissed. The legal history of Obamacare has been a series of lawsuits that were widely regarded as ridiculous, then taken very seriously by conservative judges. There’s no guarantee that the insurers will prevail in Maine Community.

Nevertheless, the insurers bring strong arguments to the table in these consolidated cases. And the justices’ mere decision to hear this case may be a sign that they intend to reverse the lower court.

06 Dec 14:50

Republicans are introducing a new compromise LGBTQ rights bill. But everyone already hates it.

Protesters block the street in front of the Supreme Court as it hears arguments on whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.
Protesters block the street in front of the Supreme Court as it hears arguments on whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex on October 8, 2019.
Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A group of Republican lawmakers appears ready to try to bridge one of the most acrimonious divides in modern American politics: the gap between LGBTQ activists and religious conservatives.

On Friday, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) will introduce the “Fairness For All Act,” a purported compromise bill that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations — but carves out broad exemptions for churches and religious organizations.

It attempts to balance the rights of LGBTQ people while maintaining a measure of religious freedom, and serves as a response to the Equality Act, a more comprehensive bill protecting LGBTQ communities from discrimination. Earlier this year, House Democrats introduced and passed the Equality Act on a bipartisan basis, to much celebration, without a response in the Senate. Stewart’s bill will be the first time that an LGBTQ civil rights bill is introduced by conservative lawmakers, in either chamber of Congress.

“Religious freedom and LGBT rights don’t have to be in a lose-lose battle for protections in America,” Stewart said in a statement to Vox. “One of the great things about this country is that we keep improving and moving toward better outcomes. All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect, and the right to pursue happiness. This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors.”

While there are already federal laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, and disability, queer people in the US remain without non-discrimination protections at the federal level, and in many states.

As Vox’s German Lopez noted, that means “someone can be fired from a job, evicted from a home, or kicked out of a business just because an employer, landlord, or business owner doesn’t approve of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Addressing that gap, however, has been part of one of the most hotly contested issues in American politics in the past 30 years. Beyond the long trail of failed legislative efforts aimed at protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, there’s a deep tradition of bitter court battles over the boundaries of religious freedom and the dignity of LGBTQ lives.

Stewart’s bill, which would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, is modeled after the so-called “Utah Compromise,” the non-discrimination law enacted in Utah in 2015 after extensive negotiations between LGBTQ advocates and the Mormon Church. Some LGBTQ advocates have labeled the compromise a “Trojan Horse” for LGBTQ rights because it offers limited or watered-down protections, and continues to position the rights of LGBTQ people as secondary to religious concerns.

“The so-called Fairness for All Act is an unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion, while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David told Vox in a statement. “For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs.”

Meanwhile, conservative groups, like the Heritage Foundation, have already come out against the bill for being too accommodating of LGBTQ people, saying it does not “promote the common good.”

It’s a big deal that conservative legislators are introducing a bill to protect the LGBTQ community with the backing of some religious conservative groups. But in trying to do so, they’ve likely created something that will upset just about everybody else, from the more extreme religious right, to mainstream LGBTQ advocacy groups.

The Fairness For All Act is a Republican response to the Equality Act

In March, House Democrats introduced the Equality Act, the first-ever comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights bill to pass the House. While it has been stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, it would provide sweeping non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in the US in housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and health care for the first time under federal law.

At the time, there were reports that some conservative groups were working on a compromise bill, and it appears the Fairness For All Act is that compromise.

A small coalition of religious conservative groups — led by the American Unity Fund and including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1st Amendment Partnership, Center for Public Justice, and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities — have rallied behind the bill.

“I’m excited about the solutions that are embodied in the legislation, because I think that those are the exact ideas that we’re going to need to pass federal civil rights for LGBTQ people,” said Tyler Deaton, senior adviser at the American Unity Fund.

The Fairness For All Act would provide many of the same protections for LGBTQ Americans, but it also provides ample exceptions for churches and religious organizations to continue to discriminate against queer people.

According to a copy of the bill obtained by Vox, LGBTQ people would be protected from discrimination in housing and employment. But there would be exceptions for medical providers with religious objections to providing transition-related health care to trans people, and some gender-specific spaces like bathrooms could bar trans people from access. Meanwhile, churches and religious organizations would have the freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ parents in adoption and foster care services, as well as in educational institutions.

The bill, while providing broad exemptions for churches and religious organizations, would also modernize the definition of public accommodations for all protected classes. (The Equality Act also does this.) Current civil rights law considers places like restaurants, hotels, buses, and public accommodations; the update would add things Americans now use every day, like ride-sharing apps — giving Uber passengers who might have been discriminated against by a driver the same options for recourse that someone being turned away at a restaurant has. The bill is carefully worded but makes clear that private citizens and publicly owned corporations would not be exempt from the regulations in the bill.

According to Deaton, the bill would treat trans women as women and trans men as men under federal law, with exceptions for religious nonprofits and churches. One part of the bill that Deaton called “innovative” is a provision that would grant individuals the right to request increased privacy in single-gender spaces. “We are pushing people to accommodate reasonable requests for greater privacy,” he said, bringing up the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans student who sued his school for the right to use a bathroom for boys.

Originally, Grimm’s school district barred him from using the boys room and instead forced him to use a single-stall facility normally reserved for staff. Under Fairness For All, nonreligious schools would be required to let Grimm use the boys room. However, another student who would be uncomfortable using the boys room for any reason, could request to use the more private facility.

Like the “Utah Compromise” framework that came before it, the act aims to settle housing and employment protections first, while leaving the more difficult discussions, like public accommodations and education access, for later.

Critics of the bill say it’s just a rehash of typical conservative religious freedom demands. “The Fairness for All Act is anything but fair for all and reads like a wishlist for conservative religious groups,” said Alison Gill, vice president for legal and policy at American Atheists, in a statement to Vox. “It codifies religious exemptions and loopholes that allow religiously motivated discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in areas of employment, adoption and foster care, and education. It undermines existing protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex by broadening exemptions from the law.”

But Rick Larsen, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative non-partisan think tank based in Utah that supports the bill in its existing form, told Vox he worries that the all-or-nothing approach taken by both sides on this issue is only going to continue the cycle of divisive court rulings on LGBTQ issues and religious freedom, especially with employment protections for LGBTQ people currently before the Supreme Court.

“What we like about it is the stated intentional desire for fairness and a proposed process that will encourage collaboration because we’ve seen that work in our state,” he said.

Is compromise on LGBTQ issues possible?

A source with knowledge of the bill told Vox that a similar version of the Fairness For All Act will be introduced in the Senate sometime in the future. While the broad religious exemptions may have more appeal in the chamber than the more progressive Equality Act, it remains to be seen whether the bill will catch on in the Senate with enough bipartisan support to pass it.

Hardcore anti-LGBTQ organizations are already working to shore up opposition to the proposed compromise bill. In a November letter to House GOP leadership obtained by Vox, anti-LGBTQ groups including the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Concerned Women for America, Christian Medical Association, and the conservative activist group American College of Pediatricians said the Fairness For All Act “fails to effectively protect religious freedom and the common good.”

“All Americans, not only those within a religious institution, should be able to live according to their beliefs,” reads the letter, which was addressed to Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA). “Limiting freedom to a religious institution does not strengthen it, but drastically shrinks the ability for everyone to live their beliefs in the public square.”

Stewart fired back in his own letter to Scalise and McCarthy in mid-November. “The perpetual conflicts between LGBT rights and religious freedom are corrosive and unsustainable,” he wrote. “Both LGBT rights and religious freedom deserve real protection. The current right-versus-left, no-compromise, winner-take-all approaches are a recipe for disaster-especially for religious freedom.”

Despite opposition from religious conservatives and the far right, Deaton remains optimistic that a makeshift coalition can form around the bill. “The paradigm we’re in is that politics is largely driven by the base,” he said. “If the Senate stays Republican for the next decade, which it could, then Fairness For All is the vehicle.”

To pass both chambers, however, it will require at least some progressive support, and that doesn’t appear to be happening either. Even though LGBTQ advocates are encouraged to see a bill offering any LGBTQ rights from conservatives, this isn’t one that progressives who championed the Equality Act can support.

“It’s really great to see some of these conservative religious groups acknowledging that LGBT discrimination and marginalization are real things and they need to be addressed,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in an interview with Vox. However, she went on to indicate that NCTE does not support the FFA Act, in comparison to the Equality Act.

“This bill does not protect LGBTQ people. Instead it codifies discrimination,” said Rep. David Cicilline, the chair of the House Equality Caucus. “The House already overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan Equality Act, which will ensure equal protection under the law for LGBTQ Americans. The Senate should bring the Equality Act up without further delay.”

06 Dec 13:13

The Best Places to Buy Glasses Online

by Nancy Redd
The Best Places to Buy Glasses Online

Depending on your needs and preferences, you can save hundreds of dollars by buying prescription eyeglasses online instead of through an optician. After performing more than 100 hours of research over two years, talking to eight eye-care professionals, and testing dozens of comparable frame-and-lens pairings from seven retailers in 2019, we recommend that you start your online glasses search at EyeBuyDirect. It offers an extensive, easy-to-search selection of quality frames, multiple lens and coating options, and affordable prices when compared with the prominent competition.

06 Dec 12:51

Rare Candy Drops increased in T5 raids, T4 raids drop guaranteed Charged TMs

by Zeroghan

Trainers, Niantic has shared that they are increasing Rare Candy rewards from completing five-star raids in Pokemon GO. At the same time, completing four-star raids will reward guaranteed Charged TMs. This change is effective immediately.

Players have reported getting 12 Rare Candies from a single Tier 5 raid, which makes our Terrakion Raid Counters guide finally relevant again:

Both items are lucrative rewards, but serve different purposes in the meta game. Rare Candy is a one-time replacement item that always has the same predictable outcome. Using a Rare Candy on a Pokemon will give you 1x of that Pokemon Candy, without a fail. Having Rare candy is always beneficial, especially when you’re planning a new power-up project.

On the other hand, you always want extra Charged TMs, due to the random nature of their outcome. It’s not uncommon to spend 4-5 to fix just one move, and there’s potentially three moves you wan’t to fix.

Kudos to Niantic for listening to player feedback!

The post Rare Candy Drops increased in T5 raids, T4 raids drop guaranteed Charged TMs appeared first on Pokemon GO Hub.

06 Dec 12:51

DHS Wanted To Add US Citizens To The Long List Of People Subjected To Mandatory Face Scans At Airports... But Has Backed Down For Now

by Tim Cushing

We knew the DHS would get to this point eventually. Since the beginning of its biometric scanning program rollout, the DHS has planned on adding US citizens to the list of people forced to trade their faces for air travel privileges. So far, the program has been limited to suspicious foreigners (which is all of them, including those here on visas), but a recent filing -- caught by Zack Whittaker at TechCrunch -- says flying in the United States would soon require adding yourself to the government's facial recognition databases.

Homeland Security wants to expand facial recognition checks for travelers arriving to and departing from the U.S. to also include citizens, which had previously been exempt from the mandatory checks.

In a filing, the department has proposed that all travelers, and not just foreign nationals or visitors, will have to complete a facial recognition check before they are allowed to enter the U.S., but also to leave the country.

The Department of Homeland Security's excuse for subjecting US citizens to mandatory face scans is the homeland's security. Here's the DHS in its own words:

To facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition and to help prevent persons attempting to fraudulently use U.S. travel documents and identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists, DHS is proposing to amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure.

"May be required" should actually read "will be required." The DHS's privacy assessment of its biometric scanning efforts noted that opting out of biometric scanning means never leaving the country:

[T]he only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling…

The government would like to get to know its legal residents better, it would appear. It hopes to be able to put faces to names with an acceptable degree of accuracy. What's acceptable to the DHS probably won't be acceptable to travelers, but travelers aren't making the rules. Travelers are only subjected to them.

The only thing preventing this program from becoming China is the DHS's inefficiency -- or a massive public outcry. After this story started making news this week, DHS suddenly decided to put it on pause for the time being. Of course, it still has until next year to roll out biometric scanning to the 20 largest airports in the country. It's been working on this for a few years now and has yet to roll this out completely to its test markets. Whatever gains are made in facial recognition accuracy will hopefully arrive in time to keep the lowest bidders from endangering the freedoms of travelers just looking to exit or enter their home country. Even if DHS is backing down on scanning Americans, it's not clear it's backing down on its overall commitment to facial scanning technology.

The weak promise the DHS gave months ago about keeping Americans out of this was quickly broken to better facilitate the treatment of citizens and visa holders as terrorists every time they board a flight that crosses US borders -- so I wouldn't put much faith in its latest promise not to go there any more. The DHS and its large adult son, the TSA, have done very little to make traveling more secure. But when there's billions of budgetary dollars at stake, you can't be too careful. The money must be spent and those who firmly believe something must be done to secure the nation will see some things being done. Whatever collateral damage this does to Americans and their trust in the federal government is apparently acceptable.

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06 Dec 12:51

Billy Dee Williams Says His Gender Remarks Were Misinterpreted: 'What the Hell Is Gender Fluid?'

Billy Dee Williams isn't gender fluid after all. In fact, he doesn't even know what that term means.

In a recent interview with Esquire magazine, the 82-year-old actor described himself using both male and female pronouns, suggesting he had rejected the gender binary. 

"I never tried to be anything except myself. I think of myself as a relatively colorful character who doesn't take himself or herself too seriously," he told the outlet. "And you see I say 'himself' and 'herself,' because I also see myself as feminine as well as masculine. I'm a very soft person. I'm not afraid to show that side of myself."

This statement naturally led many to believe that Williams had come out as gender fluid—someone who does not identify, nor express themselves, with one fixed gender. But despite the fact that he uses both male and female pronouns when referring to himself, the veteran actor insists he identifies strictly as a male.

He clarified his comments in an interview with Undefeated, stating he was simply talking about the ways men can embrace their feminine side.

"Well, first of all, I asked last night. I said, 'What the hell is gender fluid?’ That’s a whole new term," Williams said. "But what I was talking about was about men getting in touch with their softer side of themselves. There’s a phrase that was coined by Carl G. Jung, who was a psychiatrist, who was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, and they had a splitting of the ways because they had different ideas about the … what do you call it? Consciousness. Unconscious. It’s collective unconsciousness. But he coined a phrase that’s, ‘Anima animus.’ And anima means that is the female counterpart of the male self, and the animus is the male counterpart of the female. So that's what I was referring to."


It became more clear that Williams truly didn't know what gender fluidity was, as it seemed he had conflated it with sexual fluidity.

"I was talking about men getting in touch with the female side of themselves. I wasn’t talking about sex, I wasn’t talking about being gay or straight," he said. "People should read [Jung]. I mean, it would be an interesting education for a lot of people."

You can read Williams' full interview at Undefeated. The actor also speaks about reprising his role as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which hits theaters Dec. 20.

06 Dec 12:51

Wedding websites curb promotion of US plantations

McLeod Plantation Image copyright Ritu Prasad/BBC
Image caption The McLeod Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina

Four major US wedding planning websites will restrict the promotion of venues that idealise former slave plantations.

Pinterest, the Knot Worldwide and Brides said they would limit plantation advertisements, in some cases removing adjectives that romanticise the venues such as "charming" or "elegant".

Planning platform Zola has removed all the listed plantations from its site.

The changes follow calls from civil rights group Color of Change to bar the promotion of plantations outright.

"The decision to glorify plantations as nostalgic sites of celebration is not a compassionate one for the black women and justice-minded people who use your site," the organisation wrote in a letter to Zola executives, according to BuzzFeed News, which first reported the changes.

"In fact, 'classic,' 'elegant,' and 'glamorous,' are just a few of the tags that your site uses to describe the places where many of your readers' ancestors were tortured and stripped of their most fundamental rights," Color of Change wrote.

These plantations - scattered across the American South - remain, for many, a painful reminder of the country's legacy of slavery and racism. At the height of slavery, the National Humanities Center estimates that there were over 46,000 plantations stretching across the southern states.

Image copyright JenAphotographer/Getty Images

But they have also become a popular choice for weddings.

A simple web search for "plantation weddings" will call up venues in Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia promising "beautiful backdrops" featuring "columned mansions" and "moss-covered oaks".

An enduring source of controversy, the modern use of slavery plantations has been the source of heightened debate in recent years.

A post on Reddit in September asking if it was reasonable to skip a best friend's wedding because it was held on a plantation received over 1,000 comments on both sides of the argument.

Image copyright Ritu Prasad/BBC
Image caption A tour at McLeod Plantation

"Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things," a Pinterest spokesperson wrote in an email to US media. "We are working to limit the distribution of this content and accounts across our platform, and continue to not accept advertisements for them."

The changes will be seen by tens of millions of American couples that use one or more of these sites to help plan their wedding.

Nothing untouched by slavery

By Ritu Prasad, BBC News in Charleston

Charleston reflects a wholly American truth: that nothing here is untouched by the legacy of slavery, even centuries on. What is less certain is how a city - and a nation - should talk about such a difficult past.

For decades, tourists have been drawn to South Carolina and its plantations for the idyllic southern charm, a deliberate throwback to a Gone With the Wind era.

But the industry is slowly changing as some believe tourists should face the truths of slavery instead of the rose-coloured narrative peddled for so long - even if it makes them uneasy.

For many on tours of plantations, there is a struggle to reconcile the beauty around them with the brutality of slavery.

"Slavery was not that bad - it's probably the number one thing we hear," says plantation tour guide Olivia Williams.

Read more from Ritu about the awkward questions slavery raises in slavery in the US South.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHer ancestors enslaved mine. Now we're friends
06 Dec 12:49

Americans want a woman to take down Trump. Just not in the election.

by Anna North
Pamela Karlan speaks into a microphone. Pamela Karlan testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The impeachment hearings showed America’s conflicted attitude toward powerful women.

Immediately after Fiona Hill testified in the House impeachment hearings last month, the accolades began pouring in.

The testimony of the former National Security Council official was “a powerful reminder of what makes America great,” said New York Times columnist Roger Cohen.

“Which of these campaign posters would be better,” asked Bob Franken at the Orange County Tribune: “‘Fiona Hill for President’ or simply ‘Fiona!’?”

“She was brave,” wrote Molly Jong-Fast at the Daily Beast, “but also deliciously brash in a way that women must be if they are to survive Trumpism.”

Hill hasn’t been the only woman to receive praise for her testimony in the hearings. Former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch also won accolades for her “uncynical outrage,” and the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus wrote that her “femininity is her superpower.” And while Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan raised ire on the right with a joke about the name of President Trump’s youngest son, she also got glowing reviews from commentators across the political spectrum.

The women’s performances inspired journalism professor and MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson to make an observation: “Literally every woman that has testified during #ImpeachingHearings has delivered the strongest points and messages but somehow this country can’t figure out how to put a woman in the White House.”

The disconnect he points to is real: If the impeachment hearings are any guide, Americans are excited about the prospect of a woman taking down President Trump. But when it comes to actually beating him at the ballot box, they’re not so sure — female candidates are dogged by concerns about “electability,” and Sen. Kamala Harris, once considered a potential frontrunner, dropped out of the race this week.

Of course, many of the commentators praising Hill, Yovanovitch, and Karlan are likely the same ones pushing back against “electability” concerns and calling for female candidates to be taken more seriously. But the love for the female witnesses went beyond the media — on Twitter and Reddit, ordinary people were calling for Fiona Hill to run for president (something she can’t legally do, since she was born in England). The reactions expose something people who study gender dynamics have long noticed about American society: powerful women can be very popular — when they’re not trying to attain more power.

Women played a standout role in the impeachment hearings

While the impeachment hearings before the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in recent weeks have included explosive testimony by men, many of the standout witnesses have been women.

In November, Yovanovitch testified that she had been forced out of her ambassadorship after a smear campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — and earned a standing ovation for her words. Soon thereafter, Hill spoke of how she’d found opportunity in America that would have been denied to her in Britain due to her working-class background, and said that the Trump administration had been conducting a shadow foreign policy to advance the president’s political interests at home.

Then, earlier this week, Karlan explained before the Judiciary Committee why Trump’s behavior is impeachable, offering the analogy of a president denying disaster aid to a US state unless its governor helped investigate his opponent.

None of the three were household names before the impeachment inquiry began, but all drew praise from pundits and ordinary Americans alike. At the New Yorker, Susan B. Glasser wrote that “Yovanovitch did something that I thought had become impossible in Donald Trump’s Washington: she managed to hold on to her amazement and outrage at the President’s amazing and outrageous actions.”

“In this hyper-partisan, hyper-political time,” Glasser went on, “she was neither.”

Hill, meanwhile, “spoke with the authority of a Harvard PhD who has exactly no time for nonsense and no patience for fools,” Monica Hesse wrote at the Washington Post, noting that online commenters had suggested the former Russia adviser play Q from the James Bond franchise, or perhaps Bond himself.

When Karlan spoke this week, Vivian Kane at the website the Mary Sue wrote that she was “the paragon of expertise. And she was not messing around today.”

Karlan later drew criticism from conservatives for joking that “while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron.”

But that episode aside, the testimony by the women drew praise from some conservatives as well as progressives, with Republican strategist Ana Navarro-Cárdenas tweeting that the women “make me feel like standing up in my living room, and shouting, ‘Yes, girl. Yes!’”

The female witnesses inspired praise from Americans, while female presidential candidates inspire skepticism

The women were indeed highly prepared and articulate in their testimony, which at times stood in stark contrast to questions from Republicans, as when Rep. Doug Collins joked that Karlan’s testimony would show “why most people don’t go to law school.”

“I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts,” she responded. “So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”

But beyond the witnesses’ qualifications and performances, there may be something cathartic about watching a woman deliver testimony that’s damaging for Trump. After all, the president was elected just shortly after he was heard on tape bragging about his ability to grab women “by the pussy.” He has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women.

For women, as well as for significant numbers of Democratic and independent men, his presidency has helped trigger a reckoning around men’s disproportionate power in government, as evidenced in recent polling. And so for the more than 50 percent of Americans who disapprove of his performance, there may be a particular satisfaction in the idea that a woman could be the one to bring him down.

But so far, that sentiment hasn’t always translated into support for female candidates in 2020. Sen. Elizabeth Warren remains a frontrunner in the race, but her standing in the polls has dropped following criticism of her health care position. Meanwhile, her campaign has been plagued by questions about her “electability” and her personality — in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, 41 percent of voters who support Vice President Joe Biden in 2020 but not Warren agreed with the statement that women who run for president “just aren’t that likable.”

“There’s just something about her that I just don’t like,” a woman who previously supported Trump told the Times of Warren.

Meanwhile, Harris ended her presidential campaign this week despite high initial hopes. Her campaign struggled on multiple fronts, but it’s still notable that, as many have pointed out, a senator and former attorney general of California has left the race while Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who won his election by fewer than 11,000 votes, is considered a frontrunner.

The disconnect may have to do with how Americans view women seeking power

The female candidates for president differ from Yovanovitch, Hill, and Karlan, in many ways — notably, the witnesses testifying at the hearing were there in a nonpartisan capacity. Hill, in particular, emphasized her years of service under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Still, when it comes to public opinion, the female witnesses have something big going for them: They’re not running for office.

It’s a phenomenon that researchers and feminist writers have noticed for years. As Sady Doyle put it at Quartz in February 2016, America loves powerful women — “as long as they’re not asking for a promotion.” Clinton was highly popular as secretary of state, Doyle notes, with an approval rating of 69 percent when she stepped down from that job in 2013. Only when she ran for president did her numbers start to nosedive, reaching 40.8 percent at the time of Doyle’s writing. Pundits, meanwhile, complained that “there is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating” or that “Hillary’s personality repels me.”

Meanwhile, other women who were not running for president were seen as more likable — like Warren, for example, who was the subject of a failed “Draft Warren” effort in 2015.

Doyle also cites a 2010 study that found that voters are less likely to vote for female politicians when they see them as “power-seeking,” while men face no such penalty.

“Because power and power-seeking are central to the way masculinity is socially constructed and communality is central to the construction of femininity, intentionally seeking power is broadly seen as anti-communal and inconsistent with the societal rules for women’s behavior,” the study found, according to Harvard’s Gender Action Portal. Because of this, “women’s power-seeking will evoke emotional reactions of contempt and disgust and therefore voters will be less likely to support their candidacy.”

Again, many of the commentators cheering on Hill, Yovanovitch, and Karlan are those who have called for an end to questions about “likability” and “electability” when it comes to female candidates — or at least a new layer of nuance applied to those questions.

The Washington Post’s Hesse, for example, wrote in October that “this might be the first election where, when we talk about electability, we are also talking about the electability of men. Do they have the right kind of masculinity for the moment? Does it seem like they’re addressing the female candidates with respect? What kind of dude are they being?”

Still, it was hard to read the many “Fiona Hill for president” tweets following her testimony — many written not by political analysts but by seemingly ordinary voters — and not wonder what would happen if the laws were changed and the Brit could actually run for the highest office in our country. An educated guess: Americans would quickly find something not to like about her.