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07 Aug 14:48

Trump’s radical lawsuit against Nevada’s vote-by-mail law, explained

by Ian Millhiser
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on August 4, 2020, in Washington, DC.  | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It’s Bush v. Gore all over again.

On Monday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed legislation intended to ensure that voters in his state can still cast a ballot during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among other things, the new law (known as AB4) provides that registered Nevada voters will automatically receive a ballot in the mail, a common practice in Western states. It also requires the state to provide a minimum number of polling places for in-person voters, both on Election Day and for early voting.

President Trump’s response to this new law was apoplectic.

On Tuesday, one day after AB4 became law, Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf of Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party, seeking to block it.

Their legal complaint in Donald J. Trump for President v. Cegavske is not a model of careful legal argumentation. It claims, for example, that AB4 changed Nevada law to allow mailed-in ballots without postmarks to be counted so long as they arrive within three days of Election Day. In fact, Nevada law already allowed such ballots to be counted. An entire section of the complaint focuses on the fact that AB4 was enacted “on a weekend vote” — the state House approved the bill on a Friday, but the Senate passed it on a Sunday — without explaining how the day of the bill’s passage was relevant to its legality.

Though Trump for President v. Cegavske (the named defendant is Barbara Cegavske, Nevada’s secretary of state) targets several provisions of Nevada’s election law, its most significant attacks focus on two provisions: the provision allowing some late-arriving ballots to be counted and a provision requiring the state’s two most populous counties to have a higher minimum number of polling places than less populous counties.

It’s not hard to guess why Trump wants late-arriving mail-in ballots to be tossed out. Multiple polls have shown that Biden voters prefer to vote by mail, while Trump voters are much more likely to vote in person.

Trump has spent the past several months attacking states that try to make it easier to vote by mail — though he recently claimed that mail-in ballots in Florida are fine because “Florida’s got a great Republican governor.”

In any event, Trump’s lawsuit suffers from several fundamental flaws. Some of its arguments rely on federal statutes that most likely cannot be enforced through a lawsuit brought by a private party. Others rest on speculation about how certain provisions of AB4 will be implemented. Important prongs of Trump’s legal arguments rest on the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore (2000), an opinion that explicitly states its decision is “limited to the present circumstances” and therefore should not be relied on by future courts.

And beyond that, at least some of Trump’s arguments would lead to sweeping progressive results that he probably would not like if they were embraced by federal courts.

Trump would not like the implications of his own legal arguments

AB4 requires all Nevada counties to have at least one in-person early voting site in every county and at least one in-person polling place on Election Day. Only two Nevada counties have more than 60,000 residents, and those two counties are required to have additional polling sites. Washoe County (Reno), with nearly 500,000 residents, must have at least 15 early voting sites and 25 sites on the day of the election. Clark County (Las Vegas), with more than 2.2 million residents, must have at least 35 early sites and at least 100 on Election Day.

The Trump team claims this arrangement is unconstitutional and relies heavily on Bush v. Gore to make its case.

One of the ironies of Bush v. Gore is that if the Supreme Court actually took its own holding in that case seriously, Bush would have been one of the most progressive election law decisions in American history.

The specific issue in Bush, which effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush, concerned a recount of the ballots cast in Florida’s extraordinarily close 2000 presidential contest between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The majority in Bush faulted Florida election officials for failing to apply “uniform rules” to this recount — an unclearly marked ballot might be counted in one Florida county while a ballot with the same unclear marking might be rejected in another. This lack of one statewide standard, according to a majority of the justices, injected too much arbitrariness into the recount.

But Bush also contains sweeping language suggesting that any disparate treatment of voters within a state may be constitutionally suspect. “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms,” the majority concluded in Bush, “the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.”

One reason Bush was widely criticized by legal scholars is because this expansive approach to voter equality was hard to square with prior, more parsimonious voting rights decisions handed down by conservative justices who joined the Bush majority. As Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor and a member of Gore’s legal team in Bush, wrote in 2003, “the ‘right’ ostensibly protected by the majority in Bush v. Gore seems characteristic of a class of entitlements that has received only reluctant federal protection from the Rehnquist Court.”

The conservative justices’ departure from their ordinary practices, their decision to restrict their holding to a single election, and the fact that Bush placed a Republican in the White House all gave a fairly clear impression that Bush v. Gore was an exercise of partisanship and not of legal reasoning.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has since been fairly clear that it doesn’t take Bush’s approach to voter equality seriously. In the nearly two decades since Bush was decided, only one Supreme Court opinion has so much as cited Bush v. Gore, according to the legal database Lexis Advance. And that single citation appears in a footnote to a dissenting opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas that was joined by no other justice.

Nevertheless, Trump’s lawyers ask the courts to take Bush’s expansive approach to voter equality very seriously.

Relying on the strong language in Bush calling for all voters to be treated on “equal terms,” Trump’s lawyers argue that Nevada’s formula for setting the minimum number of polling places in each county is unconstitutional. “Several rural counties — where AB4 authorizes only 1 polling place each — have substantially higher numbers of registered voters per polling place” than the two most populous counties, they claim.

As a threshold matter, this claim is premature. As the Supreme Court held in Texas v. United States (1998), “a claim is not ripe for adjudication if it rests upon ‘contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all.’” AB4 does not require Nevada’s smaller counties to have only one polling place — it provides that those counties must have at least one polling place. It’s possible that once AB4 is actually implemented, rural counties will have roughly the same number of registered voters per polling place as urban counties.

But if Trump is truly serious about implementing a voting rights standard that requires all voters to have equal access to polling sites, Democrats should agree to that deal with enthusiasm. After the Supreme Court struck down much of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, many states started closing polling places — and these closures disproportionately impact voters of color who tend to prefer Democrats over Republicans. As a result, voters in large Democratic cities within red states sometimes have to wait hours to cast a ballot.

It’s unlikely, however, that Trump really wants Democrats of color in urban centers to be able to vote with ease on Election Day. It’s more likely that he is looking for another decision like Bush v. Gore — a one-off opinion that lifts up a Republican presidential candidate without providing any benefits to future voters.

Trump wants to force Nevada to toss out many ballots

AB4 provides that mall-in ballots will be counted so long as they are postmarked by the day of the election and received by the seventh day following the election. But not all mail is postmarked, and sometimes the date on a postmark is illegible. Thus, there is a risk that voters will be disenfranchised for completely arbitrary reasons — such as the postmark on their ballot getting smudged while the ballot was being delivered.

Nevada addresses this problem by creating a safe harbor for some ballots that arrive without postmarks. Under a provision of Nevada law that took effect last January, mailed ballots will be counted if they are “received not more than 3 days after the day of the election and the date of the postmark cannot be determined.” (AB4 actually makes this provision marginally stricter, by requiring such ballots to arrive by 5 pm on the third day after the election.)

Trump’s lawyers argue that this provision is illegal because it conflicts with a federal law providing that “the electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” At least in theory, a ballot mailed after Election Day might arrive within three days of the election, and it might bear an illegible postmark. Thus, Trump’s lawyers claim, by accepting some late ballots, Nevada could wind up counting ballots mailed after the federally mandated Election Day has passed.

It’s a clever argument. And it is true that, at least before the Covid-19 pandemic, few states explicitly allowed ballots that arrived late and without postmarks to be counted. But there are a number of reasons to suspect that courts will reject this argument.

One problem with Trump’s argument is that it is difficult to square with the expansive theory of voter equality that Trump uses to challenge the state’s allocation of polling places. If it is unconstitutionally arbitrary for some counties to have more polling places per voter than others — or, for that matter, if it is unconstitutionally arbitrary for some Florida counties to use different standards to evaluate unclearly marked ballots than others — then surely it is also unconstitutional to toss out some ballots and accept others based on whether the post office smudged a postmark while the ballot was being delivered.

It’s also far from clear that Trump’s campaign — or, for that matter, any other private party — is allowed to sue because a state decides to count ballots that are cast after Election Day. Not all federal laws create a “private right of action,” meaning that private plaintiffs are allowed to bring a lawsuit challenging alleged violations of those laws.

As the Supreme Court explained in Gonzaga University v. Doe (2002), “for a statute to create such private rights, its text must be ‘phrased in terms of the persons benefited.’” Thus, for example, a statute that reads “eligible voters shall receive a ballot by mail” would create a private right of action because the text of this hypothetical statute centers “eligible voters” — the people who would benefit from that statute. A different statute that provides that “the state shall provide for a system of voting by mail” most likely could not be enforced in court because that statute does not even mention the people who would benefit from it.

In any event, the federal statute setting the date of presidential elections (“the electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November”) is not phrased in terms of the persons benefited — it conveys no rights that apply to individual voters, political candidates, or their campaigns. So it most likely cannot be enforced by private plaintiffs in federal court.

There’s also a third reason to doubt that Trump will prevail in his effort to toss out late-arriving Nevada ballots. Though Chief Justice John Roberts, frequently the median vote on the Supreme Court, is often hostile to voting rights claims, he’s also signaled that state officials struggling to control the pandemic should be given an unusual amount of deference by courts.

In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (2020), for example, Roberts sided against a church that challenged a state public health order that only allowed places of worship to reopen at limited capacity.

“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement,” Roberts wrote in his South Bay opinion. He added that “our Constitution principally entrusts ‘[t]he safety and the health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the States ‘to guard and protect.’”

The same logic that led Roberts to defer to state officials who want to prevent Covid-19 from spreading at churches in South Bay may also lead him to defer to Nevada officials who want to prevent Covid-19 from spreading at polling places.

That said, there is never any certainty in this kind of highly political litigation — especially when a Republican president seeks relief from courts dominated by Republicans. In the short term, the case is assigned to Judge James Mahan, a George W. Bush appointee. However Mahan rules, the losing party will likely appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. And the case may very well be heard by a very conservative Supreme Court.


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07 Aug 14:35

Trump’s latest plan to use the census for political gain, explained

by Nicole Narea
A person holds up a letter from the Census Bureau. The new deadline to respond to the US census is September 30, 2020. | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

His decision to end data collection a month early could lead to undercounts among communities of color, immigrants, and those in rural areas.

President Trump has fired another shot in his war on the 2020 census.

His administration announced earlier this week that it will conclude operations for the census a full month earlier than previously scheduled. With about four in 10 households yet to be counted, the move will likely lead to an undercount among historically hard-to-count populations, including people of color, immigrants, and those in rural areas.

The Census Bureau will now stop soliciting responses — by mail, online, or in-person when census takers go door to door — on September 30. The bureau had originally pushed back the deadline for collecting data from August 15 to October 31 on account of disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it moved up the date on the basis that it was necessary in order to meet its statutory December 31 deadline to provide census figures to Congress.

It’s likely Monday’s decision will mean that hard-to-count populations, which include renters, low-income people, and children under the age of 5, could be undercounted, eroding their political power and undercutting their federal funding over the next decade.

States currently draw congressional districts, determining the areas that each elected official represents based on the total population, including unauthorized immigrants. The current maps are due to be redrawn in 2021 after the results of the 2020 census come in, and the stakes are high: Each redistricting has a lasting influence on who is likely to win elections, which communities will be represented in Congress, and, ultimately, which laws will be passed. If states can’t complete their redistricting efforts ahead of upcoming elections, including the midterms in 2022, courts can intervene and draw temporary maps.

The Trump administration’s attempt to cut census operations short will likely reduce the counts in hard-to-count areas across the US, particularly in numerous congressional districts where the response rates remain at least 10 points below the 2010 response rate:

 Courtesy of the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center
Census self-response rates are well behind the final 2010 self-response rates across numerous congressional districts in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in particular.

As of August 4, the national self-response rate is still lagging 3.5 percent behind the final 2010 self-response rate of 66.5 percent. And at this point in the process, it’s unlikely that significantly more people will self-respond to close that gap. That means the Census Bureau will have to do more door-knocking than in the previous census to ensure an accurate count, but the administration’s decision to cease operations in September will cut that process short.

The Census Bureau said Monday that it expects to obtain a “similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities.”

But Rob Santos, vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute and president-elect of the American Statistical Association, said that in order to capture households that failed to self-report, the bureau will have to rely much more heavily on reports from their neighbors, which are not nearly as accurate.

It will also have to rely on administrative records, including Social Security and IRS data. That could be a problem — the hard-to-count households are precisely the kind of households for which the federal government lacks reliable administrative records. For instance, unauthorized immigrants do not have Social Security numbers and may rely on a cash economy without filing taxes with the IRS (though, to be clear, many of them do file taxes).

“Everything hinges on the quality of those data,” Santos said. “Everything is adding up to one of the most flawed censuses in history.”

A day after the Census Bureau’s announcement, four former census directors urged in a statement to the Trump administration to delay the deadline to respond to the census until April 2021. They also called on Congress to assign an independent, apolitical institution to develop metrics for judging whether the final census numbers are reasonably accurate and, if not, determine the next necessary steps.

“Having helped to plan, execute or lead five decennial censuses serving nine Presidents of both parties, our expert opinion is that failing to extend the deadlines to April 30, 2021 will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” they said.

The decision to end the census early could undercut minority and rural communities

Latino and immigrant advocates have called the decision to conclude census operations early a blatant attempt to suppress the voting power of their communities. About 62 percent of Latino registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, according to a January 2020 Pew Research survey.

“It’s an attempt at political beheading of the Latino vote,” Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said. “It just reeks of political opportunism.”

In Texas, a historically red state, Latinos make up roughly 40 percent of the population and are expected to become the largest population group in the state by 2022, according to Census Bureau projections. But as of now, Texas as a whole remains 6.4 points behind its final 2010 self-response rate.

Santos says he’s concerned about how the 2020 census could undercut predominantly Latino communities in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. They have been difficult to count in the past: More than one-third of families in the region live in poverty, and some are unauthorized immigrants. But it’s even harder now that they’re also grappling with one of the most severe Covid-19 outbreaks in the country and are still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Hanna, which made landfall in late July.

The best way to improve response rates in the area would be to go door to door. Garcia said that LULAC had reached out to Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, urging him to support efforts to count Latino communities in the state, which could increase state funding for health care and education. But Cornyn has not opined on the issue publicly. (A Cornyn aide said that his staff, which remains in constant contact with LULAC on a number of issues, had not heard from the organization about its concerns on the census.)

“We need equity in our society,” Santos said. “If there is one thing that’s come out of Covid, it is a scream for equity in this country. This is not only going to exacerbate that problem, but it’s going to reinforce the systemic racism that already existed.”

Rural communities will also suffer from the shortened census time frame. Howard Fienberg, co-director of the Census Project, an organization that supports an accurate and inclusive census, said he’s particularly worried by the self-response rates for Oklahoma, where there is high variation at the county level: One county has an almost 70 percent response rate, while about half of the state’s counties are in the range of 30 to 50 percent.

New Mexico’s statewide self-response rates are similarly concerning at the county level. The statewide self-response rate is about 53 percent, but in more than half the counties, the response rate is less than 40 percent. The more than 491,000 households in the state that still need to be visited by a census taker are primarily in the most remote parts of the state, which take a long time to reach, Fienberg said.

“A shortened period of non-response follow-up and minimal time to effectively boost any more self-response is unlikely to make a big dent in those numbers,” he said.

Trump has long been trying to use the census for political gain

It’s not the first time that Trump has politicized the census. He previously sought to put a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census. Several states, including California and New York, challenged the question in court on the basis that it would depress response rates among immigrant communities, leading to an undercount that would cost their governments critical federal funding. Their lawsuit came before the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor in June 2019 on the basis that the Trump administration had lied about why it chose to include the question on the census.

Trump, on the other hand, argued that citizenship data would aid the Justice Department’s enforcement of the prohibitions against racial discrimination in voting. But that rationale was just a pretext, introduced after the fact to justify the question and meant to obscure the administration’s actual reasoning, the justices found.

Had the administration decided to continue pursuing the citizenship question, it would have had to race to support its decision with more valid reasoning in order to print the census forms on time.

Trump ultimately decided against doing so, instead issuing an executive order in July 2019 that instructed the Census Bureau to estimate citizenship data using enhanced state administrative records.

Trump has facilitated the creation of that data, though it’s not clear how accurate it is. The executive order authorized the Census Bureau to collect more data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and Citizenship and Immigration Services in an attempt to identify the citizenship status of more people. The bureau later started asking states to voluntarily turn over driver’s license records, which typically include citizenship data, to determine the citizenship status of the US population.

Trump later revealed how he intended to use that data: He issued a memorandum in July excluding unauthorized immigrants living in the US from census population counts for purposes of redrawing congressional districts in 2021, as legislators in Texas, Arizona, Missouri, and Nebraska had already sought.

The White House argued that by law, the president has the final say over who must be counted in the census. And Trump has said that unauthorized immigrants should not be counted because it would undermine American representative democracy and create “perverse incentives” for those seeking to come to the US.

But many legal experts have characterized the memorandum as baldly unconstitutional; some Republicans have even been reluctant to endorse it because it could hurt the population counts in their home states.

The memorandum has been challenged in federal court. If it survives, it would reduce the counts in areas where foreign-born populations have traditionally settled — primarily Democrat-run cities — and therefore undermine their political power relative to more rural, Republican-run areas. But it could also impact red states with large immigrant populations, including Texas.

But that’s not all Trump has done with the census. In June, he added two new political appointees to the Census Bureau, drawing speculation from Democrats that he was trying to use the census to pursue partisan goals.

Nathaniel Cogley, a former political science professor, assumed the newly created position of deputy director for policy, and Adam Korzeniewski — a former political consultant for the YouTube personality “Joey Salads,” who is known for creating racist pranks — became his senior adviser. The scope and authority of their positions remain unclear, but Democrats have raised concern that they may have undue influence over how the 2020 census is administered.

“The decision to create two new senior positions at the Census Bureau and fill them with political operatives is yet another unprecedented attempt by the Trump Administration to politicize the 2020 census,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in June.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

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

07 Aug 14:33

We need to talk about what school closures mean for kids with disabilities

by Anna North
A chalk board with silhouettes of differently abled students. Getty Images

As schools prepare for fall, students in special education are being left out of the conversation.

When Simon’s school in Maryland closed this spring due to the pandemic, his family didn’t know what to expect.

“Like every family who has a kid in school, there was a lot of uncertainty,” Simon’s mom, Laura LeBrun Hatcher, told Vox. “Everybody was in a ‘what’s going to happen’ moment.”

But for Simon, that uncertainty also included what would happen to the one-on-one support that he needs to learn effectively, as well as the occupational and physical therapy he gets at school. Simon, who just turned 14, has complex medical needs and disabilities, including hydrocephalus, epilepsy, and autism. As the director of design and communications for the group Little Lobbyists, which works on behalf of kids with disabilities, Hatcher has been involved in advocacy for a long time. But, she said, “I’m not a trained therapist” — and providing everything at home that Simon used to get at school has been very challenging.

While Simon’s school has “been great in trying to walk us through stuff and do things remotely, the quality of the therapy is just not there,” Hatcher said. And “Simon’s attention just isn’t there for it,” she added. “He’s not in the environment that he is used to, where he has the structure that he’s used to.”

And compared with other kids with disabilities around the country, “Simon was one of the lucky ones,” Hatcher said.

When schools closed their physical buildings due to the pandemic, some made an effort to continue the services and therapies that help students with disabilities access their education — even if those services had to be remote. But other schools did little or nothing to continue such services. In a survey released in May by the organization ParentsTogether, just one in said families of children in special education said they were receiving all the support services their kids were entitled to. Four in 10 said their kids were getting no support at all.

For a lot of families of kids with disabilities, virtual learning this spring “meant nothing,” Maria Hernandez, executive director of the nonprofit VELA, which helps parents in the Austin, Texas, area navigate special education for their kids, told Vox. “It meant one phone call; it meant one packet.”

And now, parents worry about a fall with more of the same uncertainty over whether schools will be able to provide from a distance the resources their kids need. At the same time, some students with disabilities also have underlying conditions and complex medical needs that make the physical reopening of schools a frightening prospect.

“No one has the answer,” Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress and a parent of children with disabilities, told Vox. But one thing many advocates agree on is the need for more funding so that schools have the resources to teach all students during the pandemic and beyond. “We really need to see Congress invest additional funds to help shore up what education looks like for our kids,” Cokley said.

Education is a civil right for all students. But many kids with disabilities weren’t receiving it this spring.

Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), all students are legally entitled to what’s called a free appropriate public education (FAPE for short). For kids with disabilities, that can include services like speech or behavioral therapy, or a one-to-one aide to support them in the classroom.

“Those are not optional things,” Cokley said. “They’re not nice things to do. They’re fundamental civil rights.”

But this year, as schools closed their physical buildings due to the pandemic, they’ve had to figure out what a free appropriate public education looks like in a time of Covid-19, she said.

Their responses have varied widely. For the families VELA serves, the majority of whom are low-income, “the greatest challenge that we saw was therapy services,” Hernandez said.

Many families can’t afford private therapy, and the services their kids get through school are often the only ones they receive. But when schools closed, a lot of those services stopped — some kids who were getting therapy once or twice a week received it just a few times over the entire spring, Hernandez said.

And receiving therapy remotely presented a lot of challenges. In some cases, parents were given a video to watch, instructing them on how to provide therapies themselves — but this required a lot from parents in terms of replicating the instructions on their own. In other cases, students did get some real-time remote therapy, but it required parents to get together a wide array of materials, find a quiet spot in their home, and then guide the child through every step of the therapy. “It was either, ‘Watch this video on your own time,’ which probably didn’t give any benefit to the child, or, ‘You need three hours to get ready for a 30-minute therapy session,’” Hernandez said. “Neither one worked.”

Meanwhile, when it came to academics, the strategies that might have been workable for some students in general education classrooms simply weren’t possible for many families with children in special education. A packet of exercises or a pre-recorded video lesson can be an effective teaching tool “when you’re a student that has the ability to just self-pace and learn on your own,” Hernandez said. “When you’re a student that requires specific accommodations to be successful, and your parents are stressed and moving through life in Covid, the reality of that packet being completed or even looked at is really small.”

And parents of students with disabilities have been asked to take on the roles not just of teachers but of the aides and other support professionals who ordinarily help their children learn — and who, unlike parents, have the training to do so.

For Sammy, who goes to school with Simon in Maryland, the shift to remote speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling was relatively seamless, his mom Daya Chaney Webb told Vox. But managing the academic coursework was a different story. At school, teachers and staff are constantly pivoting to meet the individual needs of students, Webb said. Online, that’s much harder. And Sammy has a one-to-one support professional at school. At home, that’s Webb.

“It’s very much hand over hand,” with Webb helping Sammy do things like open tabs on his laptop browser, she said. “This is me working next to him for every moment of instruction.”

For Sammy, who is going into 11th grade in the fall, the shift online has been a mixed bag. It’s “easier to pay attention from home, so I don’t need so many breaks,” he told Vox. But, he said, he misses seeing his friends in person.

“I hope I can go back to school-school, he said. “I feel like I try harder in school.”

Academics have been a challenge for Simon, too, Hatcher said. Like Sammy, he usually has a one-to-one aide at school, and while he’s been able to connect with her remotely, she’s no longer by his side helping him stay on task. Instead, “we’ll have an online video of a book, and then a Google sheet where it’s reading comprehension questions,” Hatcher said. “That is not the same as being in a classroom with a special education teacher or even a general education teacher who’s able to really make sure that those kids are getting the information they need.”

The result: “For kids like Simon who really do need that level of support, we’re not just worried about him not moving forward, we’re worried about his regression,” Hatcher said.

It’s a common concern among parents of kids with disabilities, who are disproportionately likely to say that their kids’ schooling has stalled during the pandemic. In the ParentsTogether survey, 35 percent of parents of students in special education said their kids were doing little to no remote learning, compared to 17 percent of families with kids in general education classes.

Overall, when it comes to providing the services students with disabilities need to access a fair education, “we’ve really seen it fall flat,” Cokley said. “I have yet to hear any parents with kids with disabilities say, ‘My kid got as close as possible to regular services and support in this time.’”

The Trump administration made the situation worse

Making matters worse were confusing messages from the federal government at the beginning of the pandemic.

On March 12, as schools around the country were considering or announcing closures, the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos released guidance stating that if a district “closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, and does not provide any educational services to the general student population,” then the district “would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time.”

 Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at a roundtable discussion on the Safe Reopening of Americas Schools hosted by President Trump on July 7.

Some districts responded by doing just that — shutting down education for all students in both general and special education classes, taking the attitude that “if we have to provide services equitably we just won’t provide anything,” Denise Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a group that advocates for the civil rights of students with disabilities, told Vox. In some cases, districts refused to retrieve equipment students with disabilities needed from school buildings, like an eye-gaze machine some students use for communication, arguing that “we are not providing services to anyone in person, and that constitutes in-person,” Marshall explained.

Advocates were highly concerned, arguing that the pandemic did nothing to release schools from their legal responsibility to educate kids with disabilities. “There’s nothing in the law that provides any kind of waiver for the obligation to provide FAPE in this kind of circumstance, or really in any circumstance,” Marshall said.

On March 21, the Education Department issued a clarification telling districts that “they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities.” The clarification also stated that “school districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities.”

Still, the initial guidance “caused delay, it caused confusion, and it contributed to the inequities, and the wild variations in terms of provision of services,” Marshall said.

Families and advocates are worried about what the fall will bring

Many fear those inequities will only widen this fall, as schools around the country cope with a still-raging — and, in some places, worsening — pandemic.

With little federal leadership on the issue — or on battling the pandemic more generally — state and local officials have largely been left to face the challenges of education during Covid-19 on their own. And, as with general education, schools and districts in high-income areas have often been able to provide better services to students with disabilities than those in lower-income places. For one thing, “schools that are already taxed financially don’t have as high level of technology to be able to give to their students to bring home,” Cokley said. And for schools already struggling to provide therapy and other supports to students remotely, a lack of adequate technology only compounds the problem.

Moreover, getting adequate services for children with disabilities can require significant parent advocacy — something that’s difficult for low-income working parents even in the best of times, especially if they speak English as a second language. But during the pandemic, with kids at home and school meetings taking place over giant Zoom calls, it’s become even harder, Hernandez said. “We know how intimidating those settings can be, but now we’ll have this other lens of a parent sitting on their phone in the closet.”

As a result, special education services, at least in Austin, tend to vary from school to school, depending on where parents have the time and resources to push for them, Hernandez said. “What tends to happen very often is the advocacy and the resources stay attached to a campus, versus a district-wide initiative.”

And while there’s been a lot of coverage of middle- and upper-class families exploring learning “pods” for the fall — small groups of students that meet in person while schools are closed — many fear that those won’t be accessible to students with disabilities either.

For students who are able to join pods, “they’ll be with other kids, it’s awesome,” Hernandez said. But for kids who aren’t able to be part of a pod — because of their disability status, because they don’t speak English fluently, because their parents can’t afford the cost, or all of the above — “we think of the further isolation that’s going to be happening.”

Making education accessible to students with disabilities will take money — and representation

As with general education, solutions to provide special education during a pandemic are complex, to say the least.

While some pediatricians and other experts have pushed to get kids back in school as soon as possible in order to mitigate the academic and social losses associated with online learning, some students with disabilities have underlying conditions that make going to school during a pandemic especially risky for them. Simon, for example, has neurological issues, asthma, and cerebral palsy, which could potentially put him at higher risk. “We have families who are just very, very afraid of their children becoming sick and dying,” Hatcher said. “I’ll take regression over losing Simon.”

At the same time, some kids have behavioral and other needs that are met much better in the structured environment of school. Being home with swaths of unscheduled time, away from their routines and the supports they are used to, “is incredibly stressful for the children and their parents,” Hatcher said. “I see a lot of parents who are really stuck between that rock and a hard place of wanting to protect their children’s health but also knowing how bad this is and how destructive this is for their children’s emotional health.”

There are no easy answers to any of this, but there are changes that could help. For example, districts could examine whether it’s safe for therapists and one-to-one support professionals to make home visits to students while school buildings are closed. “If we had the resources to make that happen and do that safely, I think a lot of kids would benefit,” Hatcher said. Some areas of the country are also considering allowing students with disabilities to come to school in person even if the school year starts remotely for others. Officials in Washington State, for example, recommended this week that schools in high-risk counties remain closed except for students with disabilities and others with the highest need.

As always, though, resources are key. To ensure equitable education for kids with disabilities during the pandemic and beyond, Congress needs to provide more funding for programs and services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Cokley said. Better funding would help ensure that schools and the families they serve have adequate technology for kids to continue their classes and therapies remotely, as well as training more teachers in special education. Districts also need an adequate staff of therapists and aides to provide services in person if and when it’s possible — and that staff needs access to personal protective equipment and paid family and sick leave, Cokley said.

Additional funding is especially crucial now, as more children will likely need special education services due to the physical and emotional effects of Covid-19, Cokley added. But so far, Congress has included no additional funding for IDEA in its relief packages. “More kids are becoming disabled and no one is providing funding for it,” she said.

 Alex Wong/Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence speaks alongside Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx addressing the reopening of schools in the Fall on July 8.

Beyond money, schools and districts also need clear leadership from the top, many say. COPAA has asked the Education Department to provide guidance on schools’ responsibilities if their buildings are open but families choose to keep kids with disabilities home out of concern over the virus, Marshall said. The group is very worried that if schools do reopen physically, they may not provide the necessary services to kids who still need to be home. So far, DeVos — who has spent much of the summer pressing schools to reopen even as coronavirus cases rise — has not offered such guidance.

And in all conversations about education during the pandemic, representation for students with disabilities is critical, Hernandez said. The voices of students with disabilities and their families — especially if those families are also low-income, people of color, or speak English as a second language — have often been overlooked in meetings about school plans, especially when those meetings themselves take place remotely. On a local level, “we’re missing somebody that in every single meeting is saying, ‘Right, and what would that look like for special education?’” Hernandez said. “Just that would be incredibly meaningful.”

But so far, “special ed has been kind of a last thought in all this reentry stuff,” Webb said. “It reinforces the way that a lot of families that support disabilities within feel kind of like society’s disposables.”

Instead, “people should be treated equally,” Sammy said, “never judging by the color of their skin or their ability level.”


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07 Aug 14:24

Anti-maskers explain themselves

by Emily Stewart
People in the back of a truck waving a flag and yelling in a protest. Supporters and members of Patriot Prayer and People’s Rights Washington take part in a rally against Washington state’s mask mandate on June 26, 2020, in Vancouver, Washington. | Karen Ducey/Getty Images

“If I’m going to get Covid and die from it, then so be it”: What it’s like to be against masks.

At the outset of the pandemic, Amy, a 48-year-old mother of two from Ohio, was afraid. When the government began recommending people wear masks, she not only complied but also made masks for others. “I was like, oh, this is scary, this could be really bad,” she said.

But when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would extend its lockdown for the month of May, she’d had it. Pandemic over or not, she was done. After that, Amy became vehemently anti-mask and began to doubt whether coronavirus was really that big of a deal. Her mother unfollowed her on Facebook over her “anger posts” about masks, and she hasn’t heard from her in a month. She carries a homemade mask with her, just in case, but she doesn’t believe in them.

“It’s a violation of my freedom, I think, and then also I just don’t think they work,” Amy said. “A lot of stuff says it does, but then some doesn’t.”

Masks have become an extremely heated point of contention during the Covid-19 outbreak. Viral videos of people having meltdowns over masks are commonplace, and in many parts of the country, it’s not abnormal for strangers to confront each other publicly over the issue. A small but vocal segment of the population has dug in and ignored the growing evidence that masks may make a difference in combating the coronavirus. For those who believe that at the very least, wearing a mask can’t hurt, it’s hard to not develop some animosity toward those who refuse. The question I keep hearing from pro-mask friends and family is always the same: What are these people thinking?

In recent weeks, I spoke with nearly a dozen people who consider themselves anti-mask to find out just that. What I discovered is that there is certainly a broad spectrum of reasons — some find wearing a mask annoying or just aren’t convinced they work, and others have gone down a rabbit hole of conspiracies that often involve vaccines, Big Pharma, YouTube, and Bill Gates. One man told me he wears a mask when he goes to the store to be polite. A woman got kicked out of a Menards store for refusing to wear a mask amid what she calls the “Covid scam garbage.”

But there are also many commonalities. Most people I talked to noted government officials’ confusing messaging on masks in the pandemic’s early days. They insist that they’re not conspiracy theorists and that they don’t believe the coronavirus is a hoax, but many also expressed doubts about the growing body of scientific knowledge around the virus, opting for cherry-picked and unverified sources of information found on social media rather than traditional news sources. They often said they weren’t political but acknowledged they leaned right.

Most claimed not to know anyone who had contracted Covid-19 or died of it, and when I told them I did, the responses were the same: How old were they? Did they have preexisting conditions? They know their position is unpopular, and most spoke on condition of anonymity and will be referred to only by their first names. Amy told me people are “not very nice about this.”

The mask debate is complex. As much as it’s about science, health, and risk, it’s also about empathy. If someone doesn’t personally know anyone who died from Covid-19, does it mean those lives don’t matter? Are older and immunocompromised people disposable? Does one person’s right to ignore public health advice really trump someone else’s right to live?

“Death is happening in these wards where even family members can’t visit their loved ones when they’re sick with Covid, so the death and the severity of this disease are really invisible to the public,” said Kumi Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who studies infectious diseases.

It leads some people to brush the issue aside.

“I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives. And I almost feel like if I’m going to get Covid and die from it, then so be it,” said Gina, a Pennsylvania real estate agent who wears a mask at work but otherwise opposes mask mandates.

“I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives”

But the empathy question also works the other way — attacking people for not wearing a mask doesn’t change minds. An open, more forgiving conversation might. That’s what happened with Scott Liftman, a 50-year-old man from Massachusetts who read a story in the Atlantic about men who won’t wear masks. He contacted the article’s author, Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus, and has come around — somewhat — on the idea of putting one on, at least in certain situations.

“I want to be sensitive, I want to follow scientific principles, but I also want to exercise common sense, too,” Liftman told me. “You never want to read something that just shames you. I really think that no two people are so different that they can’t find some common ground.”

“These people are part of our community, and they are putting other people at risk,” Marcus said. “If you can inch some people, you will see risk reduction overall.”

Freedom, but for your face

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spin out of control in the United States, many states, localities, and businesses have turned to requiring people to wear masks in hopes the measure will slow the spread of infection. Currently, 34 states have mask mandates, and polls show a hefty majority of Americans would support a national mask mandate, as well.

For those who disagree, that’s partially where the problem resides: They insist they’re not anti-mask, they’re anti-mandate. “If you want to wear a mask, great. I will never look down on you, have anything bad to say to you, do what you want. But the mandates are what I disagree with and I don’t think are right, especially now,” Gina said.

Rallies against mask mandates have popped up across the country, much like the protests to reopen the economy that took place at state capitols earlier this year. People wanted the freedom to get a haircut; now they want the freedom to go to the grocery store without covering their face.

Some of the people I spoke with drew the line, specifically, at government mandates. It’s one thing for a private business to require customers to wear a mask, they said, but another thing for a state government to do it. Private establishments “have a right to do so, and you should respect those rules,” Jason, a paramedic from Michigan, said.

Others, however, chafed at rules from businesses, too. Members of one Facebook group circulated a list of stores with mask requirements, chatting about boycotting those retailers or visiting to try to challenge the rules.

When I spoke with Jacqueline, who lives in Wyoming, she was upset over the mask requirement at her local Menards. She’d been to the home improvement store, sans mask, twice in recent days — the first time, she was allowed to make her purchase despite ignoring the rules, but the second time, she had no such luck. She was asked to leave the store after a physical altercation ensued — Jacqueline says a worker pushed her, the store says she rammed someone with a cart — and management called the police to file a report. She’s now banned from the store. “They don’t have to ban me because I’ll never go back again,” Jacqueline said. She told me she’ll go to Home Depot instead. (It also appears to require masks for customers.)

As to why she believes she’s exempt from the rules, Jacqueline cited the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. “No states are allowed to make laws that take our freedoms and liberties away,” she said.

But then she mentioned a mask exemption card she got — not from a doctor, but from a friend. It appears she has one of the fake cards some people are using to try to get out of wearing a mask by claiming they have a disability. “I get overheated really easy,” she explains.

The issue with the freedom argument is that wearing a mask is about more than protecting yourself — there’s growing evidence masks are useful for protecting others from those who may have Covid-19 and not know it. Not wearing a mask may encroach on another person’s freedom to go out in relative safety.

A protester holding a flag. Megan Jelinger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
An anti-mask protester holds an American flag during a rally July 18, 2020, at the Ohio Statehouse.

Part of the problem is the facts have changed. Another part is where the facts are coming from.

There is no denying that Covid-19 messaging from official channels has, at times, been confusing and contradictory. Early on, people were told not to wear a mask, but now that’s changed. Scientific consensus evolves with new information, this is a new disease, and like it or not, the world is full of uncertainty.

Given that uncertainty, it makes sense people would have doubts. If officials changed their minds on masks before, what’s to stop them from doing it again? Some people also feel the pandemic isn’t as bad as it was made out to be in the spring. They don’t know very many people, if anyone, who have gotten sick, and in some places, especially more rural areas, masks just aren’t that common.

Among those I spoke with, however, I noticed that while the conversation might begin with contradictory messaging and doubts about efficacy, it often devolved into conspiracy theories. The mainstream media was lying, they said, asking whether I’d seen this video on YouTube or followed that person on Twitter. Jacqueline’s Facebook timeline was filled with posts the platform had flagged as false, and with diatribes that the company was censoring her. She told me she hurt her hand several weeks prior, and that she had weighed going to the emergency room but decided against it: She’s 65 and believes she’d automatically be given a positive Covid-19 test and placed on a ventilator to likely die.

Bryan, who lives in New Jersey, declined to speak on the phone for this story out of concern I might misconstrue his words. He opted to communicate via LinkedIn, sending over several days more than 4,000 words explaining his thoughts on masks and the pandemic. Initially, he said his main issue was the mandate.

“What the mandates have done is scare people into believing they are a must if they are to avoid catching the virus. And because those scared few feel that way, they become angry and vile towards anyone who does not share in their fear,” he wrote.

Bryan told me that he and his fellow “truth seekers” have always questioned the numbers on Covid-19’s mortality rate, and he expressed doubts about government officials’ advice and the media’s coverage of the pandemic. He acknowledged that some of what he was saying made him sound like a conspiracy theorist, but also leaned in: He believes masks are a step in “getting people into compliance so that they can make vaccines mandatory as well.” His theory: “Soon it will be, ‘take the vaccine,’ or you can’t travel, shop, etc.” Or worse, he said, digital IDs or “health care passports.”

Certain theories and conspiracies came up over and over again. Nearly everyone I spoke with referenced a single Florida man whose death in a motorcycle crash was erroneously listed as a Covid-19 death, saying it was evidence the virus’s fatality count was vastly overstated. (Research has shown that coronavirus deaths are likely underreported.) Many said that hydroxychloroquine is the miracle cure for Covid-19, despite evidence it is likely ineffective, and that efforts to develop other drugs or a vaccine are simply a ploy by Big Pharma to make money. Sometimes Bill Gates was involved, though exactly why he was painted as a nefarious figure was somewhat unclear.

Bryan mentioned an event related to pandemic preparedness, hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2019, as evidence of activity that seems “strangely coincidental” given current events. “Who is one of the ones backing all of that ‘preparedness?’ Good ole Bill Gates, a man who not long ago had a huge image problem due to some monopolistic practices, etc. Now he seems to have revived his image because he is a ‘virus and vaccine expert?’” Bryan wrote.

Most of the people I spoke with got their information from their own “independent investigations” or content they found on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

“YouTube is where alternative thinkers are going to do their thinking,” Mak, whose hot yoga studio in British Columbia was shut down due to the coronavirus, told me.

“There’s definitely some sort of an agenda here to initiate control upon the people and to make people more obedient and compliant, and see which people are going to comply with some directives,” he said.

“I know they’re lying to the masses”

Some anti-maskers have turned to making content of their own. Tanya, also from British Columbia, had gone to local hospitals to try to record what was going on and prove that media stories about the outbreak were false.

“I know they’re lying to the masses,” she told me. “I don’t know anybody who has had coronavirus, I don’t know anybody who knows anybody, and I know a lot of people.”

“Anti-maskers will say masks are making you breathe in your own carbon dioxide,” said Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “That’s not at all a thing, because we know ... there are plenty of people whose occupations require them to wear a mask.”

Politics is part of it, but not all of it

Like so many things, masks have become a politicized issue. President Donald Trump and many Republicans have spent months using them as a political lightning rod. Some have since changed their tune — the president has begun recommending masks, though his message hasn’t been consistent or wholehearted.

“The challenge is that when you had political leaders early on saying we are not wearing masks, we don’t think it’s important, we don’t think it’s a good idea, there are a lot of people in the country who very, very seriously follow President Trump,” said Catherine Sanderson, a professor of psychology at Amherst College. “When you have somebody in that sort of a vivid role saying, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ it creates a norm people are motivated to follow.”

Jacqueline told me she believes the pandemic death count has been inflated in an effort to undermine the president. “They’re all saying this so that they can make the president look bad, so they can cause the problems they are causing,” she said.

The president walking and wearing a mask surrounded by others, also in masks. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images
After months of refusing to wear a mask in public, President Donald Trump wears one on July 11, 2020, while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Politicization is playing out at a much more local level, too. I spoke with Anthony Sabatini, a member of the Florida House of Representatives who has filed multiple lawsuits over mask mandates. Ahead of our interview, he emphasized he’s worried about mandates and government overreach, not the masks themselves.

During our discussion, he initially claimed that police would be going into businesses and homes, checking to see whether people were wearing a mask. When I asked for evidence, he referenced to an ordinance against gatherings of more than 10 people — not masks — but claimed they were “part and parcel” of the same issue. When I asked Sabatini whether he personally wears a mask, his initial response was, “Where? In my bed?” I clarified: when he goes out, like to the grocery store. Sabatini, who is 31, told me he doesn’t go to the grocery store because he’s “too busy” and “a millennial,” and therefore eats out all the time. He conceded he sometimes goes to the grocery store, so when I asked whether he wears a mask there, he insisted I name which specific store.

Sabatini said older people are generally most at risk of dying of Covid-19, adding that he is “very careful” around them — specifically those 82 or older. The majority of deaths have been in nursing homes, he explained, and he doesn’t know anyone personally in a nursing home. “Anyone in my age group, it’s just rare that you know anybody that’s in that age group,” he said.

According to the Florida House of Representatives’ website, there were more than 500 people residing in nursing facilities in Sabatini’s district as of the 2010 census, and about 5 percent of the population he represents is age 80 or older.

“Grandmas and grandpas die all the time”

Spring outside of my Brooklyn apartment had been a symphony of sirens. If there’s a chance wearing a piece of cloth over my face will do something to help, that’s fine by me. It was an issue I posed to many of the anti-maskers: If I’m wrong, the worst that happens is I was a little uncomfortable at the grocery store in July. If you’re wrong, you and others could get sick and die. Is that worth the risk?

“I don’t want to be responsible for killing anybody,” Gina, the Pennsylvania real estate agent, told me, though she still insisted the virus is overblown. “If the cases weren’t reported on anymore and talked about, coronavirus would be gone.”

“I hear all the time, people are like, ‘I’d rather be safe than sorry, I don’t want to be a grandma killer.’ I’m sorry to sound so harsh,” Mak said, chuckling. “I’m laughing because grandmas and grandpas die all the time. It’s sad. But here’s the thing: It’s about blind obedience and compliance.”

“When there is a vaccine, these are the same group of people who are saying they’re not getting a vaccine”

As tempting as it is for many people to write off the anti-mask crowd, it’s not that simple. As Lois Parshley recently outlined for Vox, enforcing a mask mandate is a difficult and complex task. But it’s an important one: A lot of anti-maskers also have doubts about a vaccine, which public health experts say will be a crucial part of moving past the pandemic.

“Masks are actually probably a proxy for not believing in science, not believing in experts,” Amherst College’s Sanderson said. “The challenge, of course, is when there is a vaccine, these are the same group of people who are saying they’re not getting a vaccine.”

So how do you break through? As enticing as it may be for some people to shame and attack people who won’t wear a mask, it’s probably not the answer.

“One of the challenges is that you need to bring people to your side without saying, ‘You’re stupid,’ because when it’s, ‘You’re stupid,’ it’s very hard to convince someone,” said Sanderson, who’s also the author of Why We Act: Turning Bystanders Into Moral Rebels, a book about social norms.

As difficult (and at times contentious) some of the conversations were, across the board, everyone was extremely nice. They also sent follow-up information to try to get me to see things their way. It’s easy to see how, for someone who’s on the fence, you might get sucked in: If pro-mask Bob tells you you’re a murderer but anti-mask Sue tells you she’s got a video you should see, you might prefer to deal with Sue.

Masks aren’t a panacea, Smith, from the University of Minnesota, said. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. “We’re at this point where we are desperate in the United States,” she said. “I’m not about to argue anti-maskers down and say, ‘No, this will save everybody’s lives most definitely,’ but I think to reject it wholesale because some scientist changed their mind is really problematic.”

Like it or not, we’re all in this together, mask on or mask off. And just like the science can change, minds can too.

Liftman, the Massachusetts man who spoke with the Harvard epidemiologist who wrote about men who won’t wear masks, told me his conversation with the writer changed his mind. He felt like she showed compassion and didn’t condemn him. He’s still a little skeptical — he thinks it’s bad he’s supposed to wear a mask when ordering from the ice cream truck outside. But when he’s inside a store or in a crowded area, he gets it. While he still believes in individual liberty, he says it’s not just about himself, it’s also about the worker at the grocery store who doesn’t have a choice, and the person next to him in line.

“I was kind of very skeptical about the whole thing. Is this about government control? Do we really need it? As the science has evolved, I’ve become more in line with the idea that we really should protect ourselves more often than I initially thought,” Liftman said. Speaking with Marcus, and another virologist he reached out to, made a difference. “It opened my eyes up to being a little bit more sensitive.”


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

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

07 Aug 14:08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A timeline of resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A battle for the heavens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fight ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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07 Aug 13:41

Trump admin shrugs off FCC court loss to fight Calif. net neutrality law

by Jon Brodkin
An Ethernet cable and fiber optic wires.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Rafe Swan)

The Trump administration and broadband industry are resuming their fight against California's net neutrality law, with the US Department of Justice and ISP lobby groups filing new complaints against the state yesterday.

The case is nearly two years old but was put on hold because California in October 2018 agreed to suspend enforcement of its law until after litigation over the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of US net neutrality rules and the FCC's attempt to preempt state net neutrality laws. That lawsuit was decided in October 2019 when the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the FCC repeal of its own rules but overturned the FCC's attempt to impose a blanket, nationwide preemption of any state net neutrality law.

"At bottom, the Commission lacked the legal authority to categorically abolish all 50 States' statutorily conferred authority to regulate intrastate communications," judges in that case wrote. But that doesn't prevent the Trump administration and ISPs from trying to block state laws on a case-by-case basis.

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07 Aug 13:41

FCC lowers some prison phone rates after blaming states for high prices

by Jon Brodkin
A telephone inside a prison hallway.

Enlarge (credit: Jason Farrar)

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to lower the prices inmates pay for phone calls from prisons and jails, but the organization reiterated its position that state governments must take action to lower prices on the majority of inmate calls.

Today's action is a proposal to "substantially reduce [the FCC's] interstate rate caps—currently $0.21 per minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.25 per minute for collect calls—to $0.14 per minute for debit, prepaid, and collect calls from prisons, and $0.16 per minute for debit, prepaid, and collect calls from jails." This is part of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which means the commission will take public comment before finalizing the new caps and could change the plan before making it final.

Since the proposed rate cap limits prices on interstate calls only, it won't affect the approximately 80 percent of prison calls that don't cross state lines. Last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urged state governments to cap intrastate calling prices, saying the FCC lacks authority to do so. Pai said that "33 states allow rates that are at least double the current federal cap, and 27 states allow excessive 'first-minute' charges up to 26 times that of the first minute of an interstate call."

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07 Aug 13:29

Updated hurricane-season outlooks: Expect plenty more storms

by Scott K. Johnson
Satellite view of a storm over the ocean.

Enlarge / Hurricane Isaias passed north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on July 31 before spinning up the East Coast. (credit: NASA EO)

Hurricane season in the Atlantic has so far been quite active, with nine storms chewing through the alphabet already—two of them (Hanna and Isaias) reached hurricane strength before making landfall. Unfortunately, this pattern isn’t expected to let up, as hurricane outlooks have upgraded the odds that this highly active season is going to continue. In fact, NOAA is suggesting that we could be considering names starting with Y before things settle down for the winter.

In May, NOAA’s hurricane season outlook gave 60-percent odds of above-average activity, with something like 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

On Thursday, NOAA released an updated outlook with higher probabilities. “The season is now expected to be one of the more active in the historical record,” it notes. The outlook now calls for between 19 and 25 named storms and with seven to 11 hurricanes, though the number of major hurricanes is unchanged. Because the potential energy available for storms can produce one big storm or multiple smaller ones, the total is often calculated as “Accumulated Cyclone Energy,” or ACE. An above-normal hurricane season hits 120 percent of the median ACE, while clearing 165 percent defines an extremely active season. The new outlook sees the 2020 season hitting anywhere from 140 to 230 percent of median ACE.

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07 Aug 13:29

More than 20GB of Intel source code and proprietary data dumped online

by Dan Goodin
An Intel promotional has been modified to include the words

Enlarge (credit: Tillie Kottman)

Intel is investigating the purported leak of more than 20 gigabytes of its proprietary data and source code that a security researcher said came from a data breach earlier this year.

The data—which at the time this post went live was publicly available on BitTorrent feeds—contains data that Intel makes available to partners and customers under NDA, a company spokeswoman said. Speaking on background, she said Intel officials don’t believe the data came from a network breach. She also said the company is still trying to determine how current the material is and that, so far, there are no signs the data includes any customer or personal information.

“We are investigating this situation,” company officials said in a statement. “The information appears to come from the Intel Resource and Design Center, which hosts information for use by our customers, partners and other external parties who have registered for access. We believe an individual with access downloaded and shared this data.”

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07 Aug 13:24

The Best Smart Window Shades

by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy
The Best Smart Window Shades

Although smart shades that extend and retract automatically are a design-forward luxury, they’re also just plain useful. And they save energy and can help boost home security, too. Lutron’s Serena Shades are our top pick because they work flawlessly, look great, are the fastest and quietest shades we tested, and are compatible with all the big smart-home names. Yes, smart shades tend to be expensive, but we think they’re worth the cost.

07 Aug 13:14

Gullible Maine & DHS Intel Officers Believed Teen TikTok Video Was Serious Terrorist Threat

by Karl Bode

We've been noting for a few weeks that much of the hysteria surrounding TikTok is kind of dumb. For one, banning TikTok doesn't really do much to thwart Chinese spying, given our privacy and security incompetence leaves us vulnerable on countless fronts. Most of the folks doing the heaviest pearl clutching over TikTok have opposed efforts at any meaningful internet privacy rules, have opposed funding election security reform, and have been utterly absent or apathetic in the quest for better security and privacy practices over all (the SS7 flaw, cellular location data scandals, etc.).

Even the idea that banning TikTok meaningfully thwarts Chinese spying given the country's total lack of scruples, bottomless hacking budget, and our own security and privacy incompetence (the IOT comes quickly to mind) is fairly laughable. Banning TikTok to thwart Chinese spying is kind of like spitting at a thunderstorm in the hopes of preventing rain. Genuine privacy and security reform starts by actually engaging in serious privacy and security reform, not (waves in the general direction of Trump's bizarre, extortionist, TikTok agenda) whatever the hell this is supposed to be.

I see the entire TikTok saga as little more than bumbling, performative nonsense by wholly unserious people more interested in money, politics, leverage, and power than privacy or national security. Case in point: desperate to create the idea that TikTok is a serious threat, a new document leak reveals that the Department of Homeland Security has spent a good chunk of this year circulating the claim that a nineteen year-old girl was somehow "training terrorists" via a comedy video she posted to TikTok.

According to Mainer, the video in question was sent to police departments across Maine by the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), part of the DHS network of so-called "Fusion Centers" tasked with sharing and and distributing information about "potential terrorist threats." The problem: when you dig through the teen in question's TikTok posts, it's abundantly clear after about four minutes of watching that she's not a threat. The tweet itself appears to have been deleted, but it too (duh) wasn't anything remotely resembling a genuine terrorist threat or security risk:

"In the TikTok clip, Weirdsappho first displays a satirical tweet from the stand-up comedian Jaboukie Young-White, a correspondent for The Daily Show, that “thanks” police for “bringing in the army” to combat peaceful protests against police brutality. The tweet encourages protestors to throw “water balloons filled w sticky liquids (esp some sort of sugar/milk/syrup combo)” at tanks, in order to “support our troops."

And yet, after the clip got picked up and spread around by a handful of Qanon conspiracy cultists, it was, in turn, picked up and spread around by utterly unskeptical and uncritical agents at DHS and MIAC, who have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to far right extremism (for what should be obvious reasons), but can be easily worked into a lather where the vile menace "antifa" is concerned:

"Fusion Centers like MIAC, which is headquartered in Augusta and run by the Maine State Police, are engaged in a pattern of spreading misinformation, based on far-right rumors, that raise fears of leftist violence at peaceful protests against police brutality. Earlier this month, Mainer exposed how two social media posts by unreliable sources became fodder for official warnings about anarchist “plots” to leave stacks of bricks at protest sites for use as weapons against police.

In a July 15 article based on the BlueLeaks files, The Intercept revealed how DHS and its fusion centers are hyping far-fetched plots by alleged anti-fascist “antifa” activists despite evidence that far-right extremists pose actual threats to law enforcement personnel and protesters."

The idea that law enforcement and "intelligence officials" can't (or just won't) differentiate between joking political teen videos and serious terrorism threats should be terrifying to anybody with a whit of common sense. But it's not just part and parcel for a law enforcement and intel community that apparently can't behave or think objectively, it's par for the course for this wave of TikTok hysteria that's not based on much in the way of, you know, facts.

07 Aug 13:13

State Department Announces That Great Firewall For The US; Blocks Chinese Apps & Equipment

by Mike Masnick

Forget banning TikTok, the Trump State Department just suggested it wants to basically ban China from the internet. Rather than promoting an open internet and the concept of openness, it appears that under this administration we're slamming the gates shut and setting up the Great American Firewall for the internet. Under the guise of what it calls the Clean Network to Safeguard America, last night Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a program that is full of vague statements, that could, in practice, fragment the internet.

This is incredibly disappointing on multiple levels. While other countries -- especially China, but also Iran and Russia -- have created their own fragmented internet, the US used to stand for an open internet across the globe. Indeed, for whatever complaints we had about the State Department during the Obama administration (and we had many complaints), its commitment to an open internet was very strong and meaningful. That's clearly now gone. The "Clean Network to Safeguard America" consists of five programs that can be summed up as "fuck you China."

  • Clean Carrier: To ensure untrusted People’s Republic of China (PRC) carriers are not connected with U.S. telecommunications networks. Such companies pose a danger to U.S. national security and should not provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States.
  • Clean Store: To remove untrusted applications from U.S. mobile app stores. PRC apps threaten our privacy, proliferate viruses, and spread propaganda and disinformation. American’s most sensitive personal and business information must be protected on their mobile phones from exploitation and theft for the CCP’s benefit.
  • Clean Apps: To prevent untrusted PRC smartphone manufacturers from pre-installing –or otherwise making available for download – trusted apps on their apps store. Huawei, an arm of the PRC surveillance state, is trading on the innovations and reputations of leading U.S. and foreign companies. These companies should remove their apps from Huawei’s app store to ensure they are not partnering with a human rights abuser.
  • Clean Cloud: To prevent U.S. citizens’ most sensitive personal information and our businesses’ most valuable intellectual property, including COVID-19 vaccine research, from being stored and processed on cloud-based systems accessible to our foreign adversaries through companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.
  • Clean Cable: To ensure the undersea cables connecting our country to the global internet are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper scale. We will also work with foreign partners to ensure that undersea cables around the world aren’t similarly subject to compromise.
So, take the talk of banning Huawei and ZTE on the networking side, and the rumblings about banning TikTok on the app side, and multiply by everything.

I certainly understand the arguments that certain Chinese companies and technologies may be conducting surveillance on Americans (even though investigations into both Huawei and TikTok haven't shown anything out of the ordinary), but this approach is incredibly short-sighted. First of all, it goes against the basic American stance on openness, especially regarding the internet. That just damages what little moral high ground we had left to stand on regarding the internet.

Second, all this does is justify the Chinese approach. Make no mistake about it, China will turn around and use this to justify its (much worse) practices, by saying "look, even the Americans filter out "foreign" apps and services." Giving the Chinese ammo like that is so incredibly short-sighted.

Third, so much of American technology is still made in China -- including pretty much every electronic gadget and IOT and "smart" device that fills everyone's homes these days. This is going to backfire in so many ways. The trade war and tariffs have already hit parts of the technology industry hard, and this move will certainly lead to retaliation in all sorts of ways -- potentially having a massive impact on American firms being able to make use of factories and technology from China. That will have ripple effects throughout the economy and will likely limit certain innovation possibilities. Indeed, this may even allow Chinese firms to justify abusing technology to do the kinds of surveillance people are now freaked out about.

Fourth, it will allow China to expand its influence elsewhere in the world, showing how the US can't be trusted and plays favorites with its own companies through protectionism.

In short, this is the kind of short-sighted policy that we're all too familiar with from the Trump Administration, but which will do significant damage to the US in the process.

07 Aug 12:03

Georgia School District Inadvertently Begins Teaching Lessons In First Amendment Protections After Viral Photo

by Timothy Geigner

There's this dumb but persistent meme in American culture that somehow the First Amendment simply doesn't exist within the walls of a public school district. This is patently false. What is true is that there have been very famous court cases that have determined that speech rights for students at school may be slightly curtailed and must face tests over "substantial disruption" of the speech in question in order to have it limited. Named after the plaintiff in that cited case, the "Tinker test" essentially demands that schools not simply dislike a student's speech or the discomfort that comes from it, but instead must be able to demonstrate that such speech is disruptive to the school and students broadly. The facts of that case, for instance, dealt with students being suspended for wearing anti-war armbands. Those suspensions were seen as a violation of the students' First Amendment rights, because obviously.

Subsequent cases, such as Morse v. Frederick, have very slightly and narrowly expanded the limitations on speech within schools. In this case, for instance, a student's speech encouraging the use of illegal drugs was found to be a valid target for school punishment. But, narrow or not, some analysis has worried that cases like this could be used to expand the curtailing of student speech:

By contrast, the Eleventh Circuit extended Morse's rationale about illegal drugs to the context of student speech that is "construed as a threat of school violence". Boim, 494 F.3d at 984 (upholding the suspension of a high school student for a story labeled as a "dream" in which she described shooting her math teacher). Moreover, the court concluded that Morse supports the idea that student speech can be regulated where "[in] a school administrator's professional observation ... certain expressions [of student speech] have led to, and therefore could lead to, an unhealthy and potentially unsafe learning environment".

Disallowing student speech that amounts to threats of violence indeed seems to make sense. That being said, speaking of "an unhealthy and potentially unsafe learning environment":


You'd be forgiven if you thought that picture was taken from the Paulding County high school six months ago, with so few masks. But it wasn't. Instead, it was taken on August 4th, the first day back to school for Paulding County. Whatever your thoughts on whether and how schools should be opening, you really need to go read that entire article from BuzzFeed. The overwhelming impression left is that Paulding County appears to have reopened its schools in as callous and cavalier manner possible while still staying just inside government guidelines. Masks? Sure, if you want, but they're optional. Distancing? Of course, but we can't really enforce it in any meaningful way. And overall safety?

North Paulding teachers said they too felt they had no choice but to show up to work, even after a staff member texted colleagues saying she had tested positive for the virus. The staffer had attended planning sessions while exhibiting symptoms, one teacher said.

She did not attend school after testing positive. But teachers have heard nothing from the school, they said, which won’t confirm that staff members have tested positive, citing privacy concerns.

The Paulding County School Superintendent, Brian Otott, began reaching out to parents to reassure them that what they saw in the viral photo going around Twitter was fine, just fine. It lacked context, you see. Context, one presumes, is another word for safety. Or, if we are to believe Otott, the context is essentially: yes, this is totally happening, but the state said we can operate this way.

Otott claimed in his letter that the pictures were taken out of context to criticize the school’s reopening, saying that the school of more than 2,000 students will look like the images that circulated for brief periods during the day. The conditions were permissible under the Georgia Department of Education’s health recommendations, he said.

This from the same state that has the 6th highest number of total COVID-19 cases, the 11th most total cases per capita, the 4th most total new cases in the last week, and the 6th most new cases per capita in the last week. So, you know, not the state doing the best job in the country by a long shot at containing outbreaks of this virus.

Which perhaps makes sense, actually, since Otott seems chiefly interested in containing not the virus in his school halls, but rather any criticism of his district. Remember that viral photo that kicked off this discussion? Well...

At least two students say they have been suspended at North Paulding High School in Georgia for posting photos of crowded hallways that went viral on Twitter.

The photos show students packed into hallways between classes, not appearing to practice social distancing and with few masks visible, amid the coronavirus panic. They went viral after being shared by the account @Freeyourmindkid.

Those suspensions being handed out are five day suspensions and are being levied at violations of school rules around using cell phone cameras without permission. A couple of things to say about that.

First, the removal of a student from a School-sanctioned petri dish of a novel coronavirus feels odd as a punishment. Were it not for the intentions of the Superintendent, it would be damn near heroic as an attempt to save these kids from getting sick.

Second, refer back to my two paragraph throat-clearing above. This isn't constitutional. Nothing about the students sharing their concerns amounts to a disruption of school, or anything else that would qualify this protected speech for scholastic punishment. Taking a fearful 15 year old student and punishing him or her for their fear is beyond reproach. And, about those school rules for cell phones:

On Wednesday, an intercom announcement at the school from principal Gabe Carmona said any student found criticizing the school on social media could face discipline.

Again, plainly unconstitutional. One wonders why anyone should have faith in a school administration that isn't even educated enough on the rights of its own students to keep from ignorantly broadcasting its idiocy over school intercoms. Why are these people even allowed to teach children in the best of times, never mind during a pandemic as these kids get herded like cattle to the slaughter through school halls?

While I guess we'll all get to see what happens in this idiotic school district now, and maybe even learn some lessons from what occurs, I'm generally not of the opinion that we should treat our own children like they were the subjects of some kind of bizarre modern-day Tuskegee test.

07 Aug 12:02

Content Moderation At Scale Is Impossible: Twitter Locks Accounts For Fact Checking The President

by Mike Masnick

Another day in which we get to explain how content moderation is impossible to do well at scale. On Wednesday, Twitter (and Facebook) chose to lock the Trump campaign's account after it aired a dangerous and misleading clip from Fox News' "Fox & Friends" in which the President falsely claimed that children are "almost immune" from COVID-19.

People can debate whether it was appropriate or not for Twitter (and Facebook) to make those content moderation decisions, but it seems perfectly defensible. Claiming that kids are "almost immune" is insane and dangerous. However, where things get sketchy on the content moderation front is that Twitter also then ended up freezing the accounts of journalists and activists who fact checked that "Fox & Friends" nonsense:

Or in the case of Bobby Lewis from Media Matters, Twitter suspended his account for simply mocking part of the Fox & Friends clip, noting that when a host asked the President to "say something to heal the racial divisions in America" Trump couldn't do it and could only brag about himself:

Now, tons of people are reasonably pointing out that this is ridiculous, and arguing that Twitter is "bad" at content moderation. But, again, this all comes just a few weeks (has it been a few weeks? time has no meaning) since Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all received tremendous criticism from people for not being fast enough in pulling down another nonsense video -- one that Breitbart livestreamed of "doctors" spewing utter nonsense about COVID-19 in front of the Supreme Court. Indeed, at least week's Congressional anti-trust hearing, Rep. David Cicilline lit into Facebook for leaving that video up for five hours, allowing it to get 20 million views (meanwhile, multiple Republican representatives yelled at Zuckerberg for taking down the video).

So, if you have some politicians screaming about how any clip of disinformation about COVID-19 must be taken down, it's no surprise that social media platforms are going to rush to take that content down -- and the easiest way to do that is to take down any of the clips, even the clips that are people debunking, criticizing, or mocking the speech. Would it be nice if content moderation systems could figure out which one is which? Yes, absolutely it would. But doing so would mean taking extra time to understand context (which isn't always so easy to understand), and in the process also allowing the videos that some say are dangerous by themselves to remain online.

In fact, if Twitter said to keep up the videos that are people fact checking or criticizing the videos, you create a new dilemma -- in that those who want the dangerous nonsense to spread can, themselves, retweet the videos criticizing the content, and add their own commentary in support of the video. And then what should Twitter do?

Part of the issue here is that there are always these difficult trade-offs in making these decisions, and even if you think it's an easy call, the reality is that it's going to be more complex than you think.

07 Aug 12:02

Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Saying PACER Overcharged Users

by Tim Cushing

A lawsuit against PACER for its long list of wrongs may finally pay off for the many, many people who've subjected themselves to its many indignities. The interface looks and runs like a personal Geocities page and those who manage to navigate it successfully are on the hook for pretty much every page it generates, including $0.10/page for search results that may not actually give users what they're looking for.

Everything else is $0.10/page too, including filings, orders, and the dockets themselves. They're capped at $3.00/each if they run past 30 pages, but for the most part, using PACER is like using a library's copier. Infinite copies can be "run off" at PACER at almost no expense, but the system charges users as though they're burning up toner and paper.

Back in 2016, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, along with the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice, sued the court system over PACER's fees. The plaintiffs argued PACER's collection and use of fees broke the law governing PACER, which said only "reasonable" fees could be collected to offset the cost of upkeep. Instead, the US court system was using PACER as a piggy bank, spending money on flat screen TVs for jurors and other courtroom upkeep items, rather than dumping the money back into making PACER better, more accessible, and cheaper.

A year later, a federal judge said the case could move forward as a class action representing everyone who believed they'd been overcharged for access. A year later, it handed down a decision ruling that PACER was illegally using at least some of the collected fees. The case then took a trip to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals with both adversarial parties challenging parts of the district court's ruling.

The Appeals Court has come down on the side of PACER users. Here's Josh Gerstein's summary of the decision for Politico:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a district court judge’s ruling in 2018 that court officials inflated fees for the Public Access to Court Electronic Records or PACER system by including costs for flat-screen courtroom televisions, electronic alerts to victims and police, as well as computer systems to manage jurors.

The three-judge appeals court panel unanimously ruled that Congress gave the federal courts permission to charge for systems that improve public access to court files, but did not create a technology slush fund that could be used to subsidize almost any purchase of electronics by the federal judiciary.

This potentially means millions of dollars of refunds will be headed back to users once all the details are sorted out. The suit only covers fees collected from 2010 to 2016 (the initiation of the lawsuit) and the Appeals Court -- while not thrilled a paywall continues to sit between citizens and access to court documents -- will send this back to the lower court for a closer examination of PACER's actual expenses.

The decision [PDF] says both parties are reading the law wrong, but the government is reading it wrongest. There is no obligation for PACER to charge fees. The flip side of that is there is also no obligation for the US court system to provide a free service either.

Whereas the judiciary previously was required to charge fees for electronic access to court information, after the 2002 amendment it could choose whether to do so. The language “only to the extent necessary” certainly suggests that Congress sought to encourage the judiciary to limit its imposition of such fees—since otherwise the amendment could have simply swapped “shall” for “may.” But, as we continue to stress, the text lacks a clear object or purpose of the supposed limitation (“only to the extent necessary” to what?) and we are unwilling to supply one of our own—or one of plaintiffs’—making. If Congress had intended to limit fees only to the extent necessary to reimburse expenses incurred in providing access to PACER, it would have said so more clearly. We can give full effect to the 2002 amendment by reading it as removing the electronic access fee obligation and encouraging the judiciary to rein in fees—without imparting any specific limitation on the fee-setting.

At this point, PACER can still charge users for access. Those fees may be reduced in the future, but for now nothing is changed. The money it collected in the past, however, may be headed back to PACER users. That's good news. Hopefully this decision is another step down the road to the removal of the paywall standing between citizens and the court documents their tax dollars have already paid for.

07 Aug 12:01

The Federal Government Gives Native Students an Inadequate Education, and Gets Away With It

by by Alden Woods, Arizona Republic

by Alden Woods, Arizona Republic

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This story was co-published with The Arizona Republic, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

A couple of months after Kimasha Shorty’s son started sixth grade at an Arizona public middle school, his teachers called her at home. He had trouble adding and subtracting and was struggling to read at grade level.

Shorty didn’t understand how it was possible that her oldest child could be so far behind after leaving Wide Ruins Community School, the sole elementary school in an area of about 1,000 residents at the southern edge of the Navajo Nation. He had been diagnosed with a mild learning disability that affects reading and math comprehension, but Shorty said he was doing so well by fourth grade that he skipped a grade at the urging of administrators and began attending a public middle school about 25 miles south in Sanders.

There, her son was far behind his classmates, many of whom did not grow up in his rural community and didn’t spend their early years at an elementary school overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education, a little-known federal agency that manages more than 180 schools and dormitories across the country.

Year after year, a similar pattern emerged for Shorty, the mother of nine children. Her daughter’s middle school math class started with geometry, but her fifth grade at the elementary school had barely touched long division.

In February, months after another son started at a public middle school, Shorty received a call from a school counselor seeking a meeting to discuss his academic performance. The meeting never happened because the coronavirus pandemic forced the school to close. As Shorty waits to hear when her son can return, she worries that he is falling further behind.

“It’s a really huge disappointment,” said Shorty, 37, who still has three children at Wide Ruins. “Honestly, I’m afraid.”

Leaders at Wide Ruins did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Kimasha Shorty. After attending an elementary school overseen by the BIE, her son was far behind classmates who attended public schools. Sean Logan/Arizona Republic

The BIE produces some of the lowest academic results in the country and has allowed school buildings to go years in disrepair. But perhaps one of its biggest failures has been a history of repeatedly neglecting warnings that it is not providing a quality education for the 46,000 students who attend its schools, which operate primarily on reservations and are often the only available option in rural communities.

About 90% of Native American students attend traditional public schools. But in many rural communities on reservations, schools managed by the BIE are the only option.

A review of hundreds of documents and dozens of interviews with parents, school employees and tribal officials by The Arizona Republic and ProPublica detail how the agency has either disregarded, ignored or delayed efforts meant to end its pattern of failing Native American children.

For the past three years, the bureau failed to comply with key components of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the nation’s primary education law, which mandates that states and the BIE adopt uniform standards for student learning and accountability and sets requirements for transparency.

As a result, the BIE is the only education system in the country that hasn’t implemented a plan to hold schools accountable for student performance. While its students take standardized tests, the schools have for years administered two dozen different exams, leaving the agency unable to compare scores in different states and monitor systemwide performance. And the bureau doesn’t publish federally mandated school report cards, which provide parents with information from academic scores to teacher qualifications to the frequency and severity of student discipline.

Even more striking, the U.S. Department of Education warned the agency for the past 13 years that it was shortchanging special education students, meaning some children went from kindergarten to graduation without the BIE making changes that could improve their education.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

The bureau is one of several federal offices whose failure to correct intractable shortcomings has continued a pattern of pervasive inequities for Native American communities.

The Indian Health Service, a federal system of hospitals and health centers that serves more than 2.6 million patients, has repeatedly been found to provide substandard care, exacerbating health disparities for Native American patients. Most recently, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal and the PBS series “Frontline” found that IHS allowed a pediatrician to continue practicing for two decades, transferring him from one hospital to another, despite reports that he was sexually abusing his patients.

Federal officials have acknowledged deficiencies in both systems, but reforms have been arduously slow. Decades of promises from the administrations of multiple presidents and both political parties have done little to change the outcomes for students attending the bureau’s schools.

A fractured system of oversight extends the blame beyond BIE to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is responsible for the agency, and to the Education Department, which regularly identifies serious problems in the bureau’s academic programs but allows them to persist. The Education Department does not directly manage the agency, but it monitors how the agency manages academic programs for which the department provides funding, including special education.

“It’s not acceptable in the United States of America for an entity (the Department of the Interior) that’s responsible for this to allow this kind of thing to go on,” said Sally Jewell, the former interior secretary under President Barack Obama. While the deficiencies continued during the time Jewell led the department, she defended the work done during her tenure, adding that success takes time and must build upon previous reform efforts.

Pointing to the poor education system as a reason for extreme poverty on Native American reservations throughout the country, a group convened by Jewell and Arne Duncan, then the U.S. Secretary of Education, released a report in 2014 that called the BIE a “stain on our Nation’s history” and expressed an urgent need for reforms.

Known as the Blueprint for Reform, the plan promised to transform the agency by giving tribes more control over schools and focusing the BIE’s efforts on providing resources, direction and services to help students attain high levels of achievement.

Tony Dearman, the current director of the BIE, said the education system has made improvements in the years since the plan.

The BIE previously had to go through its parent agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to enter into contracts, make large purchases and inspect its school buildings. Now, the BIE has assumed those responsibilities, giving it the ability to better serve schools, said Dearman, a member of the Cherokee Nation who joined the agency as a science teacher in Oklahoma and worked as a principal, superintendent and regional leader before he was appointed director in 2016.

But Dearman told The Arizona Republic and ProPublica that he didn’t know if academics improved systemwide during the same period.

“That’s the first time I’ve had that question,” Dearman said in an October interview. He declined subsequent interview requests through a spokeswoman, who did not answer detailed questions.

In a school year abruptly ended by the novel coronavirus pandemic, many parents and tribal leaders worry that the long-standing gaps between students at bureau schools and those in traditional public schools will only widen.

When the coronavirus forced schools to close, Shorty’s seventh grader, who attends an Arizona public middle school, received a laptop from the school. Most days, he logged into Google Classroom, an online file-sharing service for schools, and worked through batches of lessons.

His younger siblings attending Wide Ruins didn’t have that option. The elementary school sent two paper packets in two months with assignments that the children quickly plowed through.

Shorty, whose work driving people to medical appointments largely dried up, downloaded educational phone applications and encouraged her kindergartener to practice his ABCs while they waited for more packets from the school.

The packets never arrived.

“Set Up for Failure”

For decades, the federal government’s system for educating Native children was to send them to boarding schools, many far from tribal communities, where teachers and administrators tried to erase students’ culture and force them to assimilate.

Years after the policy ended, the federal government transformed the school system into the Bureau of Indian Education.

Students and teachers recite the Pledge of Allegiance at Crystal Boarding School in Crystal, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation in 2014. The school is overseen by the BIE. John Locher/AP Photo

Stretching across 23 states, the BIE operates unlike any education system in the country. It is solely funded by federal dollars and run by the Interior Department, an agency with little educational expertise that is primarily tasked with overseeing national parks and natural resources.

Many of the schools it oversees sit hundreds of miles apart, spread out across reservations larger than some eastern states. Roads are often impassable during storms, cell service is spotty and internet access is unreliable in many communities.

In some ways, the bureau acts like a school district, directly controlling staffing and budgets for about a third of its schools. In other cases, it operates like a state, providing funds and oversight for schools, like Wide Ruins, that are operated by sovereign tribal governments or local school boards.

Any attempt to improve an educational system built on a foundation of discrimination must involve fundamentally reenvisioning the agency’s mission, Duncan said.

“It was set up for failure,” Duncan, the education secretary under Obama, said of the BIE. “It wasn’t broken. To say it’s broken is to let everybody off the hook.”

Six of the past nine presidents have either pledged to improve Native students’ education or proposed reforms intended to address crumbling buildings, train more Native American teachers and give tribes greater control over educating children.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon called the federal government’s approach to education for Native American students among “the saddest aspects of Indian life,” pointing to dropout rates that were twice the national average. President Bill Clinton later said revamping Native education was “vital.”

And in 2014, Obama ordered his administration to create new educational opportunities for Native students, including those in BIE schools, telling his staff, “You will make sure that this happens under my watch.”

That year, the Obama administration had listening sessions with tribes across the country, eventually releasing the Blueprint for Reform, a sweeping plan for changing the BIE. The plan concluded that its proposed changes reflected the belief that all students, especially children attending BIE schools, could learn because “accepting anything less says nothing about these students, but rather speaks volumes about a failure of leadership and political will.”

Six years later, school leaders say little has changed.

“If you take a look at the BIE test scores, academic scores, they are disheartening. They will make you wonder. You will sit there, numb,” said Tommy Lewis, who retired last fall from the Navajo Nation’s tribal education department after six years at the helm. “Why are our Native students not being given a quality education when the goal is world-class?”

Only about 15% of BIE students passed their school’s standardized English exam in the 2018-19 school year and only 1 in 10 passed in math, according to documents shared with tribal leaders and obtained by The Arizona Republic and ProPublica.

That year, the graduation rate for BIE schools was 59%, a point shy of where it was in 1969, when a Senate subcommittee’s report called Native education “a national tragedy,” citing a severe lack of funding and capable staff.

The graduation rate dropped from 64% in 2017-18, the most recent year for which nationwide comparison data is available. During the same period, public school students had an 85% graduation rate, while Native American students, the vast majority of whom attend traditional public schools, had a 74% graduation rate.

The results do not provide a full picture of performance across the bureau’s schools because the BIE does not follow the transparency requirements that apply to every public school in the country. The BIE acknowledged in a 2019 report to the Education Department that it reports academic performance results that “may not be valid nor reliable.”

The Arizona Republic and ProPublica filed a public records request in September 2019 with the BIE for academic performance data from its schools, but the agency has yet to provide the information. Such data is publicly available for all other traditional public school systems in the country.

Education experts said the absence of academic data makes it difficult to hold the federal government accountable and, ultimately, harms Native American children.

“I think certain populations, certain schools become invisible,” said Sean Reardon, a Stanford University professor who studies the relationship between socioeconomic inequality and educational opportunity. “They never get attention because you can’t say anything with certainty about them.”

Havasupai Elementary is one of those schools. Situated on the floor of the Grand Canyon, where it’s accessible only by helicopter or an 8-mile hike, the school languished for years. In 2017, nine students and their families sued the BIE in federal court, accusing the agency of “longstanding educational deprivations.”

In 2017, Havasupai students and families sued the BIE for “longstanding educational deprivations.” A judge ruled in an ongoing case that the BIE violated its responsibility to provide students with disabilities education through services like individualized special education plans. Alden Woods/Arizona Republic

Educators teach as many as three grades at once at the chronically understaffed school. Students don’t get necessary special education services and only about 20% go on to graduate from high school, according to interviews and records from an ongoing court battle now in its fourth year.

BIE argued in court that it is hamstrung by the school’s remote location.

“In an ideal world, yes, this would be great. This school could have it all,” Lisa Olson, an attorney for the federal government, said in court. “But this is the real world, with real budget constraints that make such an endeavor not feasible.”

Two of six claims remain in the case after U.S. District Judge Steven Logan determined that some were too broad and that BIE is not required to follow every regulation set by the Department of Education because it is controlled by a separate federal agency.

The case is set to go to trial in November, but the judge already ruled that BIE violated its responsibility to provide students with disabilities access to education through services that include therapists and individualized special education plans.

Operating in the Dark

If Shorty’s youngest children were old enough to ride the bus 30 minutes away, she would send them to a public elementary school in a neighboring community.

Those schools are also among the state’s worst performers. But at the public schools, at least, Shorty would have access to basic information about student performance and programs.

Shorty checked the grades earned by each local public school. With a few more taps on her phone, she could access the public schools’ report cards and learn how many of the schools’ teachers were fully certified, how often the school issued discipline and whether its special education students kept pace with their peers.

At Wide Ruins, she can only guess.

In 2015, Congress replaced No Child Left Behind with a new law that maintained the requirement for mandatory standardized testing but allowed states to set their own standards for student performance and accountability.

Under the law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, states and the BIE had until the start of the 2017-18 school year to develop plans that ensured students took the same standardized test and outlined the steps they would take to identify and fix schools that were not meeting performance goals.

BIE missed the deadline by three years. In 2018, the year after the plan was first due, the Education Department withheld at least $1.6 million in administrative funding. It later released the money after the BIE showed progress toward completing a plan.

“This is an essential and fundamental component of the educational system and is already seriously delayed,” Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan wrote to the BIE in November 2018.

Similar warnings followed, but The Arizona Republic and ProPublica were unable to determine if the Education Department issued additional sanctions.

Education Department officials declined to answer detailed questions about the delays and the steps taken to hold BIE accountable. In a statement, spokesman Eli Mansour said only that the agency was working closely with the Department of the Interior to bring BIE schools into compliance with federal requirements.

The Department of Education “doesn’t know how to take care of BIE,” said Don Yu, an education attorney who worked in both the Education Department and BIE during the Obama administration. It “works with regular public school systems. BIE is totally different.”

In March, the BIE released a plan that would begin to bring the accountability that Shorty wants at Wide Ruins.

The plan would require every school to follow the same academic standards for what students at each grade level will be learning.

In July, the BIE signed a contract with a testing company to purchase exams that the agency said all of its students would take this school year. The agency expects to roll out the full plan over the next four years, placing it far behind every other school system in the country. Even then, tribes can seek an exemption from the secretaries of education and the interior and create their own plan, which would prevent the BIE from moving forward with a unified accountability system.

By the time a plan is fully implemented, Shorty’s kindergartner will be nearing the end of his time at Wide Ruins. Her youngest, who is 2, will be starting at the school.

“We say that we’re our children’s voice,” Shorty said. “How are we our children’s voice if we don’t know these things or share them with each other?”

“Stupid to Trust Them”

Miles away from Shorty, in another part of the Navajo Nation, Carletta Lee believed she had taken all of the necessary steps to make sure that her son, Jacob, a fourth grader with a learning disability, succeeded at the school she herself had attended while growing up.

Lee, 44, was elected to serve on the advisory board for Beclabito Day School, a BIE-operated campus that sits just a few miles past the Arizona state line in New Mexico.

Carletta Lee and her son, Jacob, outside their home. Annie Tritt for ProPublica, assisted by Job Van Lee

Lee advocated to ensure her son, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, and a learning disability that affects his math and reading skills, had access to the special education services that he was entitled to under the law. That included having a special education teacher visit his classroom for one-on-one help with math three times a week. In 2016, a school employee quietly alerted Lee that her son wasn’t getting the services.

Lee requested copies of Jacob’s records, which showed that he received special education services on days that he was absent from school. The school also claimed academic achievements that Lee had not seen in her son.

“It was saying he passed on learning how to count money, telling time, all these things, and I was like, ‘There’s no way,’” Lee said. “He didn’t know how to do those things.”

Lee found a lawyer and filed a complaint with the BIE, requesting an investigation. She said the school had refused to include her in a meeting that determined what services Jacob would receive as a special education student.

Her son, she recalled, had gone four months without services to which he was entitled.

Situations like Lee’s, while often unreported, are not rare.

Twenty years ago, the Education Department issued a report that found BIE didn’t comply with federal special education law. The report warned that the education system didn’t adequately prepare students for life after high school graduation.

For the past 13 years, the Education Department found serious flaws in the BIE’s special education program, including incomplete academic data and schools that neglected to prepare students for adult life. And in each of the past nine years, the BIE’s special education programs received a “needs intervention” designation, which is reserved for states that have either severe fiscal and data problems or poor academic results. It is the only education system in the country that has been on the list for nearly a decade.

Over and over, the Education Department required the BIE to submit improvement plans, each time saying more enforcement wasn’t necessary because it believed the problems would take only a year to solve.

Last year, after eight consecutive warnings, the Education Department withheld $780,000 in administrative funding from the BIE. The Education Department told government investigators that the BIE was only the second education system to receive such a sanction. The other was the District of Columbia, which in 2009 had 20% of its special education administrative funding withheld after needing intervention for three consecutive years.

“The feds have been very gentle on BIE for the performance measures,” said Harvey Rude, a professor emeritus at Northern Colorado University and member of a board that advises the BIE on its special education programs. The agency’s inability to comply with federal law, he said, is inexcusable, adding, “There’s just not much of an appetite for accountability.”

This year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that BIE special education students did not receive 20% of the service time they were entitled to under the law. The figure could be larger, according to the report, which said that BIE schools did not have documentation to show whether students received another 18% of service time.

A kindergartner plays in the gym of Cove Day School, a school run by the BIE in Cove, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. Mark Henle/Arizona Republic

After an investigation into Lee’s case, BIE found that Beclabito’s only special education teacher wasn’t fully qualified for her position and that Jacob likely didn’t get required services. School records indicating Jacob received services were of “questionable veracity,” the investigation found.

Beclabito’s principal said budget and staffing shortages, along with a lack of qualified applicants, made it difficult to hire licensed staff, according to the investigation. The principal did not return calls seeking comment.

The BIE required Beclabito to provide Jacob with 60 hours of extra special education services. By then, he’d moved to Nenahnezad Community School, another BIE-operated campus about 40 miles east.

The extra hours weren’t enough to make up for the time he’d lost, Lee said.

This fall, Jacob will start high school. He’ll enter ninth grade, his mother said, reading at the level of a fifth grader. He’s even further behind in math.

“I put a lot of trust in the school,” Lee said. “I put trust in the school that they were going to be providing the services, that they knew what they were doing. I think the school relied on a parent’s ignorance, that they wouldn’t question anything.”

“When I look back now at the time, I’m like, ‘Wow, I really was stupid to trust them,’” Lee said.

“Heartbreaking”

Shorty’s oldest son never caught up academically after leaving Wide Ruins.

His classmates in public school mocked him as he struggled to adjust. They called him dumb and told him to go back to elementary school, where they said he belonged.

The bullying crushed his interest in school. He bounced around local schools, working with his new teachers to close the gap. But he said it was too much to overcome.

A couple of weeks into his senior year in July 2016, the family faced a crippling tragedy. Shorty’s 3-year-old son was killed by a pack of dogs. Her oldest son dropped out of high school.

He’s now 21 and an aspiring police officer who reads at about a fifth-grade level, Shorty said. He and his two younger sisters, who also dropped out, recently enrolled in an online program to finish high school.

“Even to fill out an application, sometimes, he has a hard time,” Shorty said. “To see him like that, it’s heartbreaking.”

Shorty, who earned a GED after her own schooling stopped at eighth grade, fears her youngest children will follow the same path: Behind from the beginning, their potential stifled by a failing school system.

“In the end, the kids are the ones that are hurting,” Shorty said.

Correction, Aug. 10, 2020: This story originally misstated the findings of a report by the Government Accountability Office. The report found that BIE special education students did not receive 20% of their service time, not that 20% of BIE special education students did not receive all their services.

07 Aug 11:40

UPDATED: Gayles issues new order prohibiting reopening of nonpublic schoolsUPDATED: Gayles issues...

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07 Aug 11:38

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06 Aug 19:55

Android 11 final Beta update, official release coming soon!

by Android Developers

Posted by Dave Burke, VP of Engineering

android

It’s already August and the official Android 11 release is coming very soon! As we put the finishing touches on the new platform, today we’re bringing you Beta 3, our last update in this year’s preview cycle. For developers, now is the time to make sure your apps are ready, before we bring the official release to consumers.

You can get Beta 3 today on Pixel 2, 3, 3a, and 4 devices (and coming soon, Pixel 4a!). Just enroll here for an over-the-air update. If you’re already enrolled, you’ll automatically get the update soon. As always, let us know your feedback, and thank you for all of the input you’ve provided so far.

Watch for more information on the official Android 11 release coming soon!

What’s in Beta 3?

Today’s update includes a release candidate build of Android 11 for Pixel devices and the Android Emulator. We reached platform stability at Beta 2, so all app-facing surfaces and behaviors are final, including SDK and NDK APIs, app-facing system behaviors, and restrictions on non-SDK interfaces. With these and the latest fixes and optimizations, Beta 3 gives you everything you need to complete your testing.

As we bring Android 11 to final form, we’re also taking this opportunity to update Android with the Exposure Notifications System in mind. Starting in Beta 3, users will be able to run Exposure Notification apps on Android 11 without needing to turn on the device location setting. This is an exception we’re making for the Exposure Notification System only, given that it has been designed in such a way that apps using it can’t infer device location through Bluetooth scanning. To protect user privacy, all other apps will still be prohibited from performing Bluetooth scanning unless the device location setting is on and the user has granted them location permission. You can read more in our Update on Exposure Notifications post.

Get your apps ready for Android 11!

With the official Android 11 release on the way, we’re asking all Android app and game developers to finish your compatibility testing and publish your updates soon. For SDK, library, tools, and game engine developers, it’s even more important to release a compatible version right away, since your downstream app and game developers may be blocked until they receive your updates.

how

As we covered in depth at Beta 2, here’s how to test for compatibility with Android 11.

For testing your current app, read behavior changes for all apps to identify areas where platform changes might affect your apps. Here are some of the top changes to watch for (these apply regardless of your app’s targetSdkVersion):

  • One-time permission - Users can now grant single-use permission to access location, device microphone and camera. Details here.
  • External storage access - Apps can no longer access other apps’ files in external storage. Details here.
  • Scudo hardened allocator - Scudo is now the heap memory allocator for native code in apps. Details here.
  • File descriptor sanitizer - Fdsan is now enabled by default to detect file descriptor handling issues for native code in apps. Details here.

Remember to test the libraries and SDKs in your app for compatibility. If you find an issue, try updating to the latest version of the SDK, or reach out to the developer for help.

For more information on compatibility testing and tools, check out the resources we shared for Android 11 Compatibility week and visit the Android 11 developer site for technical details.

Explore the new features and APIs

Android 11 has a ton of new features to build new experiences for users around people, controls, and privacy. When you’re ready to dive in, check out our #Android11 Beta post for a recap of all of the developer features, and you can also visit the Beta Launch page to see talks from the Android team on what’s new in their areas. For complete details on Android 11 features and APIs, visit the Android 11 developer site.

Also make sure to try the Android 11 features in Android Studio that can improve your productivity and workflow, like ADB incremental for faster installs of large APKs, and additional nullability annotations on platform APIs. You can give these a try by downloading the latest Android Studio Beta or Canary version. Instructions for configuring Android Studio for Android 11 are here.

How do I get Beta 3?

It’s easy! Just enroll here to get the Beta 3 update over-the-air on your Pixel 2, 3, 3a, or 4 device (and coming soon, Pixel 4a). If you're already enrolled, you'll receive the update soon and no action is needed on your part. Alternatively, you can give Android Flash Tool a try for easy on-demand updates, and if you’d rather flash manually, downloadable system images are also available. If you don't have a Pixel device, you can use the Android Emulator in Android Studio or try a GSI image to run Android 11 on supported Treble-compliant devices.

What’s next?

Stay tuned for the official Android 11 launch coming in the weeks ahead! In the meantime, we recommend finishing your testing and publishing your compatible updates as soon as possible. Feel free to share your feedback using our hotlists for filing platform issues (including privacy and behavior changes), app compatibility issues, and third-party SDK issues. You've given us great feedback so far -- thank you again!

A huge thank you to our developer community for your participation in our recent Android 11 AMA and Android Studio AMA on r/anddroiddev! It’s great to hear what’s important to you and we hope we were able to help!

06 Aug 15:18

Google says goodbye to the Pixel 4

by Nick Gray

The Pixel 4 is no more. Google’s flagship smartphones, Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, are no longer available on the Google Store and will not be restocked. In a statement to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said that the “Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL. For people who are still interested in buying Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL, the product is available from some partners while supplies last. Just like all Pixel devices, Pixel 4 will continue to get software and security updates for at least three years from when the device first became available on the Google Store in the US.”

We’re used to seeing Google and other manufacturers cut the cord on older devices one a new one is released, but that’s usually 14-18 months after the initial launch date. The Pixel 4 lineup was unveiled less than 10 months ago and Google isn’t expected to unveil the Pixel 5 until at least the first week of October.

The company hasn’t said why the phones have been discontinued, but there’s a good chance that they pulled the plug due to slower than expected sales. After the success of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a which resulted in a 52% year-over-year increase in sales for Google’s smartphone business, but those numbers fizzled out in the first half of 2020 with sales numbers turning in the opposite direction. 

For those still interested in picking up the Pixel 4 or the 4 XL, the phones are still available from third-party retailers like Amazon and Best Buy and Google’s carrier partners.

At this point, we suggest waiting things out for the Pixel 5 or simply picking up the Pixel 4a if you’re looking for Google’s amazing camera experience.

Source: The Verge

06 Aug 11:27

In 10 Years Of Existence, The Long-Running French Farce Known As Hadopi Has Imposed Just €87,000 In Fines, But Cost Taxpayers €82 Million

by Glyn Moody

The French anti-piracy framework known as Hadopi began as tragedy and soon turned into farce. It was tragic that so much energy was wasted on putting together a system that was designed to throw ordinary users off the Internet -- the infamous "three strikes and you're out" approach -- rather than encouraging better legal offerings. Four years after the Hadopi system was created in 2009, it descended into farce when the French government struck down the signature three strikes punishment because it had failed to bring the promised benefits to the copyright world. Indeed, Hadopi had failed to do anything much: its first and only suspension was suspended, and a detailed study of the three strikes approach showed it was a failure from just about every viewpoint. Nonetheless, Hadopi has staggered on, sending out its largely ignored warnings to people for allegedly downloading unauthorized copies of material, and imposing a few fines on those unlucky enough to get caught repeatedly.

As TorrentFreak reports, Hadopi has published its annual report, which contains some fascinating details of what exactly it has achieved during the ten years of its existence. In 2019, the copyright industry referred 9 million cases to Hadopi for further investigation, down from 14 million the year before. However, referral does not mean a warning was necessarily sent. In fact, since 2010, Hadopi has only sent out 12.7 million warnings in total, which means that most people accused of piracy don't even see a warning.

Those figures are a little abstract; what's important is how effective Hadopi has been, and whether the entire project has been worth all the time and money it has consumed. Figures put together by Next INpact, quoted by TorrentFreak, indicate that during the decade of its existence, Hadopi has imposed the grand sum of €87,000 in fines, but cost French taxpayers nearly a thousand times more -- €82 million. Against that background of staggering inefficiency and inefficacy, the following words in the introduction to Hadopi's annual report (pdf), written by the organization's president, Denis Rapone, ring rather hollow:

Hadopi remains, ten years later and despite the pitfalls in its path in the past, the major player in the protection of copyright, so that creation can flourish unhindered.

Creation could have flourished rather more had those €82 million been spent supporting struggling artists directly, rather than wasting them on the bureaucrats running this pointless joke of an organization. Time to bring the curtain down on the Hadopi farce for good.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

06 Aug 11:23

Distribution of unemployment at the tract level

by Nathan Yau

We’ve been hearing a lot about national unemployment rate, but it’s not uniformly distributed across the country. Some areas are a lot higher, some places are a lot lower, and there are places in between. To see the variation across the United States, Yair Ghitza and Mark Steitz estimated unemployment at the tract level.

Quoctrung Bui and Emily Badger for NYT’s The Upshot have the maps and histograms zooming in on places where unemployment is the highest.

Tags: coronavirus, unemployment, Upshot

06 Aug 06:18

Facebook took down a Trump post for the first time 

by Shirin Ghaffary
President Trump Holds News Conference In The White House Briefing Room President Trump at a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 5. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Trump’s false claims about Covid-19 and children are harmful misinformation, according to Facebook’s policies.

Facebook has taken down a post by President Trump containing false statements about children’s susceptibility to Covid-19. It’s the first time the company has enforced its rules that ban harmful speech on one of Trump’s posts.

The post that Facebook removed is a Fox video clip in which Trump makes an incorrect statement, saying that children are “almost immune” to Covid-19. That isn’t true; children are not immune to the novel coronavirus. Trump posted the clip on his personal Facebook account.

Facebook said it’s taking down the video because it violates its policy against spreading harmful misinformation about Covid-19. It’s the latest development in the ongoing debate about whether Facebook should more strictly police false statements made by politicians like Trump on its platform. Until now, the company has largely held off on moderating political speech because Facebook says it aims to be an open platform for communication rather than an “arbiter of truth.” But Facebook has taken a hard line on Covid-19 misinformation since the beginning of the pandemic — and Trump’s post crossed that line.

“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” a spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement to Recode.

While researchers think the harmful effects of Covid-19 are less severe for children than for adults, kids can still get the disease (hundreds of children at a summer camp in the state of Georgia recently became infected with Covid-19), and some children have died from it. Scientists are also still trying to understand the long-term effects of the disease, even in patients with milder cases.

In the president’s statements on Fox, he falsely claimed, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease.” He added, “I don’t know how you feel about it, but they [children] have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this. They do it. They don’t have a problem.”

On Twitter, Trump posted the same Fox News clip, which was originally posted by the @TeamTrump campaign account. But by Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for Twitter told Recode that the video violated its rules on Covid-19 misinformation and that the account owner (in this case, @TeamTrump) will be required to remove the tweet before they can post again. The spokesperson said this was not a suspension. Twitter has blocked the post from view in the meantime.

On Thursday, a YouTube spokesperson confirmed that it had also taken down a post that shared the clip from Trump’s personal YouTube account.

In response to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube enforcing their misinformation rules on Trump’s posts, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Courtney Parella sent the following statement to Recode on Thursday, in part:

Another day, another display of Silicon Valley’s flagrant bias against this President, where the rules are only enforced in one direction. Social media companies are not the arbiters of truth. The President was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus.

For years, Trump has made false claims on Facebook; in recent months, he has made incorrect statements about topics such as mail-in voting and former Vice President Joe Biden’s platform on policing. Independent fact-checkers that are part of Facebook’s fact-checking network have flagged these posts as incorrect on their own sites, but Facebook has not labeled them as such on its platform because its rules exempt politicians from being fact-checked. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that he does not want his company to be an “arbiter of truth” and that the company does not fact-check political speech.

By contrast, in May, Twitter started fact-checking some of Trump’s posts, such as when it labeled posts in which he made false claims about mail-in voting in California as “misleading.” Twitter directed users instead to accurate information about vote-by-mail.

Facebook has faced increasing criticism from leading Democratic politicians, disinformation experts, civil rights organizations, and even some of its own employees for not enforcing its policies when Trump uses its platform to spread misinformation, or when it didn’t moderate a “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post he shared in response to Black Lives Matter protests in late May.

When it comes to political ads on its platform, which are distinct from ads, Facebook has moderated Trump on a few occasions. In June, Facebook took down a Trump campaign ad that displayed Nazi insignia. And in March, Facebook took down another Trump ad that contained a link to a Trump campaign survey that was marketed as a link to the US Census. The company has labeled (but not fact-checked) some of Trump’s posts on his personal page containing false statements about voting by adding links to these posts that share voter information. The company, as a policy, adds these labels to all posts about voting in the 2020 US presidential election, regardless of their veracity or who posts them.

But this is the first time Facebook has actually taken down one of Trump’s posts — which is likely to anger Republicans, some of whom have long complained of alleged (and unproven) anti-conservative bias on social media platforms, despite the success of many leading conservatives on the platform to date.


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06 Aug 06:16

Law Firm Southtown Moxie Responds Hilariously To Stupid Cease And Desist Letter

by Timothy Geigner

There are many ways to respond to a cease and desist notice over trademark rights. The most common response is probably fear-based capitulation. After all, trademark bullying works for a reason, and that reason is that large companies have access to large legal war chests while smaller companies usually just run away from their own rights. Another response is the aggressive defenses against the bullying. And, finally, every once in a while you get a response so snarky in tone that it probably registers on the richter scale, somehow.

The story of how a law firm called Southtown Moxie responded to a C&D from a (maybe?) financial services firm called Financial Moxie is of the snark variety. But first, some background.

Financial Moxie is a financial advisory catering to working moms. Or at least I think it is… the website also lists multiple fitness instructors on staff so I don’t know what that’s all about. The “moxie” term aligns with the phenomenon of “Moxie Tribes” which seem to be groups for working moms to talk about how awesome they are. It’s basically Goop with fewer vagina candles. Meanwhile “Southtown Moxie” is a law firm in Tennessee and North Carolina.

After receiving a cease and desist letter demanding that Southtown Moxie withdraw its trademark application, Kevin Christoper of Rockridge Venture Law (Southtown Moxie’s sibling firm) sat down with a beer to pen a response.

Which is how we get to the response. The full letter is embedded below, but you damn well know you're in for a treat when the response to a C&D notice begins with:

Dear Ms. Harper,

THANK YOU SO MUCH for your C&D letter and notice of opposition to our trademark application! This case presents a wonderful training opportunity for our noob associates. (And, lawyer-to-lawyer I must add it’s an honor to correspond with you. You are obviously a sensational salesperson-attorney to convince your client to pay you for challenging another law firm’s trademark application—I’m truly in awe and look forward to learning a thing or two from you. When I think of it, your client is paying you, and also giving us good trademark cannon fodder for our noobs, so it’s a win-win all around.)

And we're off! The letter then goes into noting all of the things Ms. Harper's client could buy instead of wasting everyone's time on a losing potential lawsuit. Examples include: a speedboat, glamorous clothing and jewelry, or hiring a social media influencer. The most important part of all of this, I have to stress, is that each example comes with an embedded photo of a barbie doll pantomiming these suggestions.

With that throat-clearing complete, the response goes on to note in creative terms that financial and legal services are not the same thing, nor in the same markets, and therefore any trademark concern evaporates.

But I wouldn’t be drinking a Purple Haze in my skivvies if I didn’t point out the irony that your client has hired you to represent her BECAUSE SHE IS NOT LICENSED TO PRACTICE LAW. Based on your letter, she claims that our mark, limited to the provision of legal services, infringes upon her financial advisory, personal coaching, and tribal businesses and causes her great harm. Basically she thinks someone looking for “Moxie Tribe” fellowship is going to get sucked up into our vortex of intellectual property services.

The notice then goes on to note that Financial Moxie has a disclaimer listed on its site that all communication is intended for select states in America, none of which include North Carolina or Tennessee, where Southtown Moxie is located. So, different industries and different geographic locations. None of this adds up to a valid trademark dispute and it seems likely that Southtown Moxie is going to win in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

But, hey, we should at least thank Financial Moxie and its legal team for setting things up for this gem of a C&D response.

05 Aug 20:13

Zoombomber crashes court hearing on Twitter hack with Pornhub video

by Jon Brodkin
Illustration with two birds on a branch with a fake logo that says

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Zoombombers today disrupted a court hearing involving the Florida teen accused of masterminding a takeover of high-profile Twitter accounts, forcing the judge to stop the hearing. "During the hearing, the judge and attorneys were interrupted several times with people shouting racial slurs, playing music, and showing pornographic images," ABC Action News in Tampa Bay wrote. A Pornhub video forced the judge to temporarily shut down the hearing.

The Zoombombing occurred today when the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Tampa held a bail hearing for Graham Clark, who previously pleaded not guilty and is reportedly being held on $725,000 bail. Clark faces 30 felony charges related to the July 15 Twitter attack in which accounts of famous people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Joe Biden were hijacked and used to push cryptocurrency scams. Hackers also accessed direct messages for 36 high-profile account holders.

Today, Judge Christopher Nash ruled against a request to lower Clark's bail amount. But before that, the judge "shut down the hearing for a short time" when arguments were interrupted by "pornography... foul language and rap music," Fox 13 reporter Gloria Gomez wrote on Twitter.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

05 Aug 20:10

Covid-19 is pushing red states to finally expand Medicaid

by Dylan Scott
Missouri became the latest state to expand Medicaid when voters passed Amendment 2 in Tuesday’s primary election. Kaiser Family Foundation

Medicaid expansion has had huge success at the ballot box during the pandemic.

For the second time this summer, voters in a solidly Republican state have decided now is the moment to expand Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid during Tuesday’s primary elections; 53 percent of voters supported the measure and 47 percent opposed it. That vote comes about a month after Oklahoma voters also decided to expand Medicaid via ballot referendum by less than 1 percentage point.

Once the expansion takes effect in those two states next year, an estimated 340,000 people who currently have no affordable health insurance option will become eligible for Medicaid. That still leaves nearly 2 million people in 12 states nationwide who are stuck in the Medicaid expansion gap — ineligible for coverage because their state refuses to expand the program but with an income too low to qualify for tax credits to buy private insurance — but it is yet another step toward the universal Medicaid expansion Obamacare authors envisioned. In the last few years, voters in Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, and Utah have also approved Medicaid expansion via ballot initiative.

Those initiatives have almost always been passed over the objections of Republican elected officials, as was the case in Missouri. Conservative interest groups sued to try to stop the Missouri ballot question from being put before voters. Republican Gov. Mike Parson also opposed it, saying Missouri could not afford expansion even though the federal government will pick up 90 percent of the costs. The Missouri initiative was actually written to prevent tampering by the state legislature or the governor. Medicaid expansion would be enshrined in the state constitution, and the state cannot add work requirements or any other limits on benefits.

Supporters argued Medicaid expansion would save rural hospitals in the state. As I have previously reported, one in four rural hospitals nationwide is in danger of closing, and one of the strongest indicators of a hospital’s vulnerability is being located in a non-expansion state.

It is difficult to ignore that these ballot initiatives passed in right-leaning states in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when millions of Americans have lost their jobs and, with them, their employer-sponsored health insurance. This is partly a coincidence — the signatures were collected to put the Medicaid expansion questions on the ballot long before Covid-19 ever arrived in the US — but the relatively narrow margins made me wonder if the pandemic and its economic and medical consequences proved decisive.

Crises have a way of changing political attitudes. And right now, disapproval of the Affordable Care Act is at a low ebb, with just 36 percent of Americans saying they have an unfavorable view of the law in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s July 2020 poll. More than 80 percent of Americans also signaled support for providing more financial assistance to help people who don’t get health insurance through their jobs and for increasing federal funding for state Medicaid programs. Ashley Kirzinger, a member of Kaiser’s polling team, told me that their surveys had detected an uptick in support for Medicaid during the pandemic, as more people say they or somebody they know is relying on the program.

It is too soon to say whether any shift in the public’s policy preferences will be permanent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if a crisis as disruptive as the coronavirus pandemic leaves a long-lasting mark on our politics.

How much is coronavirus going to change health care politics?

This is a question I have been pondering for months: How much will the pandemic change us? Or, to put it the other way, how quickly do things snap back to normal.

“Really big events do have substantial effects on political attitudes and preferences,” Jacob Hacker, a Yale University political scientist, told me in the spring. “We could see attitudinal changes, comparable to what we see in military conflicts.”

Hacker and some colleagues found this to be true in research they conducted after the Great Recession. Personal experiences with economic insecurity during that crisis led to a shift in policy attitudes of a magnitude that they said “rivals partisanship and ideology.” People who experienced more profound personal shocks ended up supporting a bigger government role in mitigating their economic risks.

This has been a consistent finding in social science for decades; two sociologists examined how social attitudes changed in Great Britain during and after World War II. There was greater social solidarity, so there were not many objections when taxes had to be raised to fund the war effort and rebuilding. And there was more support for progressive taxation and equal treatment in the fallout of that global crisis.

As Hacker put it: “The middle and working classes lose their lives, the rich and business at least have to lose their money.”

Joe Biden has developed a health care agenda that is more progressive than that of any Democratic Party nominee in recent memory. On the Medicaid expansion issue, he has proposed allowing low-income people who live in states that have refused expansion to enroll in a new public insurance plan with no premiums or cost-sharing.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, is currently asking the US Supreme Court to overturn the ACA entirely — meaning the 12.5 million people who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion could lose their insurance.

So a significant expansion of health coverage probably depends on the outcome of the presidential election. A President Joe Biden would have a mandate to pass another health reform bill that patches up holes revealed by the recent crisis. (Democrats would also need to win the Senate and hold onto the House for major reforms to be possible.)

“Many of the biggest coverage expansions both in the US and in similar countries happened in the context of wars and social upheavals, as well as financial crises. One theory is that those circumstances redefine social solidarity, thus expanding views of the role of government,” Cynthia Cox, director of the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, told me earlier this year. “I think one factor that will determine the permanency of these changes is how long this disruption continues. The longer this goes on, the more likely this social solidarity becomes ingrained.”

In the meantime, Americans are registering at the ballot box their willingness to expand the social safety net. The success of Medicaid expansion with voters in Missouri and Oklahoma could portend bigger changes ahead.

This story appears in VoxCare, a newsletter from Vox on the latest twists and turns in America’s health care debate. Sign up to get VoxCare in your inbox along with more health care stats and news.


Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

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

05 Aug 20:10

Virginia Is the First State in the Nation to Offer Contact Tracing Through an App

by Jane Recker
The Virginia Department of Health has rolled out an app that notifies users if they’ve come into contact with a Covid-positive individual. COVIDWISE will help health department officials with their contact tracing efforts, helping eliminate reliance on positive-individuals’ lists of personal contacts. Using technology from Apple and Google, the app generates anonymous keys unique to […]
05 Aug 17:44

DC Will Vote on Whether to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics This Fall

by Andrew Beaujon
The DC Board of Elections has certified Initiative 81, which would effectively decriminalize the use and possession of natural psychedelics like “magic mushrooms” and ayahuasca. That means the question will appear on the ballot this November. Organizers of the initiative, who include some veterans of the cannabis-legalization Initiative 71, managed to get more than 35,000 […]
05 Aug 17:42

Star Trek: Lower Decks review: Comfort food with a comic twist

by Kate Cox
Screenshot from Star Trek: Lower Decks trailer

Enlarge / Ensigns Tendi (Noël Wells), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), Boimler (Jack Quaid), and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) reporting for duty. (credit: YouTube/CBS All Access)

Star Trek has been many things in the past 54 years: eight television series, 13 films, the better part of a thousand total novels, and the beating heart that arguably created modern fandom as it now stands. But for all the humor—both intentional and not—scattered throughout its storied history, there is one frontier it has not yet explored: the half-hour comedy.

The ninth and newest Star Trek series aims to change all that. Lower Decks is a half-hour animated series set in the timeline two years after the conclusion of Star Trek: Voyager. The half-hour comedy cartoon format is a definite change of pace from ViacomCBS' other recent Star Trek offerings, the heavily serialized dramas Picard and Discovery. The question any fan might have then, is simple: does it hold up?

And the answer is yes, mostly—but don't set your expectations to "stunned."

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

05 Aug 15:44

US parks in minority neighborhoods half the size of those in white areas

Communities of color in the US must make do with smaller, more overcrowded public parks compared with white Americans, as the country struggles to cope with record-breaking heatwaves and Covid-19 restrictions on swimming pools, beaches and communal cooling centres.

Public parks in majority black and brown neighborhoods are half the size and almost five times as crowded, according to new research by the Trust for Public Land.

Spending time in green spaces reduces stress and improves physical and psychological wellbeing for adults and children, but shady spots can also protect people from deadly extreme heat.

In addition, the study of 14,000 towns and cities around America found that parks serving majority low-income households are on average four times smaller and four times more crowded than parks that serve mostly high-income households.

The findings support a mounting body of evidence linking environmental injustice to longstanding racial and income inequalities that are being further exacerbated by the climate crisis.

Extreme heat is among the deadliest weather hazards humanity faces due to the climate crisis, which contributes to more than 5,000 prematures deaths in the US every year. Counties with large black and brown populations already endure significantly more dangerously hot days than white communities, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This year is on track to be at least the second hottest on record, but access to cool places which mitigate the impact of extreme heat such as beaches, pools and malls are restricted in many parts of the country due to the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on years of patchy investment which has left 100 million Americans – including 27 million children – without access to a park close to home.

The study found that neighborhoods within a 10-minute walk of a park are up to 6F cooler than those further away.

“As cities struggle with extreme heat this summer, parks are one of the best ways for residents to find relief,” said Diane Regas, CEO and president of The Trust for Public Land, a national organization that has built thousands of parks and protected millions of acres of land.

“We all need and deserve parks – and all of the benefits they provide – all of the time. But during this period of compounded public health emergencies, unequal access to quality parks can be downright dangerous,” Regas added.

Heatwaves have been occurring more frequently since the mid-20th century, and there’s mounting consensus among climate scientists that dangerous bouts of high temperatures and humidity will become substantially more common, more severe, and longer-lasting without adequate action to curb global heating.

Surfaces in shade can be up to 45F cooler than those in the sun – and trees can also lower indoor temperatures, especially when shade covers parts of rooftops and windows.

In 2018, a landmark citizen-science project found large parks in Washington and Baltimore – especially those with dense trees and dark green vegetation – were up to 17F cooler than neighborhoods dominated by densely packed buildings and concrete which trap heat to create urban heat islands.