Shared posts

13 Jan 15:29

Schedule change with a baby

by Nathan Yau

It’s difficult to emphasize how much life changes when a child comes into the picture. Caitlin Hudon made a chart to show how her daily schedule shifted dramatically.

For a while, it seems like all of your free time is gone for good, but ever so slowly, you get a little bit of it back as they grow more independent.

Tags: Caitlin Hudon, children, parenthood, time use

13 Jan 13:57

Most women do not regret having an abortion, study finds

An overwhelming majority of women who get an abortion do not regret the decision to undergo the procedure, according to a new study published in the academic journal Social Science & Medicine on Sunday.

Researchers surveyed 667 women across 21 states in the US multiple times over a five-year period, tracking each woman’s emotions around their decision to get an abortion. About 95% of women indicated they believe that going through an abortion was the right decision over the course of the study.

The study asked participants if they had any emotions of sadness, guilt, relief, regret, anger or happiness over their decision. Relief was the most common emotion throughout the five years of the study.

“For years … there has been a belief promulgated or a claim made that we really need to protect women from the emotional harm that many of them will suffer from when having an abortion,” said Corinne Rocca, lead author of the study and a professor at the University of California at San Francisco. “There was no evidence ever to say that was actually true.”

Rocca noted that the claim that going through an abortion is a taxing decision has been used by anti-abortion advocates to justify restricting access to abortion.

Multiple states require mandatory abortion counseling and waiting periods that include information on the negative emotional response to getting an abortion. There is an ongoing push by anti-abortion groups and socially conservatives politicians to pass harsh new abortion laws across the US – eventually seeking to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion.

The new study notes that mixed emotions, for example guilt mixed with relief, are common for women directly after they have an abortion, but “both positive and negative emotions declined over the first two years and plateaued thereafter, and decision rightness remained high and steady”.

The study’s authors write that future research should focus on specific factors that cause women to experience negative emotion or regrets around an abortion. The authors also note that, while unnecessary according to the study’s findings, abortion counseling, if offered, should focus on helping to cope with the stigma of having an abortion.

The new research follows another study, also led by Rocca, published in the academic journal PLOS One in 2015 that surveyed 667 women over a three-year period and had similar results: 95% of women said that having an abortion was right for them.

11 Jan 22:51

The Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to not rule on Obamacare until after the 2020 election

by Katelyn Burns
Demonstrators hold signs with messages like “Don’t Take My Care” and “Patients Over Politics.” Affordable Care Act supporters gathered outside of the Supreme Court ahead of a 2015 ruling on the law’s tax subsidies. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Democrats have asked the Supreme Court to hear a case that could determine the fate of Obamacare. The Trump administration wants the court to wait.

During the 2016 election, Donald Trump promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Republicans tried to make good on this promise in 2017, before a Senate vote effectively killed the effort. In the wake of that failed attempt, Republican states challenged the law’s constitutionality in court, an effort encouraged and aided by the Trump administration.

But with 2020 elections looming, the Trump administration and state-level Republicans have seemingly lost their appetites for slashing and burning the landmark health care legislation.

In briefs filed Friday to the Supreme Court in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the law in its entirety, the US Department of Justice and a separate group of Republican state attorneys general both asked the court not to take on the case this year.

The case carries heavy implications for the US health care system, and for the 2020 elections as well. Should the Republican plaintiffs succeed in getting the ACA struck down, the Urban Institute estimates that about 20 million people in the US will lose their health insurance. And the result of a Supreme Court ruling could have stark effects on both Democratic and Republican pitches to voters ahead of November’s elections.

The case — Texas v. United States — began in 2018, when Texas (joined by a group of Republican-led states) challenged Obamacare’s constitutionality in federal court, specifically attacking a 2017 update to the ACA which wiped out the individual mandate. Vox’s Ian Milhiser explained the plaintiffs’ argument:

The Texas plaintiffs challenge part of a law that literally does nothing. It requires people who do not have health insurance to pay zero dollars. So no one has standing to challenge the zeroed-out mandate.

The plaintiffs claim they get around this problem by pointing to the way the statutory language laying out the individual mandate is structured. Briefly, it’s divided into several subsections. The first says that most individuals “shall” carry health insurance, the second says that people who fail to buy insurance will pay a tax penalty, and the third sets the amount of that penalty — which, again, is now zero dollars.

Though the penalty for not having insurance is absolutely nothing, the plaintiffs claim that they are still bound by the language saying that they “shall” carry insurance — and therefore are injured by a law that commands them to do something they don’t want to do.

Judge Reed O’Connor, a North Texas-based federal judge who has ruled in several key conservative cases over recent years, found in favor of the plaintiffs in 2018, ostensibly striking down the ACA, pending appeals. An appeals process did indeed move forward, with the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreeing last December that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but deciding that the case must be sent back to O’Connor for further consideration.

While Trump’s DOJ has sided with the plaintiffs in the case, several Democratic-controlled states and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives have stepped in to defend the law in court. Following the decision in the court of appeals, Democratic attorneys petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case on an expedited basis. It was to this petition that Republicans responded on Friday, asking the justices to wait to take up the case.

It may seem odd that Democrats would want a Supreme Court that could well rule to end Obamacare to do so sooner rather than later, and that Republicans would ask it to hold off doing so. But in the context of the 2020 elections, the stances of each party begin to make more sense.

Health care looms large again in the 2020 elections

Studies have shown that Americans — including Republicans — like the benefits the ACA has given them. For example, a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 80 percent of Republicans like the ACA’s provision that lowers the cost of prescription drugs for those on Medicare, and that 58 percent of Republicans like that it stopped insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

Overall, the foundation found that 52 percent of Americans approved of the ACA as of November 2019, and that 56 percent feared they, or someone they knew, would lose coverage if the Supreme Court overturned the law.

Essentially, while the ACA is commonly targeted by the president and his allies in Congress, the law itself is fairly popular, and at least some of its provisions are overwhelmingly popular.

This makes removing it a somewhat dangerous proposition for Republicans, particularly those in Congress that rely on broad bases of support to retain their seats. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats worked to exploit the tension between the public’s view of the ACA and GOP lawmakers’, making healthcare a key issue — a strategy seen as being crucial to the Democrats’ eventual victory in retaking the House of Representatives.

Thanks to Texas v. United States, Democrats see an opening for a similar strategy in 2020. If the Supreme Court were to uphold the ACA, Democrats would be able to campaign as the party that defended Obamacare. If it were to be overturned, then Democrats would cast the GOP as the party that dumped 20 million people off their health insurance in an election year.

It is in Republicans’s best interests to avoid that lose-lose scenario, and therefore they have asked the court not to take up the case in the first place.

“The lawfulness of the act is undoubtedly a matter of the utmost national importance, but the current petitions do not justify immediate, emergency review by the court,” said the brief filed by the attorney general of Texas and officials in 17 other states.

The Supreme Court has not yet signaled how it will proceed. It would take just four justices to agree to take the case, and all five of the justices who ruled to uphold the law the last time the ACA’s constitutionality was in question at the court are still on the bench.

11 Jan 18:08

Trump says most asylum seekers don’t show up for their court hearings. A new study shows 99% do.

by Nicole Narea
Central American immigrant families depart ICE custody, pending future immigration court hearings on June 11, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. | John Moore/Getty Images

This study contradicts Trump’s rationale for expanding immigration detention.

President Donald Trump has often claimed that the only way to ensure that migrants show up for their court hearings rather than vanish into the US is to keep them in detention or else make sure that they never step foot on American soil in the first place.

But the president’s theory doesn’t hold up: About 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or who were previously released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings over the last year, according to new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts.

Studies from previous years have also disproven the idea that most migrants will choose to live in the US without authorization rather than see their immigration cases through. But it’s nevertheless central to Trump’s immigration policies, including those that aim to keep migrants in Mexico rather than letting them walk free in the US.

The latest data from TRAC shows that nearly every asylum seeker showed up for their court hearings over the course of 2019. That’s even though the vast majority of asylum seekers — about 4 in 5 — were not detained at all or had been released from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody before their court date.

Migrants can end up in immigration court in one of two ways: turning themselves in to immigration agents or getting caught while trying to cross the border without authorization. In both cases, officials will initiate deportation proceedings against them and give them a date to appear in court, where they can ask a judge for asylum and other protections that would allow them to remain in the US with legal status, or else be ordered deported.

On average, immigrants with currently pending cases have been waiting almost two years for their court hearings, and cases take even longer to complete. Under previous administrations, a migrant who came into contact with immigration agents would have typically been released from custody into the US during that waiting period, unless they were found to be likely to flee or a risk to public safety.

But Trump has repeatedly maligned that practice, dubbing it “catch and release,” a concept that predates his presidency but that became a rallying cry during his 2016 campaign. He has falsely claimed that most asylum seekers who are allowed to walk free while their immigration cases are pending will not show up for their court hearings, instead absconding into the US to live as unauthorized immigrants.

In an address last January, Trump asserted that as few as 2 percent of asylum seekers who aren’t in detention show up for their court hearings:

Tell me, what percentage of people come back? Would you say 100 percent? No, you’re a little off. Like, how about 2 percent? And those people, you almost don’t want, because they cannot be very smart... Those two percent are not going to make America great again, that I can tell you.

But data from both TRAC and the Department of Justice clearly refutes Trump’s claim: the rate at which non-detained migrants showed up for their court hearings still far exceeded 2 percent even in the years prior to 2019, in which attendance rates were unusually high. About 75 percent showed up for their hearings in fiscal year 2018, similar to rates over the previous five years.

It’s not clear why migrants skipped out on their hearings at significantly lower rates in 2019, but it’s possible that Trump’s hardline rhetoric on immigration and large-scale immigration raids have discouraged migrants from choosing to live in the US without authorization.

Meanwhile, the rate at which migrants asylum claims have been denied has steadily grown over the last seven years from just 42 percent in 2012 to 69 percent in 2019.

Trump has called for the end of “catch and release”

Trump has made efforts to end catch and release, instead keeping migrants in detention or else sending them back to Central America. To do so, he has increased funding for immigration detention, despite Congress’s attempts to rein him in.

Congress had sought to decrease the number of migrants in detention to just over 40,000 in its 2019 appropriations bill. But in August, Trump transferred $271 million in Department of Homeland Security disaster relief funds to ICE to pay for more detention capacity — about 50,000 migrants daily — and temporary immigration courts along the southern border.

Trump has also rolled out a series of policies that allow immigration agents to send migrants back to Mexico and Guatemala.

Under his “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, he has sent about 56,000 migrants back to Mexico to await decisions on their asylum cases in the US. The administration consequently announced that it had ended catch and release for families arriving at the southern border with some limited exceptions, instead sending them all back to Mexico under MPP.

And he’s brokered agreements with the countries in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” region — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — that would allow his administration to send migrants back to those countries to seek protection there rather than in the US. Only the agreement with Guatemala is in effect so far, but the agreement with Honduras is weeks away from implementation.

There are comparatively low-cost alternatives to keeping immigrants in detention or sending them abroad, including the now-defunct Obama-era Family Case Management Program. Under that program, which Trump ended in June 2017, families were released and assigned to social workers who aided them in finding attorneys and accommodation and ensured that they showed up for their court hearings.

The program was small in scale, with no more than 1,600 people enrolled at any one time, but appeared to be successful in ensuring that 99 percent of participants showed up for their court appearances and ICE check-ins.

11 Jan 17:56

The administration’s deceptions about the Soleimani strike are a big deal

by Matthew Yglesias
President Trump Returns To White House From Campaign Rally In Ohio President Donald Trump. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Lies about wars lead to more wars.

The Trump administration has maintained from the start that it ordered the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in order to forestall an imminent threat to American lives.

It’s pretty clear this is not true, that the administration instead simply made a calculated decision to escalate American pushback on Iran as part of a larger series of back-and-forth actions that began with the US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal.

And though the deception involved has been fairly widely reported in the press, it hasn’t played a leading role in describing the cycle of tensions. That’s a mistake. By killing a foreign country’s key leader, the US put itself in the position of facing retaliation, as Iran did with rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq earlier this week. Those attacks, thankfully, didn’t kill any Americans. The Trump administration, thankfully, agreed not to retaliate further, for now.

But it’s clear that members of the Trump administration are not in complete agreement on Iran policy with some influential conservatives who have long pushed for a regime change in Tehran. For an administration that appears to want a war with Iran but lacks the public backing — or for a faction that wants a war but lacks the full support of the president — this is one good way to make the dream happen: provoke Iranian responses that, in turn, provoke new American responses.

A way to halt that cycle of escalation is to insist that people who want to take provocative steps give accurate information about what they are doing.

The imminent threat line looks very suspicious

There’s substantial evidence to doubt the administration’s imminent threat message.

For example, the Pentagon’s original press release about the Soleimani operation didn’t mention it, and the immediate US reaction was to order all American civilians out of Iraq for fear of retaliation — clearly, nobody was made safer in a direct, immediate sense.

Those actions are consistent with a scenario in which Soleimani was a dangerous person in general, and the decision to take him out was made by policymakers seeking long-term benefits at the short-term cost of elevated risk to American lives. That’s fine as far as it goes; sometimes in life you need short-term pain for long-term gain. But when someone asks you to suffer short-term pain, you normally ask them to explain what kind of gain they’re promising so you can consider whether it’s a fair deal.

The administration, instead, said it was heading off imminent attacks even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conceded that he couldn’t say where or when these attacks were supposed to happen.

Similarly, senators briefed on the intelligence simply said there was no evidence presented of an imminent threat.

Then on Friday, John Hudson, Missy Ryan, and Josh Dawsey reported for the Washington Post that on the same day as the successful strike on Soleimani, there was a second, failed anti-Iranian operation. That operation, which the administration neglected to tell us about, targeted Abdul Reza Shahlai, described in the Post as “a financier and key commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen.”

This is another nail in the coffin of the idea that the Soleimani strike was about disrupting an imminent threat as opposed to a broader shift in policy. That the administration kept this quiet, even as it went on a multi-day victory tour about killing Soleimani, is further confirmation that it is not leveling with us about its actions.

And that’s unacceptable.

Lying the country into war is really bad

Trump is notorious for lying about all kinds of things. And the national security sector, accustomed as it is to dealing in classified matters and state secrets, seems in some ways to be instinctively unbothered by deception. But in reality, this kind of lying is especially dangerous.

The public is highly motivated to protect American lives, as are members of Congress who are responsive to the public. They would be willing to go further in terms of killing foreigners to actually defend Americans in a specific way than they would to, say, advance Saudi Arabia’s regional ambitions with regard to Iran. And if Iran responds to American acts with new rounds of aggression that kill more Americans, the public is likely to support further escalation against Iran, and who knows where that will end.

This dynamic is already clearly in place in the larger question of the Iran nuclear deal, the specific elements of which Trump keeps lying about. Iran’s aggressive behavior against the US is clearly linked to Trump’s decision to abrogate the deal. Trump keeps saying he did so because Iran was cheating, which, if it were true, would be a good reason to abrogate the deal. But it wasn’t true.

Now, though, US-Iran relations have deteriorated to a point where Iran is refusing to abide by the limits in the agreement. If you lack the original context that the US pulled out of the deal despite Iranian compliance, Iran’s actions could be seen as justifying new anti-Iran moves from the US.

By the same token, killing Iranian officials could be a highly effective way of provoking Iranian retaliations that inflame American opinion and drive support for aggressive acts that the public wouldn’t otherwise get behind. The way to break the cycle is to demand that the American government give a clear, convincing, and honest account of what it is doing and why — and to stop treating its refusal to do so as a secondary plot, when in fact it’s at the heart of the story.

11 Jan 13:44

23andMe sold the rights to a drug it developed from its genetic database

11 Jan 11:42

New Gen 5 Pokémon and Trade Evolution Added to Pokémon GO

by Zeroghan

Niantic has announced that a new feature called Trade Evolution is coming to Pokémon GO! Additionally, several new Unova region Pokémon have been released into the world of Pokémon GO, some of which will benefit from the addition of trade Evolution too!

Please be aware this is a massive announcement, and there are new Pokémon coming to wild encounters, Poké eggs, raids, and there are even new regional variants.

New Gen 5 Pokémon and Trade Evolution Added to Pokémon GO
New Gen 5 Pokémon and Trade Evolution Added to Pokémon GO

Trade Evolution

Trade Evolution is a new mechanic that allows players to trade an eligible Pokémon to lower the Candy cost to evolve them. Niantic has shared that the following Pokémon will gain Evolution benefits from trading:

  • Kadabra, Machoke, Graveler, and Haunter are some Pokémon that can now benefit from trade Evolution. If you received one of these Pokémon in a trade in the past—congratulations! That Pokémon will retroactively qualify for no Candy cost when you evolve it.
  • Boldore, Gurdurr, Karrablast, and Shelmet are now appearing in Pokémon GO and will be eligible for trade Evolution benefits. And remember, Trainers: Boldore’s and Gurdurr’s Evolutions, Gigalith and Conkeldurr, might be powerful Pokémon to have in your battle parties!

According to Niantic’s announcement, trading certain Pokémon will result in no Candy cost to evolve them. Trade evolution mechanic is already live:

Trade Evolution Pokemon GO
Trade Evolution Pokemon GO

New Generation V Pokémon

In addition to already mentioned Boldore, Gurdurr, Karrablast, and Shelmet, there are several new Pokémon that will be appearing in the wild, in raids, and in Eggs soon.

In the wild

Pokemon GO RoggenrolaRoggenrola Pokemon GO TympoleTympole Pokemon GO DwebbleDwebble
Pokemon GO TrubbishTrubbish Pokemon GO KarrablastKarrablast Pokemon GO JoltikJoltik
Pokemon GO ShelmetShelmet

In eggs

2 km Eggs Pokemon GO VenipedeVenipede Pokemon GO DwebbleDwebble
5 km Eggs Pokemon GO RoggenrolaRoggenrola Pokemon GO TympoleTympole
Pokemon GO TrubbishTrubbish Pokemon GO KarrablastKarrablast
Pokemon GO JoltikJoltik Pokemon GO ShelmetShelmet
10 km Eggs Pokemon GO TimburrTimburr Pokemon GO TirtougaTirtouga
Pokemon GO ArchenArchen Pokemon GO AxewAxew

In raids

Timburr will also be available in one-star raids.

Pokemon GO TimburrTimburr

New regional Pokémon

Pokémon appearing in the wild in certain parts of the world:

  • North America, South America, and Africa: Throh (also available in 10 km Eggs)
Pokemon GO ThrohThroh
  • Europe, Asia, and Australia: Sawk (also available in 10 km Eggs)
Pokemon GO SawkSawk
  • Southern United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America: Maractus
Pokemon GO MaractusMaractus
  • Egypt and Greece: Sigilyph
Pokemon GO SigilyphSigilyph
  • Eastern Hemisphere: Red-Striped Form Basculin
Pokemon GO Basculin (Red Striped)Basculin (Red Striped)
  • Western Hemisphere: Blue-Striped Form Basculin
Pokemon GO Basculin (Blue Striped)Basculin (Blue Striped)

The post New Gen 5 Pokémon and Trade Evolution Added to Pokémon GO appeared first on Pokemon GO Hub.

11 Jan 11:39

January Generation 5 Wave Pokémon in Raid and Trainer Battles Meta

by Glawhantojar

Hello trainers!  Exciting news! A large wave of brand new Generation 5 Pokémon has been spotted in Pokémon Go! Now you might be wondering where all these new Pokémon fit into the PvE and the PvP meta. Well fear not, here is a quick look at all of the meta relevant Pokémon that were released in this new wave!

In terms of usefulness, Conkeldurr is the clear winner of this recent wave. The second best fighting type in the game in terms of DPS, it has more bulk than Lucario and can outperform the king of the fighting types in some situations. After that, we have a bit of a drop off to Haxorus and Gigalith which are good, but not great options.

Archeops is an interesting Pokémon, in that it has an amazing attack stat and awful moves.  So, it could be one to keep an eye on.  If you get a good Archen, keep it stashed away (and don’t evolve it) and hope that Niantic graces it with better moves later on.  Maybe it will get its own raid day or a field research day?

Escavalier has some use in PVP but isn’t very relevant otherwise.

The rest are all Pokémon that are not meta relevant, in either PvE or PvP.  So, they’ll just end up being dex entries.  Unless they are one of your favourite Pokémon, in which case they will be special and relevant for you!

So let’s take a closer look at the Pokémon that have at least a small impact on the Meta, and could end up being useful.

* All PVP Stats provided by PvPoke, PvE stats via GO Hub Database.

Conkeldurr

Pokemon GO ConkeldurrConkeldurrFighting
Evolution Line
Pokemon GO TimburrTimburr Pokemon GO GurdurrGurdurr Pokemon GO ConkeldurrConkeldurr
PvE
Counter

Fighting

Dynamic Punch

Fighting

Conkeldurr is the 2nd best Fighting DPS in the game right now behind Lucario. Conkeldurr’s DPS is almost a full point lower than Lucario, but it’s much much bulkier so in certain situations it will outperform Lucario.
PvP
Counter

Fighting

Dynamic Punch

Fighting

  Stone Edge

Rock

Conkeldurr comes in as the 21st overall option in Master league and the #1 ranked fighting type. Its downfall is it doesn’t have access to Power-Up Punch, however, its bulk and its strength make up for it if you’re in the market for a fighting type for Master League.
Great League Ultra League Master League
#129 Overall #52 Overall #21 Overall
#8 Fighting Type #3 Fighting Type #1 Fighting Type

Haxorus

Pokemon GO HaxorusHaxorusDragon
Evolution Line
Pokemon GO AxewAxew Pokemon GO FraxureFraxure Pokemon GO HaxorusHaxorus
PvE
Dragon Tail

Dragon

Dragon Claw

Dragon

Haxorus is the 3rd best Dragon DPS in the game right now behind Rayquaza and Salamence. It has DPS slightly higher than Dragonite, but is far squishier, so realistically you should slot Haxorus behind Dragonite. With better moves, Haxorus would be a stronger performer.
PvP
Counter

Fighting

Dragon Claw

Dragon

  Night Slash

Dark

Great League Ultra League Master League
#127 Overall #136 Overall #39 Overall
#8 Dragon Type #6 Dragon Type #6 Dragon Type

Gigalith

Pokemon GO GigalithGigalithRock
Evolution Line
Pokemon GO RoggenrolaRoggenrola Pokemon GO BoldoreBoldore Pokemon GO GigalithGigalith
PvE
Smack Down

Rock

Rock Slide

Rock

Gigalith is the 5th best Rock DPS in the game right now. That being said, you have to be aware that it’s a full 4.09 DPS behind Rampardos. It barely out DPSes Aerodactyl and it’s far behind Tyranitar in terms of bulk.
PvP
Smack Down

Rock

Super Power

Fighting

  Rock Slide

Rock

Great League Ultra League Master League
#255 Overall #134 Overall #59 Overall
#3 Rock Type #4 Rock Type

Archeops

Pokemon GO ArcheopsArcheopsRock Flying
Evolution Line
Pokemon GO ArchenArchen Pokemon GO ArcheopsArcheops
PvE
Wing Attack

Flying

Dragon Claw

Dragon

Archeops is the 4th best Rock and 6th best Flying DPS in the game right now. Archeops actually has a very impressive attack stat but is hampered by the lack of a Flying Charge move and a less than stellar Rock charge move. Archeops is the one Pokemon that could be improved in the future, because it could be a real powerhouse if it ever gets access to some better moves.
PvP
Wing Attack

Flying

Dragon Claw

Dragon

  Ancient Power

Rock

Great League Ultra League Master League
#296 Overall #218 Overall #106 Overall

Escavalier

Pokemon GO EscavalierEscavalierBug Steel
Evolution Line
Pokemon GO KarrablastKarrablast Pokemon GO EscavalierEscavalier
PvE
Bug Bite

Bug

X-Scissor

Bug

Escavalier is the 5th highest Bug DPS in the game, but it’s still worse than Scizor. Scizor is a “baseline” Bug type in our heads, and we’re pretty sad to see Escavalier perform lower than Scizor in PvE. PvP is another story.
PvP
Counter

Fighting

Megahorn

Bug

 Bug Bite

Bug

Drill Run

Ground

Coming in as #32 overall and the #2 bug type in the Ultra League, PvP is where Escavalier’s real value is.  With the #1 bug type being the regional Herracross, so if you’re into Ultra League and don’t have access to a PvP worthy Herracross, Escavalier could be the answer. There are better options in the Great League and Master League.
Great League Ultra League Master League
#88 Overall #32 Overall #66 Overall

What’s your favourite Pokémon in this new wave?  Let me know in the comments! I’ve been waiting for Conkeldurr since Gen 5 was announced, so I am very excited to go get myself a bunch!

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay safe out there!

The post January Generation 5 Wave Pokémon in Raid and Trainer Battles Meta appeared first on Pokemon GO Hub.

10 Jan 19:10

NYC's Transportation Authority Says It's Doesn't Use Facial Recognition Tech; Activists Say 'Prove It' With Public Records Lawsuit

by Tim Cushing

Like pretty much everyone else, New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is using facial recognition software. Like pretty much everyone else, it doesn't really have any success stories to share.

According to the [MTA] email, the “initial period for the proof of concept testing at the (Robert F. Kennedy Bridge connecting Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens) for facial recognition has been completed and failed with no faces (0%) being detected within acceptable parameters.”

Besides the RFK Bridge, the MTA is testing the technology at the Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges, as well as at the Midtown and Hugh L. Carey tunnels.

Unceremoniously ushered to the exit by its failure to recognize faces, the pilot program was shelved until tech catches up to the MTA's surveillance desires.

But does that mean the MTA isn't utilizing the tech elsewhere? That's what New Yorkers wanted to know earlier this year, when a Twitter user noticed the little yellow squares being placed around commuters' faces as they went through the turnstiles.

In a statement given to The Verge, the MTA denied these squares signified anything.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has denied suggestions that it’s putting facial recognition cameras in the subway, saying that a trick designed to scare fare-dodgers was misinterpreted. “There is no capability to recognize or identify individuals and absolutely no plan” to do so with NYC subway cameras, says MTA spokesperson Maxwell Young.

It scared more than fare-dodgers. Lots of people who never dodged a fare were possibly being recorded and routed through unproven facial recognition tech. The words from MTA were reassuring but they were only words. And they came from MTA, which had already field-testing facial recognition tech elsewhere.

Beyond that, the monitors used by MTA bore the name of Wisenet, a company that is very proud of its facial recognition tech. Just saying you don't have the capability now doesn't mean you can't silently add it later without having to replace any hardware.

Since MTA has only been straightforward about its facial recognition tech use after being caught using it, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) sent a FOIL request to MTA asking for copies of any of its facial recognition tech documents. So far, MTA has refused to release anything to STOP about its Wisenet hardware and its capabilities.

It forwarded the request to New York City Transit, which has now spent nearly eight months not responding. STOP has now sued, hoping to force NYCT into action. The lawsuit [PDF] asks the court to compel production of these documents ASAP as well as make the government agencies pay STOP's expenses for having to litigate this in the first place.

If the MTA really wants to reassure New Yorkers about its facial recognition plans, it needs to release documents backing up its public statements. If it prefers commuters to continue to not trust it, it can keep doing what it's doing: stonewalling public records requests from privacy activists.



Permalink | Comments | Email This Story
10 Jan 17:36

A new study finds increasing the minimum wage reduces suicide

by Dylan Matthews
US-WORKER-STRIKE-UNION “Fight for $15” protesters at Los Angeles International Airport. | Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The growing literature on whether raising the minimum wage can save lives, explained.

The evidence that minimum wage laws increase wages for employed people is pretty solid at this point. But four recent studies suggest another crucially important effect: They might save lives, too.

The newest of the papers, authored by John Kaufman, Leslie Salas-Hernández, Kelli Komro, and Melvin Livingston in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, examined monthly data across the US from 1990 to 2015 and estimated that a $1 increase in the minimum wage led to a 3.4 to 5.9 percent decline in suicides among adults with a high school education or less. The authors also estimated that over the 26-year period, a $1 increase in each state’s minimum wage could have prevented 27,550 suicide deaths, or about 1,059 per year.

The paper has created a bit of a stir. But it’s just one of four studies in the past couple of years to find an association between higher minimum wages and lower death rates (specifically suicides).

If these findings hold up in subsequent research, they provide a new, persuasive rationale for raising the minimum wage.

The evidence that the minimum wage saves lives, reviewed

Let’s set aside the newest study on the minimum wage and suicide and look at papers from the past year that reached similar conclusions.

A 2019 paper by Alex Gertner, Jason Rotter, and Paul Shafer, which looked at changes in state-level minimum wages from 2006 to 2016, found that a $1 increase in the minimum wage was associated with a 1.9 percent decline in suicide rates. This paper controlled for economic and health factors like unemployment, the per-capita state GDP, state spending on Medicaid, and the uninsured rate. But the authors urged that their results “should not necessarily be interpreted as causal,” given the lack of an experimental or quasi-experimental study design.

Another 2019 working paper, by economists William Dow, Anna Godøy, Christopher Lowenstein, and Michael Reich, all from UC Berkeley, attempted to use more rigorous causal identification to measure the effects of both the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit (a cash benefit tied to work and distributed primarily to poor households with kids), on “deaths of despair”: suicides, alcohol poisoning, and drug overdose.

That paper used a “differences in differences” methodology that tracked how such death rates changed in states that increased the minimum wage and then compared those with changes in death rates in states where the minimum wage was stagnant. This methodology required a key assumption: that trends in suicide rates in the states being compared would have been identical, absent the change in minimum wage policy. To make sure this holds, the Dow/Godøy/Lowenstein/Reich paper conducted the same analysis on college graduates, very few of whom are paid minimum wage and are likely not affected by the policy.

The paper found no effect on drug or alcohol deaths from either the minimum wage or EITC, but did find that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage decreased the rate of suicide among adults with a high school education or less by 3.6 percent; a 10 percent increase in the EITC, meanwhile, reduced suicides in that group by 5.5 percent. Tellingly, the authors found no effects on college graduates, adding credibility to the inference that the minimum wage itself caused the decline in suicides.

Finally, another recent paper found that the minimum wage saves a significant number of lives in another context: nursing homes. Krista Ruffini, a doctoral student at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley, pulled together 25 years of administrative records for patients in long-term residential care and tried to isolate how their health changed in response to their caregivers getting a minimum wage increase.

Ruffini’s has the strongest causal identification, in my view, of any of these papers (though it’s worth noting that hers is still unpublished): she compared counties where the minimum wage was increased with neighboring counties where it was not, a sophisticated method used in cutting-edge studies of the minimum wage’s impact on jobs. She found that minimum wage increases usually translated to higher pay for nursing home staff — a 10 percent hike in the minimum wage raised their average pay by 1.2 to 1.7 percent.

This, Ruffini documents, has a variety of health effects, including fewer health code violations during inspections, fewer bedsores (technically called “pressure ulcers”), and, most importantly, a large reduction in mortality. Raising the minimum wage by 10 percent would prevent 15,000 to 16,000 deaths in nursing homes every year, Ruffini estimated.

Ruffini admits she’s not entirely sure what’s driving this outcome. It could be that higher wages attract better employees who provide better care; it could be that tighter profit margins force nursing homes to direct care more efficiently, or that it motivates staff to be more productive (a hypothesis known as “efficiency wages”). But she also notes that two recent studies have suggested that increased staffing in nursing homes reduces mortality. It wouldn’t shock me if “more staff” and “better staff” had similar effects on patient outcomes.

The latest paper, explained

The new paper in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimates a 3.4 to 5.9 percent decline in suicides from a $1 increase in the minimum wage. It uses a methodology somewhat similar to that of the Dow et al. paper, with college-educated adults as a control group, assuming that people without high school diplomas are more affected by minimum wage hikes and that the effects on suicide would be concentrated there. The authors also controlled for other state-level factors like unemployment, GDP, and welfare take-up.

Unlike the Dow et al. paper, the new paper doesn’t use the dollar value of the minimum wage as its independent variable; instead, it uses the difference between the federal and state minimum wages, which functions much the same way. States with higher minimums, naturally, have a greater difference from the federal minimum than states with lower minimums.

The paper is not without its critics. One noteworthy voice was that of Congressional Joint Economic Committee Chair Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), whose spokesman told the Washington Post, “By this logic, if we raised the federal minimum wage while keeping state minimum wages constant, suicide would go up! Or, we could really reduce suicide by eliminating the federal minimum wage entirely, thus creating a huge gap between state minimum wages and the federal one. These seem nonsensical.”

But Kaufman, the lead author on the paper, says this reading was based on a misunderstanding, and that the measure was meant as a uniform way to represent the minimum wage in different states. “Their argument really doesn’t make sense. I would rather be responding to criticism from somebody who understood the methods we used,” Kaufman told me in a phone call.

Another co-author, Melvin Livingston, told me, “We chose to express the minimum wage as the difference between the federal and state minimum wage for ease of interpretation. Due to the way the model is constructed, identical results would be found if we used the effective state minimum wage. It is incorrect to interpret the results as suggesting that reducing the federal minimum wage would result in fewer suicides. To the contrary, the results indicate that as minimum wages increase, suicide rates decrease.”

Another concern, raised by UC San Diego economist and veteran minimum wage researcher Jeffrey Clemens, is that the paper finds a statistically insignificant effect of minimum wage hikes on college graduates in the other direction — the suicide rate goes up for this group in states that raise their minimum wage. That’s puzzling, even if insignificant, and it’s not clear why there should be any correlation at all with college grads.

The important thing here, though, isn’t the details of this one study. It’s the point these four studies, approaching the question of minimum wage and mortality from different angles, make together. The debate over the minimum wage, at least in economics, has so far focused monomaniacally on the effects on jobs: Does a higher minimum wage cost jobs for low-income people and do more harm than good?

We’ve made a lot of progress on that question, and it seems clear that modest increases do more good than harm for the workers affected: The wage increases swamp whatever job losses might occur. But this new research suggests that the focus on job effects has prevented us from looking at another important effect of minimum wage laws: the effect on public health.

We need much more research on these topics. But to me, these recent studies all suggest there’s a real possibility that minimum wage laws, and EITC increases, save lives. If that finding holds up in these and other contexts, that’s a powerful new argument for minimum wage increases.

Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.

Future Perfect is funded in part by individual contributions, grants, and sponsorships. Learn more here.

10 Jan 17:31

Study links Medicaid expansion to 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths

by German Lopez
Derrick Slaughter, 5, attends a march against the opioid epidemic. He holds a sign that reads, “Heroin divided my family.” Derrick Slaughter, 5, attends a march against the opioid epidemic on July 14, 2017, in Norwalk, Ohio. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A new study suggests the Medicaid expansion could help fight the opioid epidemic.

Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which gave millions of low-income adults access to health insurance, was linked to a 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose death rates — potentially preventing thousands of deaths — according to a new study in JAMA Network Open.

The study looked at what happened in counties in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by 2017, compared to counties in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, accounting for variables like demographic and policy differences. The Medicaid expansion was made optional in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, and only 32 states and Washington, DC, had opted to expand by the study period (with the total rising to 37 in the past few years).

The study helps put to rest claims by some Republican lawmakers, particularly Sen. Ron Johnson (WI), that the Medicaid expansion made the opioid crisis worse by expanding access to painkillers. The new study, echoing others before it, suggests the Medicaid expansion had the opposite effect, and that there wasn’t a link between the expansion and more deaths caused by painkillers, with the possible — and relatively uncommon — exception of methadone used in pain treatment.

The researchers found that Medicaid expansion counties had a 6 percent lower rate in opioid overdose deaths than non-expansion counties. That was mostly due to an 11 percent lower rate of deaths involving heroin and a 10 percent lower rate for deaths linked to synthetic opioids excluding methadone (primarily fentanyl, now the biggest contributor to fatal drug overdoses in the US).

“What I find most exciting about this is we see a reduction in overdoses involving heroin and synthetics,” Magdalena Cerdá, one of the study’s authors, told me. “We haven’t been able to find a lot of policy solutions to do that, but this is one of the first policy measures that does seem to have an effect in terms of reducing overdose deaths from those opioids that are the leading contributors to overdose deaths.”

There was no association between the Medicaid expansion and deaths involving natural and semi-synthetic opioids, which includes traditional painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

There was, however, a link between the Medicaid expansion and an 11 percent increase in overdose deaths involving methadone. Although methadone is used very effectively in addiction treatment, the great majority of deaths linked to methadone, based on multiple investigations into the topic, are a result of methadone used in pain treatment. That seems to be what’s going on here: Medicaid plans have historically favored methadone for chronic pain treatment — because it’s so cheap — so perhaps Medicaid led to an increase in access to methadone for pain treatment and, as a result, more misuse and overdoses.

“This does not in any way detract from the notion that methadone is an effective way to treat opioid use disorder and reduce future overdose deaths,” Cerdá said, citing evidence that methadone reduces the mortality rate among opioid addiction patients by half or more and keeps people in treatment better than non-medication approaches. “Really, the likely explanation here is around methadone used to treat pain.”

Still, methadone is only involved in a fraction of opioid overdose deaths. On net, the study found the Medicaid expansion likely prevented fatal opioid overdoses: “[O]ur findings suggest that these states would have had between 83,906 and 90,360 deaths in the absence of the expansion, implying that Medicaid expansion may have prevented between 1,678 and 8,132 deaths in these states during those years.”

That leads to a nuanced story: The Medicaid expansion may have contributed to some more deaths in pain treatment — although there’s no empirical evidence this is true for traditional painkillers, as this study and another one found — but still ended up saving far more lives by expanding access to addiction treatment.

Other research backs this up. A 2019 study published in Health Affairs found that after West Virginia expanded Medicaid, the number of people diagnosed for opioid use disorder under the program rose — and the number of people on buprenorphine, one of the gold-standard medications for opioid addiction, increased as well. In other words, the Medicaid expansion appeared to expand access to evidence-based addiction treatment.

The study has some weaknesses. For one, it’s the first study looking at the effects of the Medicaid expansion on overdose deaths at the county level. Given that, studies using different models and assumptions may come to different conclusions. More research is needed to verify the findings.

The data used in the study for overdose deaths generally undercounts opioid overdose deaths because the drugs behind some overdoses aren’t always identified. The study also measured the effects of the Medicaid expansion on the general population, not just the beneficiaries that directly benefited from Medicaid. (A study exclusively looking at Medicaid beneficiaries could find even better results for the expansion.) And the study treated the expansion as a binary — whether states enacted the expansion or not — which blurs differences between states’ Medicaid programs that could produce different effects.

For Cerdá, those caveats are room for more research to tease out how Medicaid may bring down overdose deaths. She also wants to study the increase in methadone deaths, which could help policymakers figure out how to mitigate any risks of the expansion while keeping the benefits.

For now, though, the study suggests that state policymakers have a policy lever available to them to potentially fight the ongoing opioid epidemic, which has contributed to more than 700,000 opioid overdose deaths since 1999. As part of Vox’s Rehab Racket project, I have heard time and time again how important insurance is to obtaining quality addiction care. Lawmakers in the 13 states that haven’t moved to expand Medicaid now have a window to ameliorate at least part of the problem of poor insurance coverage leading to more cases of untreated addiction and overdose deaths.

10 Jan 17:29

California considers selling its own generic prescription drugs

by Beth Mole
A close up of Newsom's face turned to face reporters not pictured, with camera lights in the background.

Enlarge / California Governor Gavin Newsom. (credit: Getty | AGUSTIN PAULLIER )

California could become the first state to introduce its own brand of generic prescription drugs in an effort to drag down stratospheric healthcare costs.

The plan for state-branded drugs is part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal, which he is expected to unveil Friday, January 10.

“A trip to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or hospital shouldn’t cost a month’s pay,” Newsom said in a statement. “The cost of healthcare is just too damn high, and California is fighting back.”

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

10 Jan 15:23

The Take Over Continues: Special Research Guide

by mayumijack

The Pokemon Go The Take Over Continues: Special Research has started 10 days ago. This comes after “A Troubling Situation” (December Team GO Special Research). In this post you will find the tasks, rewards and more as this month things have changed a little. Defeat the Rocket Grunts, Team Rocket Leaders and Giovanni to have a chance to catch the Shadow Moltres.

Here is the list of the tasks for this Special Research quest line.

The Take Over Continues (1/6)

  • Spin 10 PokeStops (Sudowodoo encounter)
  • Defeat 3 Team GO Rocket Grunts (500 XP)
  • Catch 1 Shadow Pokemon (500 XP)

First task set: Spin 10 pokestops, defeat 3 Team GO Rocket Grunts, and Catch 1 Shadow Pokemon

(Image Credit: Orange Go Hub)

The Take Over Continues (2/6)

  • Spin a PokeStop 3 days in a row (750 XP)
  • Purify 5 Shadow Pokemon (750 XP)
  • Win 5 raids (750 XP)

Second task set: Spin a Pokestop 3 days in a row, Purify 5 Shadow Pokemon, Win 5 raids

Different from the previous Team GO Rocket researchers, this time you just need to wait for 3 days to move on to the next task. It is important to spin everyday or it will reset (and you will need to start all over again).

Remember to save Shadow Zubat or Ratata to purify (and its revolutions) as they only require 1000 Stardust. The raids can be any level, so you can do solo as well. Or you can save for the Raid hour (on Wednesdays at 6pm local time).

The Take Over Continues (3/6)

  • Use 6 supereffective Charged Attacks in Gym battles (1000 XP)
  • Win 3 Great League Trainer Battles against another Trainer (1000 XP)
  • Defeat 6 Team GO Rocket Grunts (1000 XP)

Third set of tasks: Use 6 supereffective Charged Attacks in Gym battles, Win 3 Great League Trainer Battles, Defeat 6 Team GO Rocket Grunts

The Take Over Continues (4/6)

  • Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Arlo (1250 XP)
  • Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Cliff (1250 XP)
  • Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Sierra (1250 XP)

Fourth set of tasks: Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Arlo, Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Cliff, Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Sierra

In this part you need to battle 18 grunts to make enough Rocket Radars for each leader! Remember that they are also for sale for 200 poke coins if you don’t have time or you don’t have enough places to find the grunts.

Follow the link below to access all the information to defeat the Team GO Rocket Leaders since they are a lot more challenging comparing with the Grunts. Although some of the Pokemon used the by the leaders have changed, the information below is useful to get hints to defeat them.

https://pokemongohub.net/post/guide/team-go-rocket-leader-guide/

The Take Over Continues (5/6)

  • Find the Team GO Rocket Boss (2500 Stardust)
  • Battle the Team GO Rocket Boss (1500 XP)
  • Defeat the Team GO Rocket Boss (3x Silver Pinap Berry)

It will be beneficial to check the link below to learn more about Giovanni and his tactics: Rocket Boss Giovanni Counters.

The Take Over Continues (6/6)

  • Already Completed (2000 XP)
  • Already Completed (2000 XP)
  • Already Completed (2000 XP)

Hope the information has been useful to prepare yourself to catch the Shadow Moltres.

Good luck trainers!

 

The post The Take Over Continues: Special Research Guide appeared first on Pokemon GO Hub.

10 Jan 13:13

Minimum wage increase causes Wildwoods Boardwalk Tram Car fare increase in 2020


PRESS RELEASE

The Wildwoods Boardwalk, NJ — The non-profit organization that has owned, restored and operated the Wildwoods Boardwalk Sightseer Tram Cars since 2004, announced today that the increase in the State Minimum Wage has forced them to implement a Fare Increase for the Tram Cars in 2020.

The Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District, Management Corporation (WSID), which was formed by property owners on the Wildwoods Boardwalk to provide services above and beyond those offered by the local governing bodies, announced that the one-way fare will increase from $3.50 to $4.00. 

Discounted tickets will still be offered at various locations around the Boardwalk as well as online.

“Like many small businesses along the Jersey Shore, the Tram Cars rely on a large number of foreign exchange students, senior citizens and young people to operate our business during an extraordinarily short and volatile season. For decades the State of New Jersey recognized the special conditions of seasonal, farm and amusement businesses and provided exemptions from certain wage and hour laws for those specific businesses. 



"Unfortunately, other than extending the period of time until it reaches $15.00, the most recent increases to the minimum wage did not include any special exemptions for seasonal and amusement businesses. Due to the dramatic increases in the minimum wage over the next several years, many small businesses along the Jersey Shore will be forced to make difficult decisions. 

"The Tram Cars are no exception and in order to continue to provide safe, reliable service to our visitors, while meeting the financial demands imposed by the new minimum wage, we have no choice at this time but to increase the Fare. We look forward to continuing to welcoming millions of visitors to the Wildwoods Boardwalk and to providing Tram Car service in the same manner that has been provided uninterrupted since 1949.”

10 Jan 13:13

Dozens of Firefighters Respond to Large Transfer Station Blaze in Rockville | Montgomery Community Media

Firefighters responded to the Montgomery County Transfer Station located on Shady Grove Road in Rockville around 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday night.

MCFRS Chief, Scott Goldstein says there was a large fire in the trash pit located inside of the building. At one point, it took about 85 personnel to battle the blaze.  The fire fighters were involved in tedious and labor-intensive work to separate and extinguish the burning trash according to MCFRS spokesman Pete Piringer. Heavy equipment was also used to grab the trash and pull it apart so they could gain access to the actual fire and completely put it out.

Chief Goldstein says there are no concerns with building structure ability, and there were no injuries.

Avatar
10 Jan 13:03

Why you might not see any athletes protest at this summer’s Olympics

by Katelyn Burns
Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics - Opening Ceremony The Olympic flag is seen during the opening ceremony of the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games at Vaudoise Arena on January 9, 2020, in Lausanne, Switzerland. | David Ramos/Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee is the latest sports organization to crack down on athlete protests.

There will be no athletes taking a knee on the field at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. In fact, there won’t be any visible athlete protests if the International Olympic Committee gets its wish.

The IOC on Thursday became the latest athletic organization to crack down on political protests by its athletes, publishing new rules governing when and how competitors can express political opinions.

According to the new rules, athletes are barred from conducting protests or demonstrations on the field of play, in the Olympic Village, during medal ceremonies, or during the opening or closing ceremonies of the games. The rule gives several examples of prohibited protest, including messages on armbands or signs, hand gestures with political meaning, kneeling, or refusal to follow ceremony protocol. Athletes will be allowed to express political opinions in media gatherings, press conferences, and mixed-zone interviews, and on social media.

That runs counter to a limited, but storied, history of protest at the biannual sporting event; the famous 1968 podium protest when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists on the medal stand to protest racism in America would be prohibited under these rules.

IOC officials stressed Thursday that limiting political speech is key to maintaining harmony between athletes and nations at the games.

“It is important, on both a personal and a global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations,” said the IOC Athletes’ Commission in an introduction accompanying the rules. “If we do not, the life’s work of the athletes around us could be tarnished, and the world would quickly no longer be able to look at us competing and living respectfully together, as conflicts drive a wedge between individuals, groups and nations.”

Black Power Salute At Olympic Games John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
American track and field athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R), first- and third-place winners in the 200-meter race, protest with the Black Power salute as they stand on the winners’ podium at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, October 19, 1968.

While restricting athlete protest may produce a sufficiently sterilized sporting environment for Olympic sponsors and broadcasters, it may violate the original spirit of the games.

The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, emphasized that games were meant to bring humanity together not only to celebrate athletic excellence, but also to strive for a better world. “To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity,” he’s quoted as saying in the Olympian, published in 1984.

Athletes could still choose to defy the rules but would risk facing three layers of disciplinary action — from the IOC, their home nation’s Olympic Committee, and their sport’s international governing body.

In a statement last week, Athlete Global blasted the IOC’s focus on limiting free expression. “Let’s be clear, the Olympic Movement has already politicized sport,” reads the statement, citing promotion of the unified North and South Korea at the Winter Games in 2018, and the involvement of heads of state as de facto heads of national Olympic committees. “We should embrace [athletes’] diverse opinions. Silencing athletes should never be tolerated and to threaten them with removal from the Olympic Games is another sign of the imbalance between sport leaders and athletes.”

The IOC joins a long string of sports organizations taking a hard line on athlete protest

The IOC is far from the only sports organization to prioritize harmony — and its bottom line — over the athletes’ attempts to “strive for a better world.”

The US Olympic Committee punished two athletes for participating in podium protests at the Pan Am Games last August. Hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist and fencer Race Imboden took a knee during medal ceremonies, and both were subsequently put on probation by the USOC for 12 months, which will cover the Olympics this summer.

Athlete protest has had a resurgence in the 2010s — from NBA protests in 2014 that featured LeBron James and several other league stars wearing warmup shirts that read “I can’t breathe,” the last words of Eric Garner as he was strangled by New York Police officers, to perhaps most notably NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and several of his teammates taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people in the US in 2016. His protest set off a high-profile clash with President Donald Trump, who last year said Kaepernick “should find a country that works better for him.” The former 49ers player has since been blackballed by the NFL and hasn’t taken a snap since 2016.

US Soccer restricted political protests in 2017 by its players after star Megan Rapinoe began kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick the year before. “When I take a knee, I am facing the flag with my full body, staring straight into the heart of our country’s ultimate symbol of freedom — because I believe it is my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country,” she wrote at the time of her protest in an op-ed for the Players’ Tribune. (The restrictions haven’t stopped Rapinoe or others on the US Women’s National Team from expressing themselves politically in other ways.)

More recently, the NBA was criticized for cracking down on player and coach support for protesters in Hong Kong to preserve its access to the Chinese market. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet set off a firestorm that included denunciation from the Chinese Consulate in Houston, and an apology from the NBA league office; the Rockets were reportedly at one point considering firing him.

While the IOC may well end up with the protest-free Summer Games it’s hoping for, burying political speech on behalf of the world’s marginalized populations most likely won’t do anything to create a better world.

10 Jan 13:01

Deadly fungus became resistant to all existing drugs in 3 unlinked US patients

by Beth Mole
A strain of <em>Candida auris</em> cultured in a petri dish at the CDC.

Enlarge / A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at the CDC. (credit: CDC)

A deadly fungal pathogen developed the ability to resist all existing antifungal drugs on three separate occasions in the United States, according to a new report.

The fungus, Candida auris, was already classified as an "urgent threat" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the emergence of so-called "pan-resistant" strains raises additional concern, according to the report's authors, who are infectious disease specialists at the CDC and the New York State Department of Health. They published their findings Thursday in the CDC's publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

C. auris was first identified in 2009 in Japan and has since popped up in nearly 40 countries. (It arrived in the US by 2013, and New York City, Chicago, and New Jersey have been hit the hardest.) The insidious germ is known for creeping around healthcare facilities and infecting vulnerable patients, causing invasive infections marked by nondescript fever and chills.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

09 Jan 23:10

The Trump administration has finalized an agreement to deport Honduran asylum seekers back to Honduras

by Nicole Narea
A family of Honduran asylum seekers stands on the international bridge from Mexico to the United States on December 9, 2019, in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. | John Moore/Getty Images

Deportations will go into effect in the coming weeks.

The Trump administration finalized an agreement Thursday that would allow the US to deport migrants seeking protection at the US-Mexico border back to Honduras.

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf arrived in Honduras Thursday to go over the implementation of the agreement with President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is facing prosecution in the US for allegedly accepting campaign contributions from drug traffickers.

Wolf announced in an address in Tegucigalpa that the agreement, originally signed in September, would go into effect in a matter of weeks.

“We plan to implement in phases, to gradually roll out the program while working through operational considerations and questions on a small scale,” Wolf said.

The US has brokered similar agreements with Guatemala and El Salvador, though only the agreement with Guatemala has gone into effect so far. Hundreds of thousands have fled violence and the lack of economic opportunity in the region, which is known as Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” over the past year.

The agreements resemble “safe third country agreements” — a rarely used diplomatic tool that requires migrants to seek asylum in the countries they pass through by deeming those countries capable of offering them protection — although the Trump administration has been reluctant to use that term. Until recently, the US had this kind of agreement with just one country: Canada.

The administration has sought such agreements in Central America as a means of achieving President Donald Trump’s goal of driving down the number of migrants seeking refuge at the US southern border by sending them back to the countries they came from and passed through. But immigrant advocates argue that sending migrants back to those countries could have deadly consequences.

Honduras remains a hotbed of gang violence, largely perpetrated by the international criminal gang MS-13, which formed in Los Angeles and was transplanted to Central America after mass deportations of unauthorized immigrants with criminal histories in the 1990s. The gangs facilitate drug trafficking, extort local residents, and force teenage boys to join.

Honduras has the fifth-highest homicide rate worldwide, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as rampant government corruption and high rates of violence against women and LGBTQ individuals.

Honduras also produces high numbers of people seeking asylum: In 2017, the most recent year for which asylum data is available, the US granted asylum to 2,048 migrants from Honduras, compared to 1,048 from Mexico, 3,471 from El Salvador and 2,954 from Guatemala.

DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the specific terms of the Honduran agreement.

Wolf announced the asylum agreement Thursday alongside separate agreements addressing Honduran border security, information sharing with US authorities, and economic development.

Under those agreements, the Trump administration will be able to deploy US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to Honduras in order to “support the capacity-building efforts of the Honduran migration, border security and customs counterparts, working together to target the gangs and cartels that spread corruption, violence and fear in Honduras,” Wolf said.

The Honduran government will also share biometric data with US authorities in order to combat crime, drug and human trafficking, and other security threats.

Furthermore, the US will expand and streamline the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program for Honduran farmworkers to ensure that they are not “victimized in seeking legal migration,” Wolf said. The US government’s International Development Finance Corporation, which attracts private investment in developing countries, has also invested $235 million in Honduras and will continue to work to spur economic growth, he added.

09 Jan 22:37

Protect Your Baby From Strangers' Germs with a 'No Touch' Sign

by Meghan Moravcik Walbert

There’s this thing that happens when a person sees a brand new human. Their hands, which just moments before they had complete control over, turn into large magnets that pull straight up and out with a primal need to touch that baby. It’s bad enough to endure months of randoms rubbing your pregnant stomach; now all…

Read more...

09 Jan 22:36

Trump has created a loophole to allow pipelines to avoid environmental review

by Katelyn Burns
Construction in December of the SUNOCO Mariner II East Pipeline in Exton, Pennsylvania. Residents and local officials have expressed strong opposition to the pipelines carrying fracked gas liquids to be shipped overseas for plastics manufacturing. | Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images

It’s one of the biggest deregulatory changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act in nearly three decades.

President Donald Trump’s administration is about to make it easier for companies to build pipelines, bridges, and roads without an environmental review — opening the door to projects that could pollute the US and accelerate climate change.

The proposed rule, first reported by the New York Times and announced by Trump Thursday, would be the biggest deregulatory change to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act in nearly three decades. Currently, all major federal construction projects must undergo a mandatory review, or environmental impact statement, if they’re expected to have major effects on the surrounding ecosystem. However, the new standard would create a new “non-major” project category, allowing smaller federal infrastructure projects to begin construction without a review.

Trump’s administration — which has waged a widespread campaign to roll back environmental regulations and protections — had hinted this was coming.

“While the goals of NEPA remain the same as they did 50 years ago, the environmental review process designed to improve decision making has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate,” the White House said in a January 1 statement on the landmark legislation’s anniversary.

Industry organizations, such as the American Petroleum Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, and several transportation groups, had been seeking such a change for years. Many of them complained in a November letter to Mary Neumayr, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, about the lengthy environmental review process, which they contended currently takes an average of almost six years and can produce reports that encompass hundreds of pages — a message that resonated with the Trump administration.

Announcing the change Thursday, Trump said too many projects are “tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process.” Under the proposal, reports will now be subject to page limits and must be completed within two years.

However, the rule’s broad language may allow for some large construction projects to skip a review.

According to the New York Times, one administration official familiar with the changes said there will be no set dollar figure for separating major from non-major projects, which could open the door for “major mining, drilling and other projects to avoid environmental assessments.”

The proposed rule also does not mention climate change but could pose problems for federal agencies’ efforts to combat it, according to the Times report:

The changes would also eliminate the need for agencies to consider the “cumulative impacts” of projects, which in recent years courts have said include studying the planet-warming consequences of emitting more greenhouse gases.

And not only will they not have to account for a project’s impact on climate change, but agencies also won’t have to examine whether rising sea levels or other effects of climate change will compromise a bridge or road’s safety in the future.

Trump’s attacks on the environment

Thursday’s announced rule change is just the latest in the Trump administration’s years of assault on environmental regulations. Despite vague campaign promises to “promote clean air and water,” the New York Times has identified 58 separate rules rolling back environmental protections that have completed the administrative process, and 37 more that are still in the works.

The rollbacks span across the environmental spectrum, from clean air and water rules, to loosening regulations governing oil and gas extraction, to wildlife protections. And the president, long a climate change skeptic, is taking the steps to fulfill a campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris climate accords.

Last month, Trump ordered an administrative review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which encourages use of low-flow bathroom fixtures such as toilets and showers. “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once. They end up using more water,” Trump said at the time.

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

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

...

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

Democratic-controlled state governments and environmental advocates have turned to the courts to fight back against the administration’s loosening regulatory agenda. In August last year, more than 20 states sued the EPA over a rollback of climate change rules for power plants. In September, 22 Democratic states sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division within the Department of Transportation, over a rule that revoked states’ rights to set their own vehicle emissions standards.

A similar fate could be in store for the administration’s latest proposed rule. The Environmental Protection Act requires that all federal projects undergo an environmental impact study, and it’s unclear whether that portion of the law can be changed by administrative fiat. “A regulation can’t change the requirements of a statute as interpreted by the courts,” Richard Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University, told the Times.

In fact, he said that the loosened regulations could lead to more lawsuits against individual infrastructure and energy projects, which could exacerbate the long construction delays the proposed rule seeks to bring to an end.

09 Jan 22:35

Facebook paid Teen Vogue to run a fake article praising Facebook for "helping ensure the integrity of the 2020 election"

by Mark Frauenfelder

Everyone knows Facebook is doing the opposite of helping ensure the integrity of the 2020 election, so it makes sense it would pay Teen Vogue to run a fake article titled “How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Election.”

When the article ran on Wednesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s machiavellian chief operating officer posted on her Facebook page, "Great Teen Vogue piece about five incredible women protecting elections on Facebook. Since 2016, we've worked to stop the spread of misinformation, fight foreign interference and voter suppression, improve transparency, and encourage people to vote." Lol.

Shortly after the byline-free "article" ran, a notice appeared at the top, which said, “Editor’s note: This is sponsored editorial content.” A little while later, the piece disappeared entirely.

The curious piece, and its sudden disappearance, became a topic of online conversation, prompting Teen Vogue to issue a statement that read, “We made a series of errors labeling this piece, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused. We don’t take our audience’s trust for granted, and ultimately decided that the piece should be taken down entirely to avoid further confusion."

The New York Times looked into it and got the story:

Facebook pitched the idea for the article last year, when the social media network and the online magazine were in talks about the Teen Vogue Summit, a three-day event that took place in Los Angeles in November, with speakers including the YouTube star Liza Koshy and the film director Greta Gerwig. Facebook was a sponsor of the gathering.

“We had a paid partnership with Teen Vogue related to their women’s summit, which included sponsored content,” Facebook said in a statement. “Our team understood this story was purely editorial, but there was a misunderstanding.”

The next time Facebook wants to propagandize it should stick to doing what it's good at and just hire Cambridge Analytica to run a thought-control campaign on its behalf.

09 Jan 22:33

Evidence is mounting that Iran accidentally shot down the Ukraine flight

by Alex Ward
Rescue workers at the site of the Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, on January 8, 2020. | Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

If true, this significantly raises the death toll in the US-Iran conflict.

Iran may not have killed US troops in its retaliatory strikes in Iraq on Tuesday night, but it’s looking more and more like the country did kill civilians, albeit likely unwittingly: the 176 passengers of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.

Just a few hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two US military targets in Iraq Tuesday night, Flight 752, which was flying from Tehran to Kyiv, crashed minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport, killing all 176 people on board — half of whom were Iranian.

Iran has so far maintained the crash was not caused by any military action. But multiple news outlets are now reporting that unnamed US officials have assessed that Iran shot down the passenger plane with an anti-aircraft missile.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking during a Thursday afternoon press conference in Ottawa, said his nation — which had at least 63 of its citizens on board — had intelligence pointing to Iran as the culprit.

 Dave Chan/AFP via Getty Images
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) speaks during a news conference alongside Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan (center) and Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, on January 9, 2020.

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence,” Trudeau said at a press conference. “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. It may well have been unintentional.”

Trudeau declined to elaborate on the evidence but said these developments confirmed “the need to have an in-depth investigation into this matter.”

Moments after Trudeau finished speaking, the New York Times published a video purportedly showing a surface-to-air missile hitting the jetliner in midair. While the video is grainy and the camera is far from the scene, it shows an explosion at the point of impact. The plane, according to the Times, didn’t immediately come down; ablaze, it flew back toward the airport in Tehran before exploding and dropping quickly.

Iran’s culpability still has not been officially confirmed, and the investigation is ongoing. But the evidence increasingly suggests the Islamic Republic is responsible. If true, it would mean the death toll in the current US-Iran conflict has risen significantly, and horrifically.

“War is never cost-free”

The narrative after Tuesday’s strikes was that President Donald Trump had “won” the flare-up with Iran. Killing military leader Qassem Soleimani not only avenged the murder of an American contractor by an Iranian-backed militia but also deterred Tehran from further escalating the months-long standoff. That assessment was based on each side losing only one citizen before tensions calmed.

But that narrative is increasingly being called into question as evidence grows that nearly 180 people may have lost their lives as a result of Iran’s decision to aggressively retaliate against the US.

 Pavlo Bagmut/Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Flowers at the portraits of nine crew members who were among 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, at Boryspil International Airport, in northern Ukraine.

Based on the New York Times video and other reports, it looks like the Islamic Republic’s air defenses near Tehran were on high alert and mistook the commercial jet for an American warplane. If that’s the case, it was an accident.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t avoidable. Iran and those pushing for conflict — including some current and former top Trump administration officials — own this grave error.

“War is never cost free,” Ilan Goldenberg, an Iran expert at the Center for a New American Security, tweeted on Thursday afternoon.

It’s a brutal historical irony that another airliner has fallen amid a US-Iran squabble. In 1988, the missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 people on board. The US warship thought the passenger plane was a fighter jet.

That tragedy lives long in Iranian memory, and the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted about that incident in a Twitter quarrel with Trump on Monday.

It will take time for more information to come out about who is to blame for the crash. But for now this tragedy reminds us that these conflicts — even ones that last a short time — have severe consequences.

09 Jan 22:30

US Government-funded Android phones come preinstalled with unremovable malware

by Dan Goodin
US Government-funded Android phones come preinstalled with unremovable malware

Enlarge (credit: portal gda / flickr)

An Android phone subsidized by the US government for low-income users comes preinstalled with malware that can't be removed without making the device cease to work, researchers reported on Thursday.

The UMX U686CL is provided by Virgin Mobile's Assurance Wireless program. Assurance Wireless is an offshoot of the Lifeline Assistance program, a Federal Communications Commissions plan that makes free or government-subsidized phones service available to millions of low-income families. The program is often referred to as the Obama Phone because it expanded in 2008, when President Barack Obama took office. The UMX U686CL runs Android and is available for $35 to qualifying users.

Researchers at Malwarebytes said on Thursday that the device comes with some nasty surprises. Representatives of Sprint, the owner of Virgin Mobile, meanwhile said it didn't believe the apps were malicious.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

09 Jan 20:02

After months of controversy, the Romance Writers of America’s leaders have resigned.

by Corinne Segal

Romance Writers of America president Damon Suede and executive director Carol Ritter announced Thursday that they were resigning following a protracted controversy over the organization’s suspension of a member who called another writer’s work racist.

Suede’s resignation is “effective immediately,” while Ritter will stay with the organization for months as it transitions to new leadership. The RWA board’s announcement said it was hiring outside legal council to review the entire chain of events and that it would hire a new “diversity, equity and inclusion consultant.” The statement also pledged transparency to its members.

The resignations were the culmination of events that began last summer when Courtney Milan, a Chinese American writer, criticized Kathryn Lynn Davis’ 1999 novel Somewhere Lies the Moon as a “racist mess” in a series of tweets. Milan pointed to the novel’s description of a character’s “yellow” skin and “slanted almond eyes,” along with its description of Chinese women as submissive, among other language reinforcing racist stereotypes.

In response, Davis filed a formal complaint with the RWA, saying she had been cyber-bullied and that Milan’s tweets had been harmful to her career. The complaint itself is a doozy, hitting pretty much every nerve of recent debates around authorship and race, including the claim that because the book was written in the 1990s, it is “both immune from and irrelevant to current judgments of racist literature.” (Okay.) Member Suzan Tisdale (who is, like Davis, a white woman) also filed a complaint.

In December, the RWA suspended Milan, who is a former board member and former chair of the organization’s ethics committee, for a year. The organization also banned her from holding a leadership position with any chapter of the organization for life. (You can read their full decision here.)

The release of that decision, just in time for the holidays, brought a huge backlash: Romance writer Twitter exploded. Board president Carolyn Jewel, along with eight board members, resigned. So many writers and judges withdrew from this year’s RITA Awards, the RWA’s annual awards, that the organization cancelled them. A number of romance publishers, including Harlequin and Avon, said they were pulling out of the RWA’s annual conference.

And there’s been new pressure on the RWA’s leadership to resign, including from several dozen RWA chapter leaders, who said in a Dec. 26 letter that “RWA needs to carve a new path forward and this cannot happen with the existing leadership in place.”

As the last few weeks have upended the RWA, some writers have called it a long-overdue reckoning with the way authors of color are treated in the romance writing community. The Washington Post noted that although the RWA was founded by a black woman, Vivian Stephens, in 1980, it did not award a black author at the RITAs until Kennedy Ryan and M. Malone received awards in 2019.

“We may not always get it right, but we will do our best, we will be honest and transparent, we will own our mistakes, and we will listen to our community,” the board’s statement said. “We hope you will join us—collaboratively and productively—in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future. We believe this community is worth saving.”

09 Jan 19:31

The rise in meth and cocaine overdoses, explained

by German Lopez
Activists on August 17, 2017, call on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to take bolder action to reduce drug overdoses. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

America’s drug overdose crisis could be reaching a new phase.

America’s drug overdose crisis is still largely dominated by opioid overdose deaths. But stimulants like cocaine and especially methamphetamine seem poised for a comeback.

Provisional federal data suggests that national overdose deaths linked to psychostimulants, such as meth, spiked by more than 21 percent from 2017 to 2018. Overdose deaths linked to cocaine increased by around 5 percent.

That isn’t the only evidence: A recent research letter published in JAMA Network Open analyzing more than 1 million drug testing results from routine health care settings found positive hits for meth were up nearly 487 percent from 2013 to 2019, and positive hits for cocaine were up nearly 21 percent.

Experts worry that the numbers for stimulants could foreshadow a larger epidemic — a potential “fourth wave” in the overdose crisis that’s killed more than 700,000 people in the US since 1999.

“Every opioid epidemic in American history has been followed by a stimulant epidemic,” Stanford drug policy expert Keith Humphreys told me.

The numbers for meth and cocaine are still dwarfed by opioids. In 2018, there were more than 13,000 estimated overdose deaths linked to stimulants, particularly meth, and more than 15,700 linked to cocaine, according to the provisional data. Meanwhile, there were nearly 48,000 overdose deaths linked to opioids. Synthetic opioids excluding methadone — a category that mainly captures fentanyl — were associated with more than double the fatal overdoses linked to cocaine or meth alone. (There’s some overlap between drugs in the figures, because overdoses can involve multiple drugs.)

But there are reasons to believe the crisis is broader than just opioids. A 2018 study in Science found that, while drug overdose deaths spiked in the 1990s and 2000s with the opioid epidemic, there has been “exponential growth” in overdose deaths since 1979. That suggests that America’s drug problem is getting worse in general, regardless of which drug is involved.

“My question: Why are we as a country vulnerable to all of these drugs?” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told me. “What has happened that has made it possible for these drugs to take hold in a dramatic way?”

The answers to those questions could require a shift in how America approaches drugs, focusing not just on the substances making headlines but also addiction more broadly and the causes of addiction. It would mean building a comprehensive addiction treatment system that’s equipped to deal with all kinds of drugs. And it could require looking at issues that aren’t seemingly drug-related at first, like whether socioeconomic and cultural forces are driving people to use more drugs.

Drug epidemics are often cyclical

In the 1960s and ’70s, heroin was the big drug of public concern. In the 1980s, it was crack cocaine. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was meth. Over the past decade and a half, opioid painkillers, heroin, and then fentanyl became the center of America’s drug problem.

It’s not clear if the next phase is here yet — opioids are still a huge problem — but the worry is stimulants will start to pick up if opioids plateau and fall.

“The drugs are driven by fads, a little bit of fashion,” Volkow said. “So you have eras when you have a flourishing of a particular drug and then another one takes over.”

According to experts, there are many reasons for that. One is supply. Starting with the launch of OxyContin in 1996, there was a huge proliferation of opioid painkillers, letting people try and misuse the drugs. That was followed by waves of heroin and fentanyl as traffickers tried to capitalize on the demand for opioids jump-started by painkillers. Some research shows the supply of prescription opioids was a key driver in the rise of the current overdose crisis.

There are now reports of drug cartels producing and shipping more meth than before across the US-Mexico border — a shift from the homegrown market of the 1990s and 2000s. And in general, illicit drugs have become cheaper and, in some cases, more potent over time. Federal data tracking the street price and potency of the drugs tells the story: In 1986, for example, meth was on average $575 per pure gram and on average at 52 percent purity; in 2012, it was $194 per pure gram and 91 percent purity. The price drop is similar for other drugs, though purity levels have fluctuated depending on the substance.

This makes it cheaper for someone to start using drugs. The central focus of the US war on drugs for decades has been to prevent this — by fighting drug traffickers and dealers — but it’s failed as drug cartels have consistently remained ahead of the authorities, bolstered by new technologies and globalization making it cheaper and easier to ship drugs around the world.

New demand for drugs is also a major factor for new epidemics — as people could, for example, want to supplant or enhance their opioid use with stimulants. Maybe they mix opioids with cocaine (a “speedball”) or meth (a “goofball”) because they like the mixed effects. Maybe they use stimulants after heroin or fentanyl to wake themselves up. Maybe they want to stop using opioids, whether due to the risk of overdose or some other reason, and believe stimulants are a better option.

“People get tired of it — have been there, done that, and move on,” Steven Shoptaw, a psychologist and researcher at UCLA, told me. “There is some of that with all addictions. Some people walk away from [opioid addiction], which is great. But then they walk away from it by using stimulants.”

Humphreys noted an important factor in this cycle: “Probably more Americans than ever know a drug dealer.” As millions of Americans have misused and gotten addicted to opioids, they’ve established ties with drug dealers that they didn’t have before. That makes it easier to go from heroin or fentanyl to meth or cocaine.

Underlying all of this, Volkow argued, is a sense that something deeper has gone wrong in society. She pointed to the research by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton showing that there’s been a rise in “deaths of despair” — drug overdoses, but also alcohol-related mortality and suicides. Case and Deaton have pinned the rise on all sorts of issues, including the collapse of economic opportunities in much of the country, a growing sense of social isolation, and untreated mental health issues.

“If all of these social factors were there, and we didn’t have the supply of drugs, of course people would not be dying of overdoses,” Volkow said. “But it is the confluence of the widespread markets of drugs — that are very accessible and very potent — and the social-cultural factors that are making people despair and seek out these drugs as a way of escaping.”

One caveat to all of this: Not every place in the US is following the same drug trends. According to the Science study and the provisional federal data, meth has historically been more popular in the southwest, while fentanyl has been more widespread in the northeast. Researchers have warned that could change if, for example, fentanyl reaches California in a big way. But it goes to show that what looks like a national epidemic or trendline could also be regional epidemics, with different populations and demographics, separately rising and falling.

Different drugs can merit different policy responses

There are things that can be done to combat drug epidemics in general.

One option is to attempt to reduce supply, as the drug war has generally focused on for decades. Plenty of critics are extremely skeptical of this, pointing to the fact that illegal substances have only gotten cheaper and continued flowing into the US since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs.

But some work by Jon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, indicates that prohibition makes drugs as much as 10 times more expensive than they would be otherwise — making the drugs less accessible and less ripe for an epidemic. There’s a logic in that: If drug dealers and traffickers have to grow, ship, and sell drugs while actively evading law enforcement, and therefore can’t built up the kind of mass production seen in legal markets, that adds costs.

Another potential policy response is to address what some experts call the root causes of drug addiction — by rebuilding economic opportunities, helping people feel more connected, or addressing mental health issues. There’s some real-world evidence this could work: Iceland set up an anti-drug plan focused largely on providing kids and adolescents with after-school activities, which journalist Emma Young described as “a social movement around natural highs,” and saw drug use fall among younger populations in the subsequent years.

There are other possible prevention efforts, such as doctors more routinely screening for drug addictions or public awareness and education campaigns (although, as the surgeon general’s 2016 addiction report cautioned, some types of campaigns work better than others).

“The most impactful intervention that you can do for a medical condition is prevent it,” Volkow argued.

Broadly, the US also needs to invest much more on addiction treatment. According to the surgeon general’s report, only about one in 10 people with a substance use disorder obtain specialty care, largely because it’s inaccessible and unaffordable. More money to addiction care could help boost access, although that would have to be paired with an emphasis on more evidence-based practices.

At the same time, a one-size-fits-all approach for all drugs is going to fall short.

For one, drugs are simply different from each other. For opioids, the biggest health risk is a fatal overdose. For stimulants like cocaine and meth, overdose is still a major concern, but the bigger health risk is the long-term damage the drugs do to the brain and cardiovascular system.

From a harm-reduction standpoint, this means that simply averting overdoses can do a lot to prevent the worst health risk of opioids, even if someone continues using for years. But for stimulants, deadly harms can’t be fully reduced until levels of consumption are reduced as well. So, for example, safe consumption sites, in which trained staff supervise drug use, might have more protective benefits for opioids than stimulants. (Still, the sites can provide a lot of other services for people who use stimulants, like sterile syringes, advice on how to use as safely as possible, and a connection to addiction treatment.)

Along similar lines, treatment is, for now, more effective for opioids than it is for stimulants. For opioids, we have effective medications in buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, which, according to studies, cut the mortality rate among opioid addiction patients by half or more and keep people in treatment better than non-medication approaches. In France, the expansion of buprenorphine was a major factor in a 79 percent drop in overdoses from 1995 to 1999.

There aren’t equivalent medications for stimulant addiction. In fact, the only treatment that really stands out for stimulants, according to a recent review of the research in The Lancet, is contingency management, which provides incentives, financial or otherwise, to keep people from using drugs. But this treatment is controversial — not many people want to pay people who use drugs to stop using drugs. So it’s hugely underused in addiction treatment, outside of the Veterans Affairs health care system.

So simply building up America’s addiction treatment system isn’t enough to address all of the country’s drug problems. What kinds of treatment are done and how different drugs are treated also matter. And in the case of stimulants, treatment is probably going to produce disappointing results unless treatment facilities adopt an approach many are averse to and until researchers uncover better approaches.

This is why experts and advocates have long warned about focusing too much on the drug crisis of the day. While the opioid epidemic is a problem that needs to be addressed now, it’s important to be realistic about what could come next — and taking steps to prevent not just the current kind of drug crisis but also what could follow.

“We do have a problem in the US of tending to think of one drug at a time,” Humphreys said. “During the ’90s, everyone was worried about meth, but there were plenty of people dying of alcohol. During the ’80s, crack cocaine, even though plenty of people were dying of heroin.”

The recent rise in stimulant deaths, though, suggests that America remains unprepared.

09 Jan 19:11

Doctors are doing unnecessary pelvic exams on teens

by Anna North
A gynecological exam room with long medical table. A gynecological exam room at a hospital in Rouen, France. | BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty

It’s part of a bigger problem.

More than a million girls and young women have gotten an unnecessary medical procedure in recent years that could traumatize them or jeopardize their ability to carry a pregnancy to term.

That procedure is the Pap test, a common way of screening for cervical cancer. For some patients, the test can be an important way to catch abnormal cells that could turn cancerous. But it’s not recommended in women under 21, because bodies before that age are very likely to clear the abnormal cells on their own.

Despite the recommendation, however, a study published this week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine estimates that 1.6 million girls and women between the ages of 15 and 20 were given the test unnecessarily between 2011 and 2017. The consequences could be serious: The exams, which require a doctor to take a small amount of tissue from the cervix, could be traumatic for people who have experienced sexual abuse. And overtesting could lead to treatment of cervical lesions that would have resolved on their own — which could raise patients’ risk of giving birth prematurely later in life.

“We’re constantly trying to figure out how to balance benefits and harms when it comes to prevention, and sometimes less is more,” Dr. George Sawaya, the study’s senior author, told Vox.

It’s not entirely clear why so many girls and women are getting unnecessary tests. But one possible reason is doctors’ fear that if patients are required to get a yearly Pap test, they won’t come in for care at all.

In reality, doctors and reproductive health advocates say fear of Pap tests and pelvic exams keeps patients away from the doctor’s office. And many argue that subjecting people to unnecessary tests isn’t the way to promote public health.

“No one’s ability to get health care should be held hostage to an invasive procedure,” Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of the group URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, told Vox.

Pap tests and pelvic exams aren’t recommended for most teens. Doctors are doing them anyway.

Invented in the 1920s, the Papanicolaou (Pap) test became common in the 1940s as an annual screening for cervical cancer. It is done by inserting a speculum into the patient’s vagina, then gathering cells from the cervix. The cells are then tested for abnormalities that could lead to cancer. It’s been highly effective — between 1955 and 1992, the death rate from cervical cancer in the US declined 70 percent.

But in recent years, experts have questioned whether the test really needs to be performed every year, for every patient.

In 2009, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued new guidelines stating that there was no need to perform the test on most patients younger than 21 (previously, ACOG recommended that patients start getting tested three years after they became sexually active). For most patients over 21, ACOG recommended the test every two to three years rather than every year. (Today, ACOG says many patients 30 and over can be tested every five years, if they get an HPV test along with the Pap.)

Patients with HIV or certain other conditions may still need to be screened more often, ACOG notes. And the group still recommends that girls and women have an annual visit with an OB-GYN for testing and counseling around sexual health and other issues.

The Pap test is often performed along with a pelvic exam, in which a doctor inserts two fingers into the vagina and feels the reproductive organs to look for signs of sexually transmitted infections or other conditions. In 2009, ACOG also recommended that pelvic exams not be performed on patients under 21, except in special cases. The exam is often unnecessary, experts say, because doctors can use less invasive methods, like a urine test, to screen for STIs.

But according to the new study by Sawaya and his team, a lot of doctors didn’t get the message.

In a nationwide survey conducted between 2011 and 2017, about 2.2 million girls and young women between the ages and 15 and 20 said they had gotten a Pap test in the past 12 months. Sawaya’s team found that for about 1.6 million of those patients, the test was potentially unnecessary, meaning there was likely no high-risk condition warranting it.

The researchers also found that 2.6 million patients in that age group had received a pelvic exam in the past 12 months, and that 1.4 million of those exams had no compelling medical reason.

These tests aren’t just unwarranted, the researchers say — for some patients, they can be actively harmful. Many young patients associate pelvic exams with “fear, anxiety, embarrassment, discomfort, and pain,” Sawaya and his team write.

Those effects can be even more severe in survivors of sexual assault, people who have experienced traumatic births, and people who have experienced discrimination from health care providers, like trans or nonbinary patients, McGuire, the URGE executive director, said. For survivors of sexual assault, “it may take a whole series of support conversations, and bringing someone with you, and a ton of courage to be able to go and get a Pap test,” she said. “If it is not strictly necessary, if it is not protecting their health, then it is causing harm.”

Meanwhile, unnecessary Pap tests can lead to unnecessary treatment of abnormalities that might have gone away on their own. Surgery to remove such abnormalities has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight if patients later get pregnant, one of the reasons ACOG changed its guidelines in the first place.

These unnecessary procedures could also be driving up costs for insurers and patients — the authors estimated that unnecessary pelvic exams and Paps cost more than $123 million a year.

The unnecessary tests point to bigger problems with American health care

Overall, the study is a reminder of the inequalities in the American health care system, McGuire said. One the one hand, large numbers of young people every year are being subjected to unnecessary procedures. On the other hand, many people of all ages, especially low-income Americans and people of color, are unable to access Pap tests and other reproductive health care because of lack of insurance, distance to a clinic, and other barriers. Black and Latina women are more likely to get cervical cancer than women of other races and ethnicities, and lack of screening is likely a factor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are folks who have waited years and struggled just to get one Pap smear,” McGuire said.

In cases where people are getting too much care rather than not enough, it’s not clear why doctors are continuing to perform unnecessary tests. “It’s probably people just following the script of what they learned many years ago,” Sawaya said.

Another possible reason for the resistance: When the new guidelines were first introduced in 2009, some doctors were worried that if patients heard they didn’t need yearly Paps, they wouldn’t come in for other necessary care, like STI testing.

Sawaya says he still hears that concern from doctors today, but he and others say it’s misguided. “From my experience, patients are often deterred from, not drawn to, clinic by the prospects of a pelvic exam,” Dr. Mai-Anh Tran Ngoc, an adolescent medicine specialist and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Vox in an email.

Meanwhile, the idea that girls and young women need to be pushed into health care with treatments that aren’t necessary “speaks to a kind of condescension that is unfortunately all too prevalent in the medical establishment,” McGuire said.

“We need to respect young people,” she added. “We need to respect women and people of color and our ability to make our own decisions about what is best for our health.”

09 Jan 19:08

Civil FOSTA Suits Start Showing Up In Court; Prove That FOSTA Supporters Were 100% Wrong About Who Would Be Targeted

by Mike Masnick

During the run up to the passage of FOSTA, we were told two key things: (1) the law was absolutely necessary to stop sex trafficking websites like Backpage, and (2) that there was no way that the law would be abused to go after perfectly innocent websites. It's pretty easy to show that both of these claims turned out to be utter bullshit. The first one was especially easy, seeing as the Feds seized the site and arrested its founders a week before FOSTA became law. The second has taken somewhat longer to show, in part because for a long while no one actually seemed to be making use of FOSTA. For a law that we were told was absolutely necessary and that any delay in passing it would mean lives put at risk, it has been notable just how few actual lawsuits have been filed under FOSTA in the 18 months or so since it became law. State attorneys general, who pushed strongly for it, claiming they needed this hole in Section 230 to go after bad actor websites have still never used the law. Not once.

However, a few civil suits have just started to show up, as highlighted in a guest post at Eric Goldman's blog by FOSTA expert Alex Yelderman. She first points to two nearly identical lawsuits filed in state courts (one in Washington, one in California) against Craigslist and a bunch of hotels. Craigslist has sought to remove both to federal court as of early December. Both cases push, as Yelderman notes, "radical theories of liability" aimed at Craigslist. They also target activities that happened prior to FOSTA becoming law (as you may recall, Craigslist shut down its "erotic services" section all the way back in 2010, and then shut down all dating after FOSTA became law, noting that the liability risk was just too much).

That hasn't stopped the company from getting sued under the law, though, with it claiming that just the mere fact that Craigslist had such a section a decade ago proves that it was engaged in sex trafficking under FOSTA. As Yelderman points out, the fact that FOSTA is apparently retroactive and can reach back to such things, will almost certainly be found unconstitutional. As you may recall, even the DOJ told Congress this part was unconstitutional.

Even beyond that aspect, though, the claims in the lawsuit are crazy. They assume that FOSTA removed the requirement for knowledge on the part of intermediaries like Craigslist, even though supporters of the law insisted that wasn't the case. Indeed, a key part of the DOJ's defense of FOSTA in the Woodhull case that challenged the law (and which the district court rejected), was that FOSTA made no such change. As Yelderman explains:

The plaintiffs do not allege that craigslist knew anything about them specifically being trafficked — in fact, they count themselves among “thousands of victims” — but rather claim that the website was aware “that its erotic services section was well known to commercial sex customers throughout the United States as a place to easily locate victims for [SIC] as commodities, unpunished, anonymous, sexual abuse of children” and that once craigslist had been put “on notice of the human sex trafficking” (“from numerous sources, including but not limited to; lawsuits, government action, public outcry, news media, victims, activities and employee observation”), its ongoing operation “amounted to a venture with sex traffickers to efficiently market victims such as [the] Plaintiff.” (emphasis added)

This is a radical theory of liability, and raises the question: did FOSTA’s definition of “participation in a venture,” codified in 18 U.S.C. § 1591(e)(4), eliminate the requirement that federal trafficking defendants (including, now, intermediaries) have actual knowledge of trafficking? The government in Woodhull assured that court that “FOSTA changed nothing about Section 1591’s scienter standard,” and that a plaintiff “cannot credibly fear criminal or civil liability [if] it has no specific knowledge about the content of any of the material it obtains” or “be prosecuted under FOSTA [if] it has no knowledge about any individual webpage nor criminal intent.” (Defendants’ reply and supplement at 7, 8, emphasis added)). But even if craigslist ends up prevailing, the fact that the cases were filed at all sounds the alarm on FOSTA’s reach, and shows the Woodhull plaintiffs’ fear to be entirely reasonable

The other case that Yelderman highlights deserves even more scrutiny. It was filed against Mailchimp back in November, and I had meant to write it up at the time, but did not get the chance. It was filed by the same lawyer who has been filing a bunch of similar cases, including the nonsense cases against Salesforce, because Backpage used Salesforce. The lawyer behind those cases, Annie McAdams, even got herself quite a profile in the NY Times, where she meets the NY Times reporter at "her favorite Tex-Mex joint in Houston" and proceeds to brag that "she had acquired the restaurant’s secret margarita recipe in legal discovery when she sued the place for serving a man too much alcohol."

Bragging about abusing the law and the courts for personal gain in a NY Times profile says something about you. For what it's worth, McAdams' Twitter account currently has exactly two tweets (it's possible she's deleted others), with the first one being her getting angry at me for referring to her lawsuits as "nuisance suits." Quite a person there.

Either way, the claims against Mailchimp are absolutely the kinds of things we all warned would happen when FOSTA was being debated, and which FOSTA supporters insisted would never happen. The crux of the lawsuit is that when a Backpage clone, called YesBackpage, tried to startup after Backpage was seized, the site used Mailchimp for emails, and thus that makes it liable under FOSTA.

YesBackpage used Mail Chimp technology to enable efficient and targeted communication between itself and sex traffickers.

MailChimp was thereby an active party in the process of soliciting and fulfilling acts of sex trafficking.

MailChimp’s integrated communications software was used together to track postings of illegal advertisements, encourage greater use of these advertisements by traffickers, and effectively promote sex trafficking on an unprecedented scale.

MailChimp was the key technology used to unify the various digital components of the sex trafficking transaction, including the use of email to increase more advertising, more consumption of those ads, and thereby facilitate more sex trafficking.

Even if this lawsuit gets tossed out (as it should), the theory behind it is scary and worrisome. As Yelderman writes:

This case alleges that MailChimp — a marketing platform — “made available its marketing resources and expertise” to a Backpage copycat website and that “MailChimp’s marketing relationship with YesBackpage makes it responsible for its natural consequences — the sex trafficking of Jane Doe.” (Doe v. MailChimp complaint at 12). This view of “natural consequences” is breathtaking. Once MailChimp became “[a]rmed with knowledge of activity occurring through YesBackpage,” any services performed for the website would presumably constitute “participation in a [sex trafficking] venture.” There is no limiting factor in sight.

When sex trafficking is somehow construed as the “natural consequence” of a virtually any action, virtually no person or entity is safe from the threat of liability.

These are the kinds of things many of us worried about (and warned Congress about) in the run-up to SESTA/FOSTA, and we were told we were crazy. Yet, looking at the actual lawsuits filed under FOSTA seems to prove we were 100% correct.

What's even more troubling, through, is that they also show just how wrong the district court judge in the Woodhull case was to dismiss that case. The judge dismissed that case insisting that FOSTA included clear language that barred such widespread interpretations:

... plaintiffs ignore key textual indications that make clear that FOSTA targets specific acts of illegal prostitution not the abstract topic of prostitution or sex work.

That's certainly not how the lawyers who filed the lawsuits above see it. At the very least, one hopes that the DC Appeals court recognizes this in deciding the Woodhull appeal. If not, then hopefully one of these or related cases makes its way up to an appeals court and gets FOSTA itself tossed for any of the variety of problems the law has created for speech online.



Permalink | Comments | Email This Story
09 Jan 19:02

Remember Brexit? It just got one step closer to happening.

by Jen Kirby
Brexit British lawmakers approve the Brexit bill in the House of Commons on January 9, 2020. | Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images

The Brexit bill cleared the House of Commons in a pretty humdrum vote.

Megxit might be getting more attention than Brexit this week (also some other things), but there’s actually some Brexit news happening: The United Kingdom just came one step closer to leaving the European Union at the end of January.

On Thursday, the UK House of Commons easily approved the legislation needed to codify the Brexit deal into UK law, voting 330 to 231. The bill will now go to the House of Lords, Parliament’s other chamber, where it will also be voted on, and officially become law later this month.

Which means the UK will be out of the EU, finally, by January 31, 2020.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed what a difference an 80-seat Conservative majority makes, which he won in last month’s elections. Unlike Brexit votes past, complicated by close votes and lots of amendments and roadblocking from rebel lawmakers, this process has been very drama-free.

Indeed, almost exactly a year ago, then-Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a historic and humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal. This time around, Johnson swiftly and decisively passed a revised version of her agreement. The House of Commons gave its initial approval to this legislation in late December and just returned from vacation on Tuesday, meaning everything got wrapped up in about three days.

Now the Brexit legislation goes to the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber, where it will face its next test.

While the House of Lords might take issue with parts of the Brexit legislation, it isn’t likely to derail Brexit. The chamber traditionally respects the elected majority, and Johnson and the Conservatives are doing exactly what they promised in their election manifesto. A spokesperson for the prime minister said the government wants to get this legislation through both houses of Parliament “as smoothly as possible.”

Instead, everyone is starting to look toward the next stage: the negotiations on the post-divorce EU-UK relationship. Those are expected to start on February 1, a day after the UK officially quits the bloc. EU leaders are very publicly casting doubt on Johnson’s ambitious timeline of getting everything sorted by the end of 2020.

So the Brexit chaos isn’t over, really, it’s just about to enter a new phase. But at least, when it comes to the breakup, everything is, at last, moving forward as planned.

What to know about the Brexit bill

First, just a quick recap here: Johnson tweaked the Brexit deal in October, but couldn’t succeed in passing it through Parliament, as lawmakers rejected his supercharged timeline. He then had to ask the EU for an extension, making the new Brexit deadline January 31.

Johnson then called for elections, and enough opposition MPs agreed to allow him to do so. In December, he won a historic majority, which sealed the UK’s fate: The country would leave the EU at the start of 2020.

With this resounding majority, Johnson made some additional tweaks to his Brexit legislation that puts the deal into UK law. That included weakening protections for refugee children, removing some commitments on workers’ rights, and eliminating the option to extend the Brexit transition period past 2020, which is what sets up that ambitious 11-month timeline to strike an agreement on the future EU-UK partnership.

Still, the House of Commons gave this legislation initial approval in December, just before the Christmas holidays.

Lawmakers returned in the new year and finalized the remaining stages in three days. On Wednesday, opposition MPs introduced amendments. That included putting back some of the things like workers’ rights, which they want to closely align with the EU. (Johnson has said the UK will address workers’ rights in separate legislation.)

MPs also tried to reintroduce the amendment that would have guaranteed unaccompanied refugee children the right to unite with family in UK after Brexit, but that was also defeated. Johnson has said it will remain government policy to reunite kids, but it doesn’t have to go in the Brexit legislation. (An amendment to get Big Ben to chime the moment the UK leaves the EU was, sadly, not selected for a vote.)

In the end, all of the opposition’s attempts to amend the Brexit bill were defeated. It was another reminder of what an empowered Conservative majority can do. That lead to this latest vote in the House of Commons came on Thursday, which was assured before it even happened.

The UK is set to leave the EU, but Brexit isn’t done

The House of Lords may pick apart sections of the legislation — particularly that provision on refugee children, which was initially championed by a Lord.

These battles will be important, but they’re unlikely to sideline Brexit. The EU Parliament must also okay the Brexit plan, but that’s mostly a formality. Taken together, there is likely no stopping Brexit at this point. Mark the calendars — for real this time — for January 2020.

The next phase, though, is going to be something.

After January 31, the EU and the UK will enter a standstill period. The UK will officially cease to be part of the EU, and will lose any decision-making powers, but it will still follow all the EU rules. The transition ends in 2020, but it can be extended, one time, until 2022, if more time is needed for negotiations on future relations. Johnson has said the UK doesn’t need it.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president who took over last year, seems to disagree. This week, she warned that it would be “basically impossible” to negotiate a future relationship and ratify it by year’s end.

That’s because this isn’t just about trade, though trade is a big one. The EU and UK have to talk about all the things: security, fishing, transport, and a whole lot more. There’s perhaps a chance of some side or interim deals. But a real, comprehensive deal? The EU really doesn’t think it’s possible.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said that the EU is “ready to do its best” when it came to reaching an agreement on the future relationship, but the EU is preparing for the reality that talks could fail. And, the EU said it would keep planning for the possibility that no deal would be reached by the end of 2020, which could again threaten serious economic disruption.

In reality, there’s flexibility here. Johnson could always change his mind and ask Parliament to amend the legislation to allow for the possibility of an extension to the transition period. It doesn’t mean he will, but perhaps he’s hoping once Brexit officially happens in January that the British public might not be as tuned in — especially since some of the parliamentary drama that dominated Brexit last year has ended.

But, for both the UK and Europe, the next stage of negotiations is going to be the hardest part of Brexit.

09 Jan 13:24

How Wealthy Towns Keep People With Housing Vouchers Out

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

HARTFORD, Conn. — On a sweltering Saturday afternoon last June, Crystal Carter took a deep breath as she walked toward the red “for rent” sign.

Shaded by tall oak trees, the three-story duplex looked cozy. The first floor siding was painted yellow, with white railings leading to the front door. The windows appeared new, the lawn freshly cut.

Although the property was in Barry Square, on the edge of a struggling area in southern Hartford, the family outside buoyed Carter’s spirits. Four children giggled in a recliner in the front yard, singing along to the radio while their father packed a moving truck. Across the street were Trinity College’s dignified brick pillars, the entry to the elite school’s 100-acre campus.

Carter tried to tamp down her excitement, but this looked like the kind of place the 48-year-old single mother so desperately wanted for her five kids: no mouse traps, no chipped paint trying to camouflage mold.

Subscribe to the Big Story newsletter.

“You own this place?” she asked the sweat-soaked man. Yes, he said. “Are you renting it out, or has it already been rented?”

He put down a crate and offered her a tour of the first-floor, four-bedroom unit. Inside, she marveled at the modern kitchen, finished hardwood floors and large closets.

“This is a lot of space. When are you putting this on the market?” she asked.

“It’s ready, if you want to do the application,” he told her. Rent was $1,500 a month.

Carter paused.

“I’ll be paying with a Section 8 voucher,” she said.

“Yeah,” the man shot back. “I don’t do Section 8.”

Officially called Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 rent subsidies were supposed to help low-income people find decent housing outside poor communities. But, for the better part of a year, Carter had found the opposite. This was easily the 50th place she had toured since her landlord sold her last apartment and evicted her. Nearly all of them were in poor areas. They had holes in the wall, uncovered electrical outlets, even roaches and mice. When she hit upon something clean, she learned not to ask too many questions. She complimented the landlord, talked about her children and emphasized that she didn’t smoke. None of it seemed to matter, though, once she uttered two words: Section 8.

Now, as Carter showed herself out of the first-floor rental, she felt panic welling within. “There really are no doors open for people that have a voucher,” she said afterward. “It makes you feel ashamed to even have one.” Typically, vouchers come with a time limit to find housing, and Carter had already won three extensions. She wasn’t sure she’d get another.

She had just 40 days left to find a place to live.

Based on our reporting, we created a guide to the Section 8 program. You’ll learn how to apply, how to qualify for a voucher and what it’s like to live in Section 8 housing.

As the federal government retreated from building new public housing in the 1970s, it envisioned Section 8 vouchers as a more efficient way of subsidizing housing for the poor in the private market. They now constitute the largest rental assistance program in the country, providing almost $23 billion in aid each year to 2.2 million households. Local housing authorities administer the program with an annual budget from Washington and are given wide latitude on how many vouchers they hand out and how much each is worth. The bulk of the vouchers are reserved for families who make 30% or less of an area’s median income. That is $30,300 or less for a family of four in Hartford.

For years, researchers and policymakers have lamented the program’s failure to achieve one of its key goals: giving families a chance at living in safer communities with better schools. Low-income people across the country struggle to use their vouchers outside of high-poverty neighborhoods.

In Connecticut, the problem is especially acute. An analysis of federal voucher data by The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica found that 55% of the state’s nearly 35,000 voucher holders live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. That’s higher than the national average of 49% and the rates in 43 other states.

The segregation results, at least in part, from exclusionary zoning requirements that local officials have long used to block or limit affordable housing in prosperous areas. As the Mirror and ProPublica reported in November, state authorities have done little to challenge those practices, instead steering taxpayer money to build more subsidized developments in struggling communities.

Dozens of voucher holders in Connecticut say this concentration has left them with few housing options. Local housing authorities often provide a blue booklet of Section 8-friendly properties, but many of the ones listed are complexes that have a reputation for being rundown and are in struggling communities or have long waitlists. Many recipients call it the “Black Book” because “you are going to the dark side, for real. The apartments in that black book are nasty and disgusting,” said Janieka Lewis, a Hartford resident whose home is infested with mice.

In southwest Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor is wider than anywhere else in the country. Invisible walls created by local zoning boards and the state government block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.

Josh Serrano also lives in one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods. After landing a voucher in 2018, he tried to find a place in the middle-class town of West Hartford, where his son lives part time with his mother. He also looked in nearby Manchester and Simsbury. At each stop, the rent was higher than his voucher’s value or the landlord wouldn’t take a voucher.

“There is an invisible wall surrounding Hartford for those of us who are poor and particularly have black or brown skin like myself,” he said. “No community wanted me and my son.”

Nearly 80% of the state’s voucher holders are black or Hispanic and half have children. Their average income is $17,200 a year and the average amount they pay in rent out of pocket is $413 a month.

The federal government has taken a mostly hands-off approach to ensuring the Section 8 program is working as it was originally intended. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development typically leaves it up to each housing authority to determine how much a voucher is worth, which essentially determines the type of neighborhood a voucher holder can afford. And when HUD assesses the work of housing authorities — to decide whether to increase federal oversight — only a tiny fraction is based on whether local officials are “expanding housing opportunities ... outside areas of poverty or minority concentration.” (And even at that, nearly all housing authorities receive full credit.)

Moreover, federal law does not make it illegal for a landlord to turn down a prospective tenant if they plan to pay with a voucher, so HUD does not investigate complaints of landlords who won’t accept Section 8 vouchers.

Connecticut goes further. It is one of 14 states where it’s illegal to deny someone housing because they plan to use a Section 8 voucher. And the state allocated more than $820,000 in the last fiscal year to help pay for 10 investigators to look into complaints of all types of housing discrimination and provide legal assistance. “There has been an effort to try to change” housing segregation, said Seila Mosquera-Bruno, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing.

But those efforts have done little to prevent landlords from continuing to reject voucher holders. The groups charged with investigating housing complaints say they lack the resources to be proactive and believe they are only seeing a fraction of what’s really going on.

“Housing providers keep coming up with ways to rent to who they want to rent and find ways around housing discrimination laws,” said Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, which investigates complaints. “There is a lot more discrimination going on than what we are investigating.”

In 2018, fewer than 75 complaints were made that accused the landlord or owner of refusing to accept a voucher or some other legal source of income, such as Social Security. The Connecticut Fair Housing Center said that figure isn’t low because discrimination is scarce but rather because prospective tenants are fearful that complaining could hurt them and know that it will do nothing to help them with their immediate needs; investigations can take longer than the time they have to find a house with their vouchers.

“In order to make it a real priority and address the real effects of discrimination in society, the government should dedicate more resources to ferreting it out,” said Greg Kirschner, the group’s legal director.

A Hartford native, Carter reluctantly moved back to her hometown in 2011 to escape an abusive relationship. She had delayed relocating, she said, because she worried she’d be taking her children from a quiet neighborhood in Florida to a “war zone” in Connecticut.

“They not from the streets. Their heart is trying to be goofy-cool,” she said of her three sons, now 10, 17 and 18, and two daughters, ages 13 and 14. “They don’t have that fight in them. I do.” (Worried about her children’s privacy, Carter asked that they not be named in this story.)

Crystal Carter (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

She and her children moved into a homeless shelter and then an extended-stay motel. She saw Section 8 as their path to independence, and she started calling housing authorities around the state to apply for and get on waiting lists for a voucher. At first, Carter limited her search to Connecticut’s middle-class and upper-income towns, hoping to settle in a place with low crime and high-performing schools.

But with each call, she lost hope. She met the income requirements — hers was less than half the state’s average household income — but the waitlists had thousands of families in front of her, if they weren’t closed entirely.

When she found out that the Winchester Housing Authority in Northwest Connecticut had just 67 people on its waitlist, she got excited; among the affluent region’s celebrity residents are Meryl Streep and Ralph Nader. The feeling was quickly dashed. Officials barred her from the list, saying it was open only to those who already lived in the predominantly white towns. The housing authority did not return calls seeking comment.

“That lady told me I would be better off living in Bridgeport,” Carter recalled. The city is one of Connecticut’s most impoverished. “She would not send me out an application for nothing in the world, no matter how many times I called. She kept saying, ‘Go to Bridgeport.’”

Blocking those who don’t live in town from getting a housing subsidy is against the law, but housing authorities are allowed to prioritize whom they award the vouchers to.

Both ways can effectively shut out minorities. And the Winchester Housing Authority is not alone. The wealthy town of Westport — where just 1% of the residents are black and 5% are Hispanic — until recently posted on its website that it gave substantial preference to current residents and those with ties to the town for its public housing. After the Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica asked about the policy, officials removed the language from the site and disavowed the practice.

Carter decided to fight back. Her mother had worked for the Hartford Housing Authority for decades, so she was familiar with housing rules. “I pretty much know all my rights,” she said later. She called the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and soon sued Winchester for housing discrimination.

The housing authority denied any wrongdoing, and the case dragged on for more than a year. The parties settled, with Winchester pledging to open its waiting list to those outside its borders. But instead of accepting applications from Carter and others, Winchester stopped participating in the voucher program altogether.

Amid the legal battle, she landed a voucher from the middle-class town of West Hartford. She was jubilant. Then, she started searching. “There were no places no matter how hard I looked,” Carter said. “It’s not a golden ticket.”

Approaching the time limit to find housing with her voucher, she settled for Hartford, where her family ultimately moved into a quaint four-bedroom duplex on a quiet street in the South End. Another bright spot: After a few months in the city’s struggling schools, her children had won coveted spots to attend school in the suburbs of Suffield and Simsbury, which have some of the highest-performing schools in the state. (The education lottery stemmed from a Connecticut Supreme Court order in 1996 to correct the inequality inherent in the Hartford region’s segregated schools.)

The change was stark. In Simsbury, educators taught smaller classes; the school had a social worker and other staff who helped coordinate transportation for Carter’s children and enrolled them in free extracurricular programs. Clubs focused on the stock market, horticulture, mindfulness, fly fishing.

“We was grounded,” Carter said, “and didn’t have to worry about living.”

A neighborhood in Simsbury, Connecticut, one of the suburbs where Carter’s children attend school, thanks to winning an education lottery. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

Carter found the notice under her door. It was the summer of 2018. Her landlord of four years had sold the building, and the new owner had given her just 30 days to leave.

Carter was deflated. It had taken so long to find this apartment, and she had no free time; she worked long hours as a ramp loader at the airport for an Amazon Prime subcontractor. Further, the conditions of the education lottery restricted her options; in order for her children to remain in their current schools, they had to live in either Simsbury or Hartford. So when the deadline to move passed, Carter refused to leave. Her landlord filed for eviction. The legal fight lasted for months.

On a frigid morning in January 2019, Carter saw her children off to school and then headed to Hartford Housing Court, a brown brick building a half-block from the state Capitol.

The courtroom was packed with families facing eviction and their landlords’ attorneys, but when the bailiff yelled out her name, she still felt humiliated.

Carter pleaded her case above the squeals of a restless baby in the gallery. She told the judge her choices were bleak: either remain in the duplex and eventually be evicted, or leave and become homeless.

“I just can’t find an adequate four-bedroom. It’s not like I’m just sitting there. I know the man want me out. It’s obvious the man want me out,” she told Judge Rupal Shah. “I’ve been looking in Hartford. I’ve been looking in Simsbury. ...”

But not having anywhere to go is not a valid defense — the judge gave her 10 days to move.

Eviction rates are high in Connecticut, with 1 in 18 families in Hartford evicted each year. While some skipped rent or damaged property, others are forced out because of new ownership or rising rents. Landlords will often start the eviction process on tenants in good standing to speed up the move-out process, said Nancy Hronek, a housing attorney with Greater Hartford Legal Aid. Regardless of the circumstances, an eviction stains a tenant’s rental record, making it more difficult for them to find a new place. Some housing advocates call it the “Scarlet E.”

A blighted neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut, near where Carter searched for housing. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

On the morning of Feb. 7, Carter heard a knock on the door. It was a state marshal. She hadn’t finished emptying the apartment, so the marshal began hauling her belongings outside. Within minutes, her furniture was strewn across the front lawn. Her children helped her load everything into a moving van. Fog hung in the air as they drove away in silence.

Her family crammed into a relative’s apartment in a nearby city. The whole family slept in one room; the three boys in one bed, Carter and her two girls in another. Often, one of them would sleep on the couch in the family room. Everyone stuffed their clothes into a single dresser. The rest of their things moldered in storage.

The social worker at school tried to get the kids into free camps and after-school clubs, but they started to act out. They resisted getting up for school, and their grades started to suffer. The principal called to express concern.

“Now we shelled in this house,” Carter said. “This neighborhood, it ain’t really great, so my kids are just stuck in a room all day playing video games or on YouTube.”

Then, Carter lost her job; the shipping business where she worked took a hit and the company downsized. She redoubled her housing search.

Carter woke before dawn. Sitting at a half-moon table in the dimly lit kitchen, she opened her phone to review apartment listings on a handful of websites while her children slept. Facebook Market, Craigslist, Trulia, Zillow, Apartments.com. She kept checking her phone for notifications of new offerings in Simsbury and Hartford.

It had been four months since her eviction.

“Every day, I look — and nothing works out,” she said.

Most of the listings were in impoverished communities in Hartford. Carter doesn’t drive, so she would line up tours and then ride the bus for an hour to the city. Many of the units she described as “shitholes.”

The Obama administration had tried to change this dynamic. In 2011, HUD piloted a program in the Dallas area that raised the value of vouchers in high-cost areas and decreased their value in impoverished communities as a result of a legal settlement. The idea was that more money would provide more choice, encouraging voucher holders to seek housing in safer areas with high-performing schools.

The Obama administration changed federal rules to expand the program, but the Trump administration in 2017 suspended an expansion of the initiative to poor cities like Hartford.

Carter sued HUD in 2017 in federal district court in Washington, seeking a court order increasing the value of her voucher in the more affluent neighborhoods of Hartford. The judge ruled in her favor.

Researchers have found that raising the voucher’s value in certain neighborhoods worked to make more housing available within the voucher’s price range. The share of rental units in better-off areas that voucher holders could afford jumped from 18% to 41%, according to New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

But now, two years later, Carter often found herself turned away from nicer places. That summer, she saw an ad for an idyllic Cape Cod in a quiet neighborhood, so she called the management company to arrange a tour. But when she disclosed that she planned to pay with a voucher, the firm told her it was no longer available and suggested listings in poorer areas. When Carter passed by a few weeks later, she saw a “for rent” sign on the front lawn.

Frustrated with her online search, Carter sometimes asked friends and family to drive her around the better-off sides of Hartford looking for unlisted apartments. She also relied on her social network to send her tips. She heard about the yellow house in Barry Square from her oldest son, who came across it while he was out with friends.

“There is no place for us,” Carter said. “How can I say this without being too blunt: Everybody don’t want us in their backyard. It’s not a color thing. It’s a voucher thing. Nobody wants us.”

Around the country, the federal government has largely outsourced investigating housing discrimination complaints to watchdogs like the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

After disability discrimination, the second most common type of complaint Connecticut’s watchdogs receive is that a landlord won’t take a voucher or another legal source of income. But only 17% of people who suffer discrimination actually end up filing a complaint, research shows.

Like most apartment hunters, Carter had no time to file complaints. After the Barry Square landlord rejected her, she headed to another open house, which she had found on Craigslist. It was a five-bedroom in the Clay Arsenal neighborhood, a part of Hartford known for drug dealing. Her oldest son had once witnessed his friend being shot in this neighborhood in a carjacking.

“My brain is telling me don’t do this,” she said. “My kids aren’t built for this life”

She pushed her hair into her black duckbill newsboy cap and walked up the stairs. Inside, she scanned the floor and saw glue traps to catch mice. “It’s just as a precaution,” the owner said. Carter thought about her 13-year-old daughter, who has severe asthma; rodent infestations can trigger the condition.

As she made her way into the main bedroom, she looked at the doors. A dog had scratched through the flimsy material. The carpet was worn. And a hallway closet had been turned into a bedroom. The rent: $1,600.

Carter couldn’t wait to leave. She stepped outside, and the landlord assured her that she would have the carpets cleaned and the doors repaired. An exterminator would come monthly.

“Do you take vouchers?” Carter asked.

“That’s not a problem,” the owner responded.

Time was running out. In late July, Carter’s relative heard from their landlord. There were too many people in the apartment.

Carter and three of her children stayed while her two older sons moved in with her brother about 20 miles away. Her grasp on her voucher was also tenuous. It had been set to expire in August but, after attorneys at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the civil rights group Open Communities Alliance took up her case, she won a 30-day reprieve.

She’d turned down the apartment with mouse traps. But now she was forced to consider a different place in the same neighborhood; it too had mouse traps. Panicked, she started the process of finalizing a lease by sending paperwork to the Hartford Housing Authority.

Even then, she hit a snag: Housing officials approved the apartment but not the entire rent.

Carter called everyone she thought could help. Among them was Erin Boggs, a civil rights attorney she met years ago during the waiting list lawsuit.

It was a long shot, but Boggs sent emails to her advocacy network, including a Catholic deacon whose parish is in Simsbury. The town is mostly wealthy and white, with a latticework of bike trails and a pedestrian bridge lined with flower pots. Rental stock was sparse. In her note, Boggs described Carter as a “civil rights hero” who needed a hand. Within hours, the deacon called a member of his congregation.

Josh Livingston rented a handful of houses in town and had just purchased a four-bedroom Cape Cod set on a wooded lot, just off the main road. The two talked about how much harder life is for people with fewer resources. The next morning, Livingston emailed Boggs, “I can’t stop thinking about the chance to help Crystal and her family live in Simsbury.”

Livingston had listed the Cape for $2,300 a month, plus utilities. But Carter’s voucher, adjusted for the area’s higher income, would only cover $2,222. He agreed to the reduced price and to cover utilities.

In mid-August, Boggs called Carter with the news. Carter was shocked. She had roughly two weeks left on her voucher and soon went to tour the house. The Cape was across the street from a “Welcome to Simsbury” sign adorned with purple mums. It was bigger than any place Carter had ever imagined herself living in. Fronted by a lawn peppered with colorful leaves from the tall trees, the two-story house had a detached garage and carport. Inside, there was an eat-in kitchen, a fireplace and a sunroom.

Carter and her landlord, Josh Livingston, outside her new rental home in Simsbury. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

Later, when a housing inspector came to confirm that the property was safe, Livingston glimpsed the prejudice that Carter experienced. “He said to me: ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a fantastic house. I really hope they don’t ruin it,’” the landlord recalled.

Carter and her family moved in just before Halloween. Someone left a welcome pumpkin and leaf wreath on her front stoop.

On a recent Saturday morning, she was busy tidying the kitchen before work; she had found a job at the Stop and Shop grocery store across the street. A roast defrosted on the counter, near a stack of coupon leaflets. On the windowsill above the sink was a homemade blue and red painted welcome plaque given to her by one of her children. Next to the dinner table, a sign reading, “Life is better at the beach.”

“It’s just so cozy,” Carter said.

In the living room, family photos rested on built-in bookshelves, and donations from the nearby Catholic Church were slowly filling the space: pots and pans, firewood, side tables. Upstairs, the children had their own bedrooms.

Carter still marvels at the turnaround. “My story is different only because I had all these people who know people,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I would be in the slums.”

Carter in her new rental home in Simsbury. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

Her children are now able to participate in Simbury’s after-school clubs because they can catch the late bus home. Her 14-year-old daughter just joined the fencing team. At night, Carter and her kids spend hours sitting next to the hearth of their fireplace, scanning the woods for the bears that her neighbors talk about.

Help Us Investigate

Are you concerned about affordable housing in your community in Connecticut? ProPublica and The Connecticut Mirror are spending the year investigating. Here’s how to get in touch.

Connecticut’s approach to affordable housing creates pockets of poverty, where low-income people are locked out of opportunities that are just around the corner.

09 Jan 13:15

In flashpoint for the rebellion against big tech, Sonos sues Google for patent infringement

Photograph of cylindrical smart speaker.
Enlarge / The Sonos One SL.

In a move that has become the top talking point of CES and a flashpoint for an industry's pent-up frustrations, smart audio company Sonos has sued Google for infringement of five of its patents, The New York Times reports.

The publicly traded, Santa Barbara, California-based audio company sued Google in a federal court and the US International Trade Commission. The goal is to block sales of some of Google's products (including smart speakers and smartphones, among other things) and to collect financial damages.

According to the article, Sonos "handed over the effective blueprints to its speakers" to Google in 2013 during an effort to make Google's services work on said speakers. Sonos didn't anticipate it then, but Google later launched smart speakers that competed directly with Sonos' offerings. After Google's speakers hit the market, Sonos employees purchased some and used packet sniffing to analyze how the Google speakers worked with each other. They say they discovered that the speakers used technological solutions that Sonos has previously developed and patented. (They claim to have found the same when testing Amazon's Echo speakers, too.)

Sonos says it notified Google of the alleged infringement on multiple occasions over the past few years, but Google was unwilling either to recognize it or to adequately compensate the smaller company. On one occasion, it reportedly responded by claiming Sonos was infringing on Google's intellectual property as well.

Sonos filed a complaint against Google in US District Court for the Central District of California. In the complaint, Sonos says that its "patents cover important aspects of wireless multi-room audio systems, such as setting up a playback device on a wireless local area network, managing and controlling groups of playback devices (e.g., adjusting group volume of playback devices and pairing playback devices together for stereo sound), and synchronizing playback of audio within groups of playback devices."

Below: Images of the Sonos One smart speaker, from our review when the product was first introduced.

  • The Sonos One, a Sonos smart speaker that launched with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant.
  • The touch controls on top of the Sonos One.
  • The bottom of the Sonos One.
  • The Sonos One next to a Google Home.

The Times says Sonos executives believe it's not just about patents, though; the execs say that Google and Amazon have both taken advantage of Sonos' dependence on them to "squeeze the smaller company." Sonos opted to sue only Google because it could not risk battling both tech giants at once, but Sonos leadership believes Amazon has also infringed on its patents in similar ways with its Echo line of speakers and other devices.

Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said the following in a public statement:

Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology... Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We're left with no choice but to litigate.

Spence has also been called on to testify in the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on alleged abuses and antitrust violations by large tech companies.

The litigation path is not without its risks, as smaller companies like Sonos have reason to be nervous about retaliation. The New York Times report notes that when Sonos "intensified its demands that Google license its technology," Google applied stricter conditions to Sonos for using Google Assistant in its devices, including a "mandate to turn over the planned name, design, and targeted state date of its future products" months in advance. Google's own products compete with those for which the Silicon Valley giant sought that information.

Further, like many other tech companies, Sonos is dependent on Google and Amazon in other ways. It relies on Google's advertising products to reach consumers, it uses Amazon's servers, and it sells a significant number of its speakers through Amazon's storefront. There may be nothing stopping Google or Amazon from using those dependencies to retaliate in the United States, though there is no evidence that they have done so against Sonos so far.

Below: Images of the Google Home Mini smart speaker, from our review when the product was first introduced.

  • The Google Home Mini. Usually the lights are white, but catch it on boot up and you can get this particularly Googley picture.
  • Here it is with the standard white lights.
  • The mute switch. This is "on."
  • Turn off the microphone and you'll expose this blazing orange switch section.
  • The bottom has more orange, and see that little circle on the bottom? That's a reset button.
  • Doesn't it look like a sock? It looks like a sock.
  • The power plug is micro USB.

Google and Amazon have both released statements denying that they've copied Sonos' technology or infringed on its patents. In a comment to The Verge, Google said the following:

Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies' IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith. Google's technology was developed independently by Google—it was not copied from Sonos. We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.

In the same The Verge article, Amazon's Dave Limp is quoted saying:

As long as they and others continue to differentiate, customers will find them. It's not about at any given time, a price point or a set of features. It's about how do you define your brand and what your brand stands for and how it's differentiated. And I'm very optimistic that Sonos can navigate that path.

But that can be very difficult, as most smaller companies must support Google or Amazon tech and services, and there may be restrictive rules on how they work on each device. The Times report on Sonos' lawsuit says that Sonos tried to differentiate itself by making its speakers capable of responding to verbal prompts for either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa at any time, instead of requiring users to work exclusive with one or the other. However, Google and Amazon forced Sonos to abandon the idea because they did not want their assistants operating directly alongside competitors, Sonos executives claim.

It's too soon to say how viable Sonos' lawsuit is or where it will lead. But it is currently one of the most concentrated points of an entire industry's frustration at dependence on (or even bullying by) tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Apple. Another is Spotify's complaint against Apple with European Union regulators, alleging that Apple has abused its position as App Store gatekeeper to give preferential treatment to the Cupertino company's own music-streaming app, Apple Music, at Spotify's expense.

To industry workers at a Consumer Electronics Show largely attended by smaller tech companies that spend much of their time, resources, and effort trying to stay in the good graces of near (or actual, depending on who you ask) monopolies like Google, Amazon, and Apple, Sonos' efforts to stand up to perceived bullying looks like a heroic act. But it won't be an easy battle, and victory is not assured. Google is a dangerous dragon to attempt to slay.