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08 Mar 13:56

White House signals coming antitrust push with Tim Wu appointment

by Kate Cox
The White House South Lawn, which is unfortunately not the view most folks working for a presidential administration have.

Enlarge / The White House South Lawn, which is unfortunately not the view most folks working for a presidential administration have. (credit: Joe Daniel Price | Getty Images)

Longtime tech critic Tim Wu is joining the Biden administration as an adviser on technology and competition, a signal that the White House is likely to push for policies that rein in Big Tech.

Wu will be serving on the National Economic Council as special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, the White House said this morning. Wu confirmed the news in a tweet.

Wu is best known in tech circles as the man who coined the term "net neutrality" in the early 2000s. He has held several positions at the federal level before, including advisory roles with both the Federal Trade Commission and the National Economic Council. He has also been a full professor at Columbia University law school since 2006, where he teaches First Amendment and antitrust law.

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08 Mar 13:56

Feds indict John McAfee for cryptocurrency pump-and-dump fraud

by Timothy B. Lee
John McAfee on his yacht off the coast of Cuba in 2019.

Enlarge / John McAfee on his yacht off the coast of Cuba in 2019. (credit: Adalberto ROQUE / AFP / Getty)

Federal prosecutors have indicted noted cybersecurity eccentric John McAfee for securities and wire fraud for misleading investors at the peak of the last cryptocurrency boom. In late 2017 and early 2018, McAfee urged his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers to invest in a number of obscure cryptocurrencies. Prosecutors say he failed to disclose his own financial stake in those tokens—and in some cases outright lied about it.

McAfee has been in custody in Spain since his arrest at a Barcelona airport last October. He was already facing extradition to the United States on tax evasion charges; the self-described Libertarian hasn't filed a tax return for several years. Now he will face additional charges of securities and wire fraud alongside bodyguard Jimmy Watson, who allegedly helped McAfee carry out some of his pump-and-dump schemes.

The criminal complaint covers much of the same ground as a civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange commission at the time of his arrest last October.

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08 Mar 13:56

Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

by WIRED
Gig companies fear a worker shortage, despite a recession

Enlarge (credit: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Unemployment in the US remains stubbornly high at 6.3 percent. Job growth has stalled, with 9.6 million fewer jobs in January than the same month a year earlier. But gig companies say they’re having trouble finding people to drive, pick up, and deliver for them.

“I’m worried about one thing going into the second half of the year: Are we going to have enough drivers to meet the demand that we’re going to have?” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told an analyst last month. DoorDash chief financial officer Prabir Adarkar called the situation “a tale of two cities,” with hordes of new customers racing to order takeout but fewer drivers offering to deliver it. DoorDash orders more than tripled in the last part of 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The looming driver shortage confounds executives’ predictions. “With record unemployment, we expect driver supply to outstrip rider demand” for the “foreseeable future,” Lyft CEO Logan Green said in May. For a time early in the pandemic, Lyft blocked new drivers from signing up. It was understandable, because today’s tech gig companies were born during the Great Recession. They benefited from a deep pool of workers newly outfitted with smartphones and suddenly in need of supplemental income.

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05 Mar 17:50

A New DC Program Lets Housebound Seniors Sign Up for Zoom Sessions with Rescue Animals

by Daniella Byck
Just as humans are hitting peak Zoom fatigue, a new initiative is putting animals in front of the screen. The Humane Rescue Alliance is teaming up with the DC Department of Aging and Community Living to host Zoom sessions between DC’s elderly population and a Zoo’s worth of rescue animals, including dogs, kittens, guinea pigs—and […]
05 Mar 11:52

US roads got more dangerous in 2020 even though we stayed at home

by Jonathan M. Gitlin
A metal STOP sign has been scratched extensively.

Enlarge / Close-up of a red stop sign after a traffic accident. The sign is heavily scratched and dented. Many vehicle accidents are attributed to drunk driving in Hawaii. Unfortunately many end up as fatalities. (credit: Kjell Linder/Getty Images)

Thanks to the pandemic, Americans drove 13 percent fewer miles in 2020 than they did the year before. But the move to telework and lockdowns has not made our roads any safer. In fact, our roads got a lot more dangerous last year, according to preliminary data collected by the National Safety Council. The council estimates that 42,060 people were killed in crashes, an 8 percent increase from 2019. The rise looks even more shocking when normalized—it rose from 1.2 to 1.49 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, a 24 percent increase.

The National Safety Council also estimates that just under 4.8 million people were injured seriously enough in road crashes to seek medical help for nonfatal injuries. The cost of all this carnage? A whopping $474.4 billion in deaths, injuries, and property damage.

Some states fared better than others. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming all saw a drop in road deaths, although for some this was less than 5 percent.

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04 Mar 12:18

Court Tells Government It Can't Hide Behind Its Third-Party DNA Analysis Vendor To Withhold Evidence

by Tim Cushing

The government says we have no right to access information about its law enforcement "means and methods." To give these secrets away is to instigate a criminal apocalypse.

That's the argument the government has made to protect everything from sketchy confidential informant testimony to Stingray devices. Even when the public has a pretty good idea about what's going on, the government still argues the public can't be trusted. Stingrays aren't a big secret anymore. And confidential informants are only trustworthy until the government decides they aren't and starts feeding them to the criminal justice system.

The government has obligations to the public. Court cases have a presumption of openness -- what happens there can be accessed by everyone. To dodge this, the government seals cases and demands ex parte hearings that cut the defense side out of the equation.

The government also avails itself of a number of private contractors. The government is big enough it can't do everything by itself. And it doesn't hurt that its contracts with private companies help keep some of its questionable activities out of the public eye.

Ask a private company to do your dirty work and you can fend off judges and presumptions of transparency. Add law enforcement "means and methods" arguments to claims about trade secrets and you can wield the private sector against the public for as long as possible.

For the most part this process works. Every so often a federal judge kicks back, prompting everyone involved to come up with better arguments as to why defendants shouldn't be allowed to take a deep look at the evidence being used against them.

Government agencies have ditched cases when defendants have asked about cell tower spoofers or forensic software used to generate evidence against them. But they only do this when courts have decided the people whose life and liberty are at stake deserve answers.

If a court doesn't act to intercede, the government will continue to wield the private sector against the public sector. In cases where proprietary software is involved, the government will allow private companies to assert that giving defendants a chance at a fair trial would undercut the contractors' ability to turn a profit.

When these private entities intercede, they're asking the courts to declare it's more important for these companies to remain viable than allow Americans to fully exercise their rights.

Fortunately, courts haven't always been sympathetic to the arguments the government has raised on behalf of its private contractors. One of the more frequent private intercessors have been DNA companies who argue that revealing their algorithms would cause the collapse of the private DNA-sequencing industry… starting with those who have aided the government the most.

Not true, says at least one federal court. In at least one case involving DNA evidence, a federal court has said hiding behind trade secrets and confidentiality agreements doesn't serve the public. If the government wants to use evidence derived from proprietary software, it had better be ready to share that software with the person it's accusing of criminal acts.

The EFF's intercession into another case involving DNA software and government/private sector secrecy has paid off for the defendant. The basic tenets of due process say criminal defendants must have access to the evidence used against them. Private contractors like Cybergenetics -- which is hoping to shield its "trade secrets" -- are subject to the same discovery rules that affect the government.

A short ruling [PDF] issued by a Pennsylvania federal court says private contractors working with the government are obligated to hand over information to criminal defendants.

The court resists the government's resistance:

The Government resists disclosure of the source code on grounds that Cybergenetics considers it a trade secret, and that disclosure is not necessary. The Court has considered the present record, including the amicus submission made on Defendant’s behalf and Dr. Perlin’s declaration. Here, there can be no dispute that the DNA evidence is central to the case against Defendant.

And if it's central, it must be disclosed:

Based on all applicable factors and considerations previously identified in my January 21 Order, Paragraph 5)2c of the Amended Subpoena Schedule, attached as Exhibit 2 to Docket No. 73, will not be quashed.

There are some limitations -- like the possible deployment of a protective order that will shield this info (at least temporarily) from public view. But the overriding presumption is transparency. If the government wants to use evidence derived from a private company's DNA analysis, it has an obligation to let the defendant examine it. The company's concerns about its proprietary calculations ultimately makes no difference. If it wants to work with the government, it needs to be prepared to hand over this info to criminal defendants.

We'll have to see where it goes from here, but this ruling makes it clear private contractors are considered public when they choose to do business with public agencies. To rule otherwise is to allow the government to have its evidence and hide it too. That's not how America works.

04 Mar 12:15

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03 Mar 20:50

CDC to release guide for life after vaccination—with normalcy still far off

by Beth Mole
A woman in a suit speaks from a podium.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidance this week—possibly as early as Thursday—on activities that are considered safe for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But, while much of the country is hankering for some return of normalcy, the guidance is unlikely to deliver any satisfying taste of it. People who are fully vaccinated will be advised to continue adhering to most public health measures, such as mask wearing and physical distancing in most settings. Though they will get the greenlight for limited social gatherings, those should be kept small and home-based, and they should only include other fully vaccinated adults, according to early reports.

In a press conference Monday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci laid out an example:

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03 Mar 18:31

Biden pushes EV chargers as six utilities plan a unified network

by Timothy B. Lee
An older man in a suit speaks at a podium in front of a portrait of the Great Emancipator.

Enlarge / Joe Biden speaks at the White House on March 2, 2021. (credit: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden has made the shift to electric vehicles an early focus of his administration. Days after his inauguration, he vowed to replace hundreds of thousands of federal civilian vehicles with electric versions. On Tuesday, Biden held a virtual meeting with CEOs from companies building charging infrastructure. The administration has set a goal to build more than 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations by 2030.

Also on Tuesday, a coalition of six electric utilities announced a new initiative that will help Biden achieve his goal. The companies are planning to build a "seamless network of charging stations" in and around the American South. The group plans to build chargers near major highways in every southern state, stretching as far west as Texas and as far north as Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

(credit: American Electric Power)

This is not a joint venture. Each utility will build and run its own charging stations. But the goal is to make them appear to the customer as a unified network.

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03 Mar 17:54

Dr. Seuss is a beloved icon who also drew some extremely racist stuff

by Constance Grady
American author and illustrator Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904–1991) sits at his drafting table in his home office with a copy of his book The Cat in the Hat in La Jolla, California, April 25, 1957. | Gene Lester/Getty Images

The debate over Dr. Seuss, explained.

On Tuesday, the publishing imprint Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that it would cease publishing six books by Dr. Seuss that include offensive images. In the statement, which was published on the author’s birthday, the publisher said it reached its decision after working with a panel of experts, including educators, in the service of its mission “of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.”

The six shelved books are all comparatively obscure works in the Seuss canon: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. Beloved classics like The Cat in the Hat and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! remain untouched. But the decision, which caused enormous uproar across the right-wing infosphere, is part of a larger debate raging across the children’s literature community.

For decades, the works of Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel) have been considered both iconic childhood classics and bastions of liberalism. They are lauded for their celebration of all that makes us different, and Seuss books like Horton Hears a Who and The Sneetches appear frequently in anti-racism curricula for children.

But in recent years, the Dr. Seuss brand name has lost some of its shine. Read Across America Day, an annual day of programming designed by the National Education Association to get kids excited to read, is traditionally held on or around March 2, Geisel’s birthday. It usually features a lot of Cat in the Hat paraphernalia and other beloved Seuss branding. But when the NEA’s contract with Dr. Seuss Enterprises ran out in 2018, it chose not to renew the terms, leading to a lot less Dr. Seuss merch getting distributed to different schools. And this year, the NEA has pivoted away from Dr. Seuss entirely. Instead, it’s using Read Across America Day to spotlight children’s books by authors of color.

And now Dr. Seuss Enterprises has decided to cease publishing six of Dr. Seuss’s books, all of which include racist caricatures.

Notably, in If I Ran the Zoo, the narrator declares his intention to put a “chieftain” (illustrated as a man in a turban) on display in the zoo; a pair of African characters are portrayed as monkeys; and a group of Asian characters, described as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell” carry a caged animal on their heads. The other books contain similar Orientalist caricatures.

Other questionable imagery runs throughout Dr. Seuss’s work, including some of his most beloved classics. And outside of his children’s books, in his career as a political cartoonist and advertiser, Dr. Seuss frequently drew racist caricatures and used racial slurs in his captions.

So as the children’s literature community grapples with how to make its canon more diverse and inclusive, Dr. Seuss has come in for particular reexamination. These books have become a case study of sorts for what to do with brand name authors as the social context surrounding their work shifts. Or, more specifically: What do you do with a set of adored classics that explicitly promote values like tolerance and love for everyone — but that are also seeded through with racist ideas?

Some of Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons were unabashedly liberal and ahead of their time. Others were wildly racist.

Dr. Seuss’s work for adults includes some pretty unambiguously racist images. Husband-and-wife team Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens, who run the Conscious Kid Social Justice Library, developed a study of Dr. Seuss’s history of racism that features a small sampling.

One ad Dr. Seuss drew for Flit insecticide featured a disgusted white woman saying to a Black man, “You hold a job, Worthless? Say, ni**er, when you hold a job a week, mosquitos will brush their teeth with Flit and like it!’” Dr. Seuss tended to draw Black people as cannibals or monkeys, and they weren’t the only racial group he caricatured.

Beginning well before the lead-up to World War II, Dr. Seuss frequently drew Japanese people with animalistic features who were violent threats to America, referred to them as “Japs,” and captioned them with jokey lines that replaced their Rs with Ls. “Velly Scary Jap-in-the-Box,” reads the caption for one cartoon of a Japanese man crawling out of a box labeled “JAP WAR THREAT.” He also drew caricatures of Jewish people with oversize noses causing chaos everywhere they went by demanding lower prices.

Notably, Dr. Seuss also drew cartoons decrying Jim Crow laws, the policies of Nazi Germany, and American isolationism. Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons, Maus author Art Spiegelman writes in the foreword to the 1999 book Dr. Seuss Goes to War, “rail against isolationism, racism, and anti-semitism with a conviction and fervor lacking in most other American editorial pages of the period.” In fact, Dr. Seuss, Spiegelman argues, drew “virtually the only editorial cartoons outside the communist and Black press that decried the military’s Jim Crow policies and Charles Lindbergh’s anti-semitism.”

Dr. Seuss was on the right side of history in many ways — and he also drew a lot of really virulently racist stuff. That’s his legacy as a cartoonist.

But what does that background mean for his legacy as a children’s author?

There are very few characters of color in Dr. Seuss’s children’s books. The ones that do appear are racist caricatures.

There aren’t that many racial caricatures in Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, mostly because there aren’t that many nonwhite characters in Dr. Seuss’s children’s books. In their study, Ishizuka and Stephens counted 45 characters of color among the 2,240 human characters who appear in Dr. Seuss’s 50 books, which works out to just 2 percent. Notably, all of those characters are male. There are no girls or women of color in the Dr. Seuss canon.

And when characters of color do appear in these books, they appear as racial caricatures. In their study, Ishizuka and Stephens found that all 45 characters of color were either subservient, exotified, dehumanized, or some combination of the three. Dr. Seuss’s characters of color drive carriages for whip-wielding white characters, dress in turbans and “rice paddy hats,” and never speak out loud. Most of them are Orientalist caricatures, and the two that aren’t are those African characters drawn as monkeys in If I Ran the Zoo.

And Dr. Seuss’s interest in racial caricatures influences some of the rest of his work in ways that are no longer visible to casual readers — especially when it comes to the Cat in the Hat, that icon of Seussian madcap humor and surrealism.

There’s a classic origin story for The Cat in the Hat. According to Seuss biographers Judith and Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss was inspired by a trip to his publishers. He had been assigned to write a reading primer that would get reluctant readers eager to learn, and he found himself struck by the appearance of the elevator operator: a woman wearing white gloves with a sly smile. It’s this woman, the legend goes, who inspired the Cat.

In his book-length study Was the Cat in the Hat Black?, English professor Philip Nel notes that the woman in question, Annie Williams, was Black. And Nel argues that Dr. Seuss, who performed in minstrel shows in college, used Williams as the basis for a character whose iconic look would be rooted in the imagery of the American minstrel show and blackface.

“The Cat’s umbrella (which he uses as a cane) and outrageous fashion sense link him to Zip Coon, that foppish ‘northern dandy negro,’” writes Nel. “His bright red floppy tie recalls the polka-dotted ties of blackfaced Fred Astaire in Swing Time (1936) and of blackfaced Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms (1939). His red-and-white-striped hat brings to mind Rooney’s hat in the same film or the hats on the minstrel clowns in the silent picture Off to Bloomingdale Asylum.”

To be clear, I am not arguing that The Cat in the Hat is definitely racist, or that someone has to be racist to read The Cat in the Hat to their kids. (I would, though, suggest that this context makes that plot line in the sequel where the Cat smears black ink all over the house and then the kids yell at him to kill the stains kind of uncomfortable, in light of the racial history of the way Black people, dirt, and ink are associated in American pop culture.)

But the example of the Cat in the Hat is illustrative. It shows how a man steeped in racist ideas and imagery could end up reproducing the same imagery in a medium as innocent as a book designed to teach kids to read, all while espousing liberal ideals about tolerance and love for all. And it shows how that imagery can swim subliminally through our popular culture, divorced from its context, without our ever quite being fully aware that it’s there.

Contrary to Fox News’s claims, neither the National Education Association nor Dr. Seuss Enterprises is attempting to cancel Dr. Seuss. The six remaindered books are obscure also-rans in his canon, and the rest of his much-beloved classics remain in print, in bookstores, and in school libraries. His books will still be taught in schools. He continues to be the rare author so iconic that his pen name is a literal brand name.

But the children’s literature world is in the middle of figuring out exactly how central Dr. Seuss should be to its ecosystem as our culture reevaluates the racist ideas that run very clearly through his adult work and arguably through his work for children. And, by extension, it is in the middle of sorting out how it wants to handle the many other pieces of beloved children’s literature that include harmful racial attitudes: books like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, with its fraught treatment of Indigenous peoples; the Narnia books, with their deeply uncomfortable Middle Eastern villains; the redface fantasies of Peter Pan.

These books are institutions in children’s literature, books that people dream about introducing their kids to. And now the progressive wing of the children’s literature world is working to find ways to situate those books in the landscape of children’s literature that will let kids appreciate them without getting blindsided by their racism.

That’s complex work, not easily reducible to a handful of outrageous sound bites for either side of the political aisle. But it’s unlikely that as children’s literature struggles with this dilemma, anyone is going to be appreciably hurt because they cannot find an in-print copy of McElligot’s Pool.

Sign up for The Weeds newsletter. Every Friday, you’ll get an explainer of a big policy story from the week, a look at important research that recently came out, and answers to reader questions — to guide you through the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration.

03 Mar 15:14

Not OK, Zoomer: Here's Why You Hate Videoconference Meetings -- And What To Do About It

by Glyn Moody

With much of the world in various states of lockdown, the videoconference meeting has become a routine part of many people's day, and a hated one. A fascinating paper by Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, suggests that there are specific problems with videoconference meetings that have led to what has been called "Zoom fatigue", although the issues are not limited to that platform. Bailenson believes this is caused by "nonverbal overload", present in at least four different forms. The first involves eye gaze at a close distance:

On Zoom, behavior ordinarily reserved for close relationships -- such as long stretches of direct eye gaze and faces seen close up -- has suddenly become the way we interact with casual acquaintances, coworkers, and even strangers.

There are two aspects here. One is the size of the face on the screen, and the other is the amount of time a person is seeing a front-on view of another person's face with eye contact. Bailenson points out that in another setting where there is a similar problem -- an elevator -- people typically look down or avert their glance in order to minimize eye contact with others. That's not so easy with videoconferencing, where looking away suggests lack of attention or loss of interest. Another problem with Zoom and other platforms is that people need to send extra nonverbal cues:

Users are forced to consciously monitor nonverbal behavior and to send cues to others that are intentionally generated. Examples include centering oneself in the camera's field of view, nodding in an exaggerated way for a few extra seconds to signal agreement, or looking directly into the camera (as opposed to the faces on the screen) to try and make direct eye contact when speaking.

According to Bailenson, research shows people speak 15% louder on videoconference calls compared to face-to-face interaction. Over a day, this extra effort mounts up. Also problematic is that it's hard to read people's head and eye movements -- important for in-person communication -- in a video call. Often they are looking at something that has popped up on their screen, or to the side, and it may be unclear whether the movement is a nonverbal signal about the conversation that is taking place. Another oddity of Zoom meetings is that participants generally see themselves for hours on end -- an unnatural and unnerving experience:

Imagine in the physical workplace, for the entirety of an 8-hr workday, an assistant followed you around with a handheld mirror, and for every single task you did and every conversation you had, they made sure you could see your own face in that mirror. This sounds ridiculous, but in essence this is what happens on Zoom calls. Even though one can change the settings to "hide self view," the default is that we see our own real-time camera feed, and we stare at ourselves throughout hours of meetings per day.

Finally, Bailenson notes that the design of cameras used for videoconferencing means that people tend to remain within a fairly tight physical space (the camera's "frustrum"):

because many Zoom calls are done via computer, people tend to stay close enough to reach the keyboard, which typically means their faces are between a half-meter and a meter away from the camera (assuming the camera is embedded in the laptop or on top of the monitor). Even in situations where one is not tied to the keyboard, the cultural norms are to stay centered within the camera's view frustrum and to keep one's face large enough for others to see. In essence users are stuck in a very small physical cone, and most of the time this equates to sitting down and staring straight ahead.

That's sub-optimal, because in face-to-face meetings, people move around: "they pace, stand up, stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass", as Bailenson writes. That's important because studies show that movements help create good meetings. The narrow physical cone that most people inhabit during videoconferences is not just tiring, but reduces efficiency.

The good news is that once you analyze what the problems are with Zoom and other platforms, it's quite straightforward to tweak the software to deal with them:

For example, the default setting should be hiding the self-window instead of showing it, or at least hiding it automatically after a few seconds once users know they are framed properly. Likewise, there can simply be a limit to how large Zoom displays any given head; this problem is simple technologically given they have already figured out how to detect the outline of the head with the virtual background feature.

Other problems can be solved by changing the hardware and office culture. For example, using an external webcam and external keyboard allows more flexibility and control over various seating arrangements. It might help to make audio-only Zoom meetings the default, or to use the old-fashioned telephone as an alternative to wall-to-wall videoconferencing. Exploring these changes is particularly important since it seems likely that working from home will remain an option or perhaps a requirement for many people, even after the current pandemic is brought under control. Now would be a good time to fight the fatigue it so often engenders.

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

03 Mar 15:11

Judge Presiding Over Arizona Prosecution Of Backpage Denies Discovery Requests Targeting Her Husband, Who Happens To Be The Prosecutor In This Case

by Tim Cushing

Here's one more horrifying postscript to the still-ongoing criminal prosecution(s) of Backpage's executives. Courts and attorneys general (including newly installed VP Kamala Harris) tried to run the company in on prostitution charges but often found their efforts rebuffed by courts who didn't see how hosting third-party ads was the same thing as aiding and abetting sex trafficking.

Prosecutions abounded. So did a cottage industry of pearl clutchers and hand wringers -- many of which were holding powerful offices in Washington DC. These people were convinced the only way to fight sex trafficking was to punch holes in Section 230. Despite being warned against doing so by none other than the DOJ, they went ahead and passed FOSTA. This anti-sex trafficking law has been used exactly once in a criminal case since its inception.

But here's the new thing, via Stephen Lemons writing for Front Page Confidential. The undercurrent of corruption behind the Backpage prosecutions continues to flow. It was never meant to be a fair fight. It was meant to make Backpage an example after other online services managed to shrug off misguided investigations and prosecutions attempting to turn hosts into criminal confederates.

One of the goals of government work -- especially as it pertains to checks and balances -- is to avoid any appearances of impropriety. But in Arizona, appearances appear to be unimportant. Impropriety is in the eye of the beholder. And if the beholder wields less power, too fucking bad. Here's how things are being handled in the state's attempt to prosecute Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin of Backpage.

Appearance? No, actual impropriety!

A game of legal ping pong has ensued in the Lacey/Larkin case, with U.S. District Court Judge Susan Brnovich shooting down a defense subpoena seeking the same docs from her husband, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, as a public records request from the defendants, now pending at the AG’s office.

On February 11, the judge ruled against the defense’s motion for a subpoena to her spouse’s office, requesting “all correspondence or records” discussing the defendants, their case and the defunct listings website at the center of it all, Backpage.com.

Welp.

The only judge who has yet to recuse herself from this case is married to the person prosecuting it. And yet, Judge Brnovich sees nothing wrong with presiding over it and denying discovery materials to the people attempting to defend themselves from AG Brnovich's attempt to turn Backpage's execs into pimps.

Since Judge Brnovich is unwilling to address the obvious implications of her decision to stay involved with this case, the defendants have asked the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court to step in. Hopefully a set of judges far more impartial than Judge Susan Brnovich appears to be will force the judge to step down and let someone else not married to the state Attorney General take the reins.

Until then, Backpage is at the mercy of a system that seems to willingly be ignoring the "checks and balances" ideals that make this country great, at least when respected.

03 Mar 15:05

Popular flea collar linked to almost 1,700 pet deaths. The EPA has issued no warning.Popular flea...

Popular flea collar linked to almost 1,700 pet deaths. The EPA has issued no warning.

Popular flea collar linked to almost 1,700 pet deaths. The EPA has issued no warning.

02 Mar 20:22

Long COVID patients say they feel better after getting vaccinatedLong COVID patients say they feel...

Long COVID patients say they feel better after getting vaccinated

Long COVID patients say they feel better after getting vaccinated

02 Mar 11:18

Leap Year 2021

I've lived in the present for my whole life and I'm not about to move now.
01 Mar 20:20

🌸🌸🌸Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Is Predicted for April 2-5🌸🌸🌸

by Andrew Beaujon
Peak bloom will come to the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin between April 2 and 5, 2021, the National Park Service announced Monday. Big news! We're projecting cherry blossom peak bloom to fall between April 2 – April 5. Peak bloom is the day when 70% of the Yoshino #cherryblossoms are open, creating gorgeous […]
01 Mar 18:07

Why The Problems With Police And Social Media Both Are Symptoms Of The Same Disease: A Failure Of Society To Actually Help Those In Need

by Mike Masnick

I've written in the past, many times, about how so many people keep wanting to blame social media companies, or intermediary liability laws, for what are only a manifestation of larger societal issues. Social media is only serving to make evident what was previously hidden. A few weeks ago, we quoted UK tech policy expert Heather Burns noting that intermediary liability laws were being expected to pick up the slack for a wide variety of other failures regarding mental health care, social safety nets, criminal and civil justice issues and more. Basically, a whole bunch of government failures were leading to problems in society, which were then being seen online. And rather than trying to fix the underlying causes of those, people were... blaming the internet. Burns later came on our podcast and we had a great detailed discussion about this issue.

A few days later, I heard a fascinating interview on NPR's Fresh Air. The interview was with Rosa Brooks, a law professor and human rights activist, who joined the Washington DC police force as a reserve officer for a period of four years (for most of the Trump administration). The interview is really quite fascinating on a variety of levels, but one thing stood out to me -- that actually connects back to the point that Burns raised about how we're expecting the internet and intermediary liability laws to fill in for all the massive failures of society. To some extent, Brooks made the same point about the police: we've undermined so many other social safety nets, that we now expect the police to fill in for just about everything else.

This isn't a new idea, of course. Tim Cushing has covered this point over and over again right here on Techdirt, including just recently, in writing about Denver's test to switch to sending out mental health professionals rather than police on distress calls that did not appear to involve criminal behavior, and how it had been a huge success. For many years, Tim has posted other similar stories, where it's just so dumb to send police to deal with a societal failing -- often in the mental health arena, but elsewhere as well.

In the Brooks interview, she notes how silly it is to have armed cops handling traffic stops. So many needless police shootings involve traffic stops where the cops overreact and shoot someone they stopped for some minor infraction. We could easily separate out the roles, and make traffic enforcement done entirely differently, by traffic enforcers who are not police with guns, but have a more administrative role.

And when you combine all of this, you realize that both of these threads really are about the same thing, from different angles. Society has failed to deal with mental health. It has failed to deal with extreme poverty. It has failed to deal with criminal justice and civil justice reform. And those are all creating messes. But rather than expect the government and public policy to actually clean up the messes -- we're dumping them on social media companies... and the police. And both are leading to disastrous outcomes.

01 Mar 18:06

B.1.1.7 variant now 10% of US cases—and cases are once again ticking up

by Beth Mole
President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence and candle light ceremony at sundown with 500 candles for the 500,000 dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the South Portico at the White House on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence and candle light ceremony at sundown with 500 candles for the 500,000 dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the South Portico at the White House on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

After weeks of dramatic decline, COVID-19 cases in the US have hit a plateau—and in some places are ticking up. Officials are sounding the alarm in hopes of averting a fourth surge in the devastating pandemic.

“We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last week. Though cases are down from their astronomical peak in early to mid January, the overall numbers are still quite high, matching averages seen in late October, at the base of the holiday surge.

“Things are tenuous,” she noted. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

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01 Mar 18:05

The Woody Allen vs. Mia Farrow story is also a story of workplace abuse

by Constance Grady
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow on a film set. | David Mcgough/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow argues that when Mia Farrow and Woody Allen were together, Allen controlled Farrow’s professional life.

The new HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow is the latest entry in what has become a cottage industry of reexamining the misogyny of the ’90s and ’00s with today’s post-Me Too lens. The series, which explores the allegations of child molestation against Woody Allen voiced by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when Dylan was 7 years old, presents a compelling case that Dylan’s 1992 accusations were deeply credible — but that popular culture at the time simply brushed them aside, eager to believe a man as powerful and famous and iconic as Woody Allen.

Allen v. Farrow traces how the media of the 1990s largely followed the narrative set out by Allen. In a publicity storm of interviews and press conferences, Allen argued that Dylan’s mother, the actress Mia Farrow, had brainwashed Dylan into believing that Allen molested her as part of a twisted quest for revenge after Allen had an affair with Farrow’s college-age daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. (Allen was legally Dylan Farrow’s father, but not Soon-Yi’s.) And the media accepted that argument as reasonable, and cast the entire case as a juicy and tawdry he-said-she-said between a Hollywood power couple.

Allen v. Farrow is eager to reframe that narrative. It features multiple interviews with a now-adult Dylan Farrow as she reiterates her accusations against Allen, at times visibly shaking. It shows footage of a 7-year-old Dylan making her accusations, and compiles interviews from experts in child sexual abuse who review Dylan’s old footage and agree that her testimony appeared to be real and uncoached.

The docuseries also makes a point of noting the enormous cultural power that Woody Allen had at his disposal when he began to wage his publicity battle against Dylan’s accusations, and against Mia Farrow. (Allen declined to appear in the documentary, but he released a statement decrying it as “a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods.”)

There was the goodwill Allen had earned from the city of New York, which closed an investigation against Allen and declined to press charges, by shooting his movies there. There was his money, and the lawyers and private detectives it enabled him to hire. There were the hordes of avid movie fans who identified with him, who worshiped him, who were eager to defend him from any charge of wrongdoing.

Finally, there was the issue of Allen’s professional power, and specifically his professional power over Mia Farrow. It’s here that Allen v. Farrow delves into an under-discussed aspect of the Allen-Farrow relationship, one that plays very differently in a post-Me Too world than it would have in 1992.

Between 1980 and 1992, when they were dating, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow would film 13 movies together. Allen would write and direct and frequently star, and Farrow would act. She did not appear in movies made by other filmmakers during that period.

That means that Farrow and Allen were not only romantic partners; Allen was also Farrow’s boss. He hired her, and he could fire her.

In his 2020 memoir Apropos of Nothing, Allen presents this situation as one in which Farrow was taking advantage of his benevolence toward her. “I was, as my shrink pointed out, mainly a sponsor in the household,” he writes, situating himself in 1989, the year that he began the process to legally adopt two of Farrow’s children, Dylan and Moses Farrow. (Farrow had previously adopted Dylan and Moses on her own; she also had six other children, some biological and some adopted, with her ex-husband, the composer André Previn.) “I had employed Mia for ten movies, hired her sister, hired her brother, hired her mother, given her a tax-free gift of a million dollars so she could better support all these poor kids, not just mine.”

Allen’s argument is that he was Farrow’s meal ticket, and that his propensity to hire her illustrates one of the many ways he was duped by a vindictive woman who never truly cared for him.

But Allen v. Farrow paints a different picture of Allen and Farrow’s professional relationship.

“It was Woody’s world, and it was very controlled,” Farrow says of their 12 years of collaboration in the series’ second episode. “I didn’t have an agent anymore, because I was with him. I did not need an agent. He said I could share his agent.” Which means that Farrow was using Woody Allen’s agent — her boss’s agent — at the time that she was exclusively making films with him. Her entire professional life was effectively under his thumb.

And why did Farrow go along with the idea of only making Woody Allen movies and only using his agent? Because he convinced her that he was helping her out, she says. “I didn’t at that time believe I could get an agent,” she tells the camera. “Because I was old, I was in my 30s. I thought he was doing me a giant favor.”

All of which means that when Farrow ended her relationship with Allen after finding explicit pictures of her daughter Soon-Yi in his possession, and then went public with Dylan’s accusations against him, she was not only breaking up with her partner of over a decade and the father of three of her children. She was also antagonizing her employer.

So the story of Woody Allen and the Farrows is not just a story about child abuse and incest, although it is both of those things. It is also a story about workplace abuse. The power dynamics of this family were deeply shaped by the power dynamics on the sets of the movies they made together.

Intentionally or not, Allen molded his relationship with Farrow so that he was in control of how she earned her money. And when their relationship ended, he took full advantage of that position.

“He told me I would never work again in this country,” Farrow says in the fourth episode of Allen v. Farrow. “He said, ‘No one will ever hire you again.’”

Instead, Farrow took acting jobs in Ireland and France. She became a United Nations goodwill ambassador. She would have no major feature film roles in the US between 1992’s Husbands and Wives — the last movie she shot with Allen — and 2006’s remake of The Omen.

So what happened with Allen didn’t only fracture the Farrow family. It was also professionally and financially devastating for Farrow.

In 2017, Ronan Farrow, Mia Farrow and Allen’s biological son, published a series of investigations into accusations of sexual assault against Hollywood mega-mogul Harvey Weinstein. During those investigations, Ronan found that one of Weinstein’s sexual harassment tactics was to use his industry clout to blackball actresses who turned him down.

The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson would recall that when he contemplated casting Weinstein victims Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino in 1998, he received a call from Miramax, Weinstein’s production company, telling him the two women were “a nightmare to work with” and he shouldn’t hire them.

“At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us — but in hindsight, I realize that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing,” Jackson said. “I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women — and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.”

What Mia Farrow describes happening with Allen seems to fit into a similar pattern. Allen allegedly used his considerable industry might to punish Farrow professionally for making Dylan’s accusations public, in the same way that Weinstein used his endless resources and Hollywood clout to punish Judd and Sorvino for refusing his advances.

And in both cases, the enormous cultural capital that we as a culture had granted both men allowed them to wield their power unobtrusively, behind closed doors. They were able to get their revenge without having to say anything in public. Then their victims were left to deal with the fallout.

“I was so scared of him,” Farrow says of Allen toward the end of Allen v. Farrow.

“Are you still scared of him?” asks the interviewer from off camera.

Farrow nods, going teary before forcing a laugh. “I know,” she says, “that shouldn’t go with my really strong package that I’d like to present.”

But it shouldn’t be surprising that Farrow is afraid of Allen. He created a situation in which he was her boyfriend, the father of her children, and her boss. He had all the power over her. And Allen v. Farrow shows how he used that power to manipulate the public’s opinion of her and to make her life worse.


Correction: An earlier version of this article said Allen adopted Dylan and Moses in 1989. That is the year he began the process of adopting them, but it would not be legally completed until 1991.

26 Feb 19:56

Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ stealth-infused open world hits Switch in 2022

by Kyle Orland
  • A vast, ancient wilderness ready to be explored.

Today's online Pokémon Presents stream, which celebrated the series' 25th anniversary, included at least one major surprise: the announcement of a new, more action-oriented Pokémon game set in a period resembling feudal Japan. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is in full development by Game Freak and is targeting an early 2022 release, according to the announcement.

While the new game will be set in the now-familiar Sinnoh region, it will move things back to "a long, long time ago, when the Sinnoh region was still only a vast wilderness." Players will operate from a base in a feudal-style village, starting out with one of three familiar starter pokémon (Rowlett, Cyndaquil, or Oshawott) to explore that wilderness and fill in the region's first pokédex.

A short trailer for the game showed a few changes from the series' usual RPG format. Using a Sword and Shield-style over-the-shoulder camera, players can "study the pokémon’s behaviors, sneak up to them, then throw pokéballs" to catch them directly, as the game's official description puts it.

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26 Feb 19:56

Get Serious

by Reza
26 Feb 17:43

Democrats’ remaining options for raising the minimum wage, explained

by Li Zhou
Protesters holding minimum wage signs.
The progressive group Our Revolution holds $15 minimum wage signs outside of the Capitol complex on February 5, calling on Congress to pass a minimum wage hike as part of the Covid-19 relief bill. | Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Democrats haven’t given up on increasing the minimum wage just yet.

The Senate parliamentarian on Thursday dealt Democrats a disappointing blow in the fight for the $15 minimum wage, ruling that it can’t be included in a Covid-19 relief package if lawmakers want to use budget reconciliation.

That decision likely means that the $15 minimum wage is effectively dead — for now. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said repeatedly, 10 Republican senators are not going to sign on to this type of increase, meaning lawmakers won’t be able to get the 60 votes it needs to pass through regular order.

Given this dynamic, Democrats are now scrambling to figure out how they could still push for some kind of minimum wage increase via either the relief package or a standalone compromise bill with Republicans down the line. “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

A couple of options have been floated, but none appear to have the full support of the party’s caucus just yet.

One of the most straightforward possibilities — which progressives have pushed — is for Democrats to simply ignore the decision of the parliamentarian and include the $15 minimum wage in the bill anyway. That suggestion has garnered pushback from moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), however, a sign that it probably won’t happen.

Sanders, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and other Democrats also floated the idea of establishing a tax penalty that incentivizes large corporations to pay their workers a $15 minimum wage and gives small businesses a tax credit for doing so. That change wouldn’t set a new federal standard for the minimum wage, but it could help nudge businesses into offering their employees better pay. Schumer, too, had offered his backing for a plan that dings corporations that don’t raise their wages. But over the weekend, Democrats determined the idea is a no-go for now.

Ultimately, Democrats may have to consider a potential compromise with Republicans to advance any type of standalone change to the minimum wage. Thus far, five Republicans — led by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) — have backed legislation that would increase the minimum wage to $10 by 2025, a change that would also be tied to immigration enforcement. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), too, has introduced a bill that would require a $15 minimum wage at companies that make $1 billion or more in annual revenues.

Such limited changes, though, fall far short of what many Democrats have been demanding, suggesting that the minimum wage could be among the policy areas that build the case for eliminating the filibuster down the line. Were Democrats to take that route, they’d be able to approve all types of legislation, including a $15 minimum wage, with 51 votes.

Following is a rundown of ideas that have been suggested so far.

Fire or ignore the parliamentarian

Because the parliamentarian’s decision is simply advice and not a binding verdict, Democrats still have the option of either firing her or ignoring her guidance, though they probably won’t do so.

Many progressives have called for Democrats to keep the $15 minimum wage in the bill despite the parliamentarian’s position, a move that would likely prompt a challenge from Republicans on the floor. If a challenge is lodged while the bill is being debated, Vice President Kamala Harris — or whoever is presiding over the Senate — is able to overrule that challenge, effectively preserving the $15 minimum wage. Then 60 votes would be needed to nullify Harris’s decision.

There is some precedent for ignoring the parliamentarian, as the Washington Post outlines:

Parliamentarians have been ignored in the past, like in 1975, when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller ignored the advice of the parliamentarian as the Senate debated filibuster rules. [Current parliamentarian Elizabeth] MacDonough has been overruled twice before: in 2013, when Democrats deployed the so-called nuclear option to eliminate filibusters to approve presidential nominees, and in 2017, when Republicans expanded the filibuster ban to include Supreme Court nominees.

And progressive leaders have been vocal about wanting to pursue this route. “We can’t allow the advisory opinion of the unelected parliamentarian to stand in the way,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement.

On Monday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) led a letter signed by more than 20 other congressional Democrats urging the White House to overrule the parliamentarian. “For four years, Progressives have been negotiating in good faith, putting our bold agenda at the center of the American consciousness in the hopes that our country does indeed share our commitment to building a better future,” Khanna said in a statement. “This ruling is a bridge too far.”

Manchin and Sinema, though, have already said they won’t violate the sanctity of the reconciliation process, suggesting they would not back such a move. The Biden administration has also said it intends to follow standard procedure. While moderate senators’ disagreement wouldn’t prevent Harris from overruling the parliamentarian’s advice, Democrats could risk losing their votes on the broader relief bill if they took that approach.

Democrats could also fire the parliamentarian, an act that former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott actually did in 2001, after the official stymied the passage of Republican tax cuts. Such an effort would also likely prompt moderate blowback — and is seen as unlikely as a result.

Tax companies that don’t pay $15

Sanders indicated he might get creative on finagling an indirect way to raise the minimum wage through the tax code. In a statement on Thursday evening, the Vermont independent said he disagrees with the parliamentarian’s decision and that he is going to try to get around it.

“In the coming days, I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward with an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages,” he said. “That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill.”

Sen. Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, echoed the possibility and said he is “looking at a tax penalty for mega-corporations that refuse to pay a living wage” in a statement. A senior Democratic aide also confirmed that Schumer is looking at a provision to penalize corporations that won’t pay workers $15.

Basically, this would translate to a tax on companies above a yet-to-be-determined revenue threshold that have employees paid at less than $15 an hour. Wyden said in a statement that he is working on a “plan B” that would impose a 5 percent penalty on corporations’ total payroll if workers earn below a certain amount, and the penalty would increase over time. He said he would seek to put in place safeguards that stop companies from, for example, replacing workers with contractors whom they pay less. He said he would also seek to “incentivize the smallest of small businesses” to raise wages through an income tax credit equal to 25 percent of wages up to $10,000 a year to small businesses that pay workers better.

Raising wages through taxes could fall within the bounds of budget reconciliation, because it has direct fiscal implications, though there’s some debate as to whether the parliamentarian might rule against it, too. It’s not entirely dissimilar to what Republicans did in their attempt to repeal the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act when they enacted the 2017 tax cuts. They weren’t able to directly scrap it through reconciliation, but they reduced the penalty for not having health insurance to $0.

It appears the debate over this tax idea will have to take place another day, because Democrats have set it aside for now. The Washington Post first reported on Sunday that Democrats were backing away from their “plan B” on the minimum wage. A source familiar with the matter confirmed to Vox that after working through the weekend on the issue, the lawmakers determined that trying to include it would delay passage of the bill and risk it going past when expanded unemployment insurance expires on March 14.

Compromise with Republicans

Barring any additional action on the relief bill, Democrats may face a less palatable option: compromise legislation with Republicans.

This week, multiple Senate Republicans put out messaging bills signaling their interest in increasing the minimum wage — though their proposals are much narrower than what Democrats have backed.

As Vox’s Gabby Birenbaum reports, the legislation from Romney and Cotton would raise the minimum wage to $10 by 2025, instead of the $15 proposed in Sanders’s bill. Additionally, it would require employers to use the E-Verify system, which would bar businesses from hiring undocumented employees. Because of both the more conservative increase that’s proposed in this bill and the immigration enforcement component, Democrats aren’t expected to be very supportive.

A new bill from Hawley would also require corporations that have $1 billion or more in annual revenues to pay a $15 minimum wage, and provide tax credits to small-business employees who make below the median wage. Hawley’s measure has an immigration enforcement piece, too: Any potential credits wouldn’t be accessible to undocumented people.

These bills indicate that at least six Republicans are interested in some type of action on the minimum wage, though that still falls short of the 10 who’d be needed to approve a bill via regular order. Plus, the proposals they’ve put out have already prompted progressive blowback because of how restrictive they are.

Scrap the filibuster

The parliamentarian’s ruling kicked up an ongoing debate among Democrats: whether it’s time to eliminate the filibuster and make it possible for any bill, not just ones under budget reconciliation, to pass under a simple majority. The Senate makes its own rules and can change them with a majority vote at any moment. If Democrats really want to pass the minimum wage — or plenty of other pieces of legislation, really — with 51 votes, they can.

In an interview with Politico, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) suggested they might go that route on the minimum wage. “If we can do it through reconciliation, great,” she said. “If we can’t, then we need to tackle the filibuster issue and then pass minimum wage.”

She isn’t alone in drawing attention to the filibuster. In a tweet on Thursday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) wrote, “The filibuster was never in the constitution, originated mostly by accident, and has historically been used to block civil rights. No legislatures on earth have a supermajority requirement because that’s stupid and paralyzing. It’s time to trash the Jim Crow filibuster.” Many other lawmakers followed suit.

Again, abolishing the filibuster doesn’t have the support of the entire Democratic caucus. Sinema told Politico recently that she wants to strengthen the filibuster and “restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate’s work.” Manchin has made quite clear he doesn’t want to scrap the filibuster, either.

Whatever happens with the minimum wage, this conversation isn’t going away: The filibuster is going to stand in the way of much of the Democrats’ agenda.

26 Feb 12:26

Valve has to provide some Steam sales data to Apple, judge says

by Kyle Orland
The Steam corporate logo repeats over a red background.

(credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

A US magistrate judge has ordered Valve to provide sales data to Apple in response to a subpoena issued amid Apple's continuing legal fight with Epic Games.

In addition to some aggregate sales data for the entirety of Steam, Valve will only have to provide specific, per-title pricing and sales data for "436 specific apps that are available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store," according to the order. That's a significant decrease from the 30,000+ titles Apple for which Apple originally requested data.

In resisting the subpoena, Valve argued that its Steam sales data was irrelevant to questions about the purely mobile app marketplaces at issue in the case. Refocusing the request only on games available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store makes it more directly relevant to the questions of mobile competition in the case, Judge Thomas Hixson writes in his order.

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26 Feb 12:16

The $15 minimum wage is effectively dead — for now

by Li Zhou
An activist wears a “Fight For $15” T-shirt during a news conference prior to a vote on the Raise the Wage Act in 2019 in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian says the minimum wage increase can’t be part of the stimulus bill.

The $15 minimum wage is effectively dead — for now.

The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, told senators on Thursday that the policy did not have a significant enough effect on the federal budget to be included as part of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill. That decision — while one that Democrats could ignore — means there likely won’t be any more action on the minimum wage in the near term.

Democrats expressed disappointment at the decision.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a longtime champion of the $15 minimum wage, has previously said, Republican opposition to wage increases makes it unlikely lawmakers would be able to get the proposal through via regular order — which would need 60 votes. Budget reconciliation — the process that Democrats are utilizing to approve Covid-19 relief legislation — would only require 51.

“Let’s be clear. We are never going to get 10 Republicans to increase the minimum wage,” Sanders previously said. “The only way to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour now is to pass it with 51 votes through budget reconciliation.”

The parliamentarian’s decision narrows the path for changes to the minimum wage in this Congress: Although Republicans have put forth their own $10 minimum wage bill, the likelihood of a compromise is exceedingly slim.

Democrats could still ignore the parliamentarian

While the parliamentarian has made her decision, Democrats do have one other option: They could ignore her ruling and keep the minimum wage in their legislation anyway. That’s a route many progressives have urged Democrats take — though moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have lobbied against it.

It’s not a common practice — and it is seen as pretty partisan — but it would mean that Democrats are able to push the minimum wage through now, rather than banking on a compromise that may be a long time coming.

To do this, Democrats would simply keep the minimum wage in the relief bill, a move that would likely prompt a Republican challenge when the legislation hits the floor. At that time, the presiding officer could overrule that challenge and unless 60 members contest that decision, that ruling would stand.

Given signals from the White House — and enduring opposition from moderate Democrats — party leaders aren’t expected to use this approach, though they’ll still face pressure from progressives to do so.

The minimum wage has been stymied, again

The parliamentarian’s decision marks the latest instance of increases to the minimum wage getting stymied yet again.

Currently at $7.25, the federal minimum wage has not increased for more than a decade, even though an overwhelming majority of voters support changes to it. This week, a new Vox and Data for Progress poll found that 61 percent of likely voters would back a gradual minimum wage increase. In multiple Republican-leaning states, too, voters have supported ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage over time.

The Raise the Wage Act — which Democrats had pushed to keep in the relief package — would boost the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 over the course of five years, and then peg additional updates to gains in the median wage. According to a Congressional Budget Office report, it had the potential to lift 900,000 people out of poverty and increase the pay of 27 million people.

Previously, the legislation had been blocked wholesale by Senate Republicans, who’ve expressed concerns about possible job losses and the burden this policy could impose on small business owners. (The Congressional Budget Office also estimates that the measure could cost 1.4 million jobs, though many economists think this figure is overblown.)

To get around GOP opposition, Democrats had fought for the inclusion of the policy in budget reconciliation — a move that’s been blocked this time around by procedural limitations.

Correction, February 25: A version of this article was published in error, wrongly stating that the parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage increase was allowed under budget reconciliation.

26 Feb 12:12

Google’s foldable Pixel smartphone could debut by end of 2021

by Tyler Lee

For a while now, it has been rumored that Google could be working on a foldable Pixel phone. The company had in the past updated Android to support foldable devices, which led to speculation that they might be working on such a device themselves. Now a tweet from leakster Jon Prosser has “confirmed” the existence of such a device, and that it could be launching by the end of 2021.

The device in question is said to be given the codename “Passport”, which doesn’t really leave much to the imagination in terms of its form factor. Prosser does note that its launch could be late and that it will either take place towards the end of 2021 or in the early part of 2022.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the foldable Pixel phone at the moment. We did come across a recent report that suggested that Samsung could be the one to supply Google with the displays, and that the final device could end up being roughly similar in size to the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

It will be quite a huge departure for Google to launch such a device, especially when you consider that the company’s Pixel phones have typically remained somewhat lowkey in terms of design, but it could be of interest to those who might prefer a more vanilla Android experience.

The post Google’s foldable Pixel smartphone could debut by end of 2021 first appeared on Phandroid.

26 Feb 12:12

How to install Android 10 on the Nintendo Switch

by Tyler Lee

While Nintendo hasn’t really said much about the hardware that powers its Switch console, teardowns have revealed that it is powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra chipset. The Tegra chipset, for those unfamiliar, is an ARM-based chipset that NVIDIA had tried to market to smartphone makers back in the day somewhat unsuccessfully.

This doesn’t mean that the Tegra is dead, but as we can see in the Switch, it is clearly alive and well and has found a new home. The good news is that since it is an ARM-based chipset, it means that in theory, it should be capable of supporting platforms like Google’s Android mobile operating system.

Thanks to the work of developer bylaws, they have figured out a way to install Android 10 on the Switch. If you’re keen on maybe trying to bring Android onto your Nintendo Switch, then read on to find out how to do that.

Check your Nintendo Switch version

Before we get started, you’ll need to check the version of the Switch you’re running to see whether or not it is hackable. This is because Nintendo has patched some versions of the Switch to make it unhackable, so if you just bought a Switch you could be out of luck, but if you have an older model it could still work.

Head to this website and enter your Switch’s serial number and it should tell you if it can be hacked. Assuming that it can, you can proceed to the guide below.

Installing Android 10 on the Nintendo Switch

  1. Boot up your Nintendo Switch and ensure the Joy-Coys are connected and synced with your console
  2. Turn the Switch off and take out the microSD card and make sure that the card has been formatted in FAT32
  3. Download Lineage OS 17.1 (which is based on Android 10) from here onto a computer
  4. Download the Hekate bootloader from here onto a computer
  5. Connect the microSD to your computer and make sure that you’ve backed up its contents in the event that something goes wrong and your files get deleted
  6. Open the Lineage 17.1 ZIP file you downloaded using 7-zip (download here if you don’t already have it). Do not use the built-in Windows extractor tool.
  7. Drag and drop the files in the ZIP to your microSD card’s root directory
  8. Open the Hekate ZIP and drag the bootloader file onto your microSD card
  9. Disconnect the microSD card from your computer and put it back into the Nintendo Switch
  10. Connect your RCM loader to your Switch (you can buy one here if you don’t have one)
  11. Press the power button to initialize boot, then press and hold volume down
  12. You should now find yourself booted into Hekate. You can skip the setup of the date and time
  13. Tap Nyx Options and then tap “Dump Joy-Con BT” and tap OK when it’s done. Make sure it says “Found 2 out of 2 Joy-Cons”.
  14. Tap Close
  15. Tap on Tools and select “Arch bit . RCM . Touch . Partitions”
  16. Tap “Partition SD Card”
  17. Drag the Android slider to choose how much space you want the SD card to reserve for Android, and the HOS slider to choose how much space the Switch OS can use
  18. Tap “Next Step” and then tap “Start” and wait for the microSD card to partition
  19. Tap “Flash Android” and click “Continue” and wait
  20. When prompted if you want to reboot into TWRP tap “Continue”
  21. Once you’re in TWRP, swipe the bar at the  bottom right to allow modifications and press “Install”
  22. Tap on “Select Storage” and choose the microSD card
  23. Tap on the Lineage 17.1 ZIP and swipe to confirm
  24. During the Lineage install process, you might see some errors pop up, but you can ignore those.
  25. Once you’re done installing the ZIP files, press “Reboot system”
  26. When it is rebooting, press the volume down to allow it to boot into Hekate
  27. Once you’re back at the menu, tap “More configs” and then select “switchroot Android 10”
  28. It will take a while for it to boot into Android 10
  29. Once it’s booted, you’ll be greeted with a setup wizard, just follow the instructions on the screen and you’re good to go

Now some of you might be wary about modding your Nintendo Switch, but the good news is that because this method involves using your SD card, it shouldn’t override your Switch’s main operating system. It also means that you shouldn’t get in trouble with Nintendo over this mod, but do proceed at your own risk.

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The post How to install Android 10 on the Nintendo Switch first appeared on Phandroid.

25 Feb 18:20

Rand Paul tried to derail Rachel Levine’s historic confirmation hearing with transphobic misinformation

by Gabby Birenbaum
Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the confirmation hearing for Vivek Murthy and Rachel Levine. | Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Levine, if confirmed, would be the highest-ranking openly trans official in the federal government.

In her opening statement, Dr. Rachel Levine — the Biden administration’s nominee for assistant secretary of health and who would be the highest-ranking openly trans government official in American history — emphasized her long résumé, leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, and history working in pediatric and adolescent health.

“My career has been helping people live healthy lives,” Levine said. “As the assistant secretary for health, I would be committed each day to helping the people of our nation and improving our public health. I am both humbled by the opportunity and ready for the job.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), meanwhile, used his time to promote transphobic misinformation.

In a moment in which the pandemic is exposing severe health challenges, especially for America’s most marginalized, Paul’s line of questioning was particularly egregious.

Paul opened with an extended statement about “genital mutilation” — a frequent misnomer Republicans have used in the past to pursue anti-trans policy. He promoted the myth that social pressures are contributing to American children pursuing trans-affirming health care, criticizing Levine for supporting minors “being given hormone blockers and surgical reconstruction of a child’s genitalia.” He asked if she believed children were capable of making decisions regarding their gender identity.

When Levine responded by saying transgender medicine is a “complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” and offering to work with Paul’s office more on the issue, he refused to drop the question. He shared the story of Kira Bell, a 23-year-old British woman who is suing an NHS gender clinic over allowing her to transition to being a male as a teenager.

As Paul told it, Bell “read something about transsexuals” online as a teenager and was persuaded to transition before ultimately regretting it. “Transsexual” is a term the advocacy group GLAAD defines as outdated; it’s often weaponized by conservatives when referring to people who identify as transgender. In addition, transition regret or de-transitioning occurs at low rates — a 2015 survey found only 8 percent of transgender people in the US de-transitioned, most commonly because of pressure from a parent, with 62 percent of de-transition cases proving temporary.

When Levine gave the same reply she used to Paul’s prior question, he became agitated, using incorrect pronouns and painting a disturbing picture of trans health care in a time when violence against the transgender community is at high levels.

“For most of the history of medicine, we wouldn’t let you have a cut sewn up in the ER (without parental consent),” Paul said. “But you’re willing to let a minor take things that prevent their puberty, and you think they get that back? You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard. Do you think she’s going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone? You have permanently changed them.”

Despite Rand’s claims that puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones are distributed with little thought, as Katelyn Burns wrote for Vox, “Nowadays, doctors recommend taking a humane and affirming approach when a child expresses that their gender may not match their assigned sex at birth. This affirmation includes allowing trans kids to socially transition (i.e., use whichever name, pronouns, and clothing make them comfortable); medical interventions — like puberty suppression or gender-affirming hormones like estrogen or testosterone — are only recommended for adolescents who have been insistent, persistent, and consistent in their gender identity over long periods.”

The affirming model has been recommended by nearly every major American medical association, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Endocrine Society, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and many others.

Still, Paul went on. “Infertility is another problem,” he continued, making his view of the value of biological women, and therefore his concerns about trans men, plain.

Paul was eventually cut off by health, education, and labor committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA). She and other Democrats praised Levine for her professionalism in handling Paul’s transphobic remarks, and spoke to the greater problem Paul’s rhetoric presented.

“It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than on ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Sen. Paul earlier,” Murray said.

Levine’s confirmation would be historic — and it would come at time when conservatives continue to attack trans rights

Levine’s nomination is historic. If confirmed, she would not only be the highest-ranking trans official in government but the first trans person to be confirmed by the Senate. It would be a watershed moment for LGBTQ representation and perspective in the federal government. But Levine, as a deeply qualified doctor who has held numerous statewide positions in Pennsylvania, would also be a critical appointment as the country faces enormous health challenges. As Burns explains:

Because of the historic nature of Levine’s appointment, there has been much talk about her trans identity. Meanwhile, her qualifications, which should not be overshadowed, have taken a back seat. For the last three years, she’s been the secretary of health for Pennsylvania, where she has taken the lead on the state’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Her clear-eyed press conferences instructing Pennsylvanians on how to survive the pandemic have earned praise from Democrats inside the state. Before she became the secretary of health, she was the state’s physician general.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) made sure to call out that point, condemning Paul’s questions.

“I appreciate the dignity and the professionalism in your response to Senator Paul,” Smith said. “This is a moment when we should focus on the grave challenges before us — and one of these challenges is that LGBTQ+ people long faced discrimination and barriers to health care, and they’re much more likely to lack access to insurance and affordable medical care. We need advocates at all levels to make sure that we address that inequity and that we fight discrimination and ensure that everybody, all patients, have access to care.”

Paul’s line of questioning comes on the heels of another public GOP attack on trans youth from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). As the House works to pass the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people, Greene hung a transphobic sign outside of her office that read, “There are two genders: MALE & FEMALE ... Trust the Science!”.

Greene’s sign was particularly hateful considering her office is directly across from that of Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL), who hung a transgender flag outside of her office in support of her transgender daughter. Greene has also attacked Newman on Twitter and misgendered her daughter on the House floor.

Levine, who was unanimously confirmed twice by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state Senate, would be confirmed if she maintains the support of all 50 Senate Democrats. Multiple Republicans during the hearing expressed an eagerness to work with her, suggesting a bipartisan confirmation may be likely.

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25 Feb 17:39

We’re 3x more likely to buy an EV if we’ve ridden in one, survey finds

by Jonathan M. Gitlin
Berlin, Germany - October 21, 2020: Electric vehicles on a public parking space on a street.

Enlarge / Berlin, Germany - October 21, 2020: Electric vehicles on a public parking space on a street. (credit: Getty Images)

2020 actually wasn't a bad year in terms of global electric vehicle adoption. More than 3.2 million plug-in hybrid and battery EVs found new homes—a 43 percent increase year on year, despite the worst pandemic in several generations. Most of the credit belongs to Europe, where 1.4 million new EVs were sold, a tenth of all new light vehicle sales for the region and a 134 percent increase over 2019.

Unfortunately, things didn't look so great here in the US. Plug-in sales outperformed the overall car-buying slump, but depending on where you look, we're either up only four percent or down just over 10 percent last year.

The good news is that there's no mystery involved in boosting those numbers—we already know several ways to get people to switch to EVs. Europe's newfound fervor for EVs is being driven by the threat of massive fines for automakers whose fleets emit too much CO2. Policy levers don't have to be hitting sticks, though; there are efforts here in the US to extend the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs to cover the first 600,000 vehicles sold by an OEM, although that, of course, depends on congressional action.

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