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kmcowan 19 May, 2018 0

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The Atlantic
  • I’d Do It Again
    The Associated Press journalist Edward Kennedy (Sam Goldstein / AP). Edward Kennedy published this essay in the August 1948 issue of The Atlantic. His daughter, Julia Kennedy Cochran, has granted permission for us to republish it here. What follows is Kennedy’s original account.Surrender ScoopWhen Edward Kennedy filed the first bulletin to reach American readers with news of the Germans’ final capitulation in May, 1945, he started a controversy that has remained at the boil ever since among newspapermen. Here for the first time is his complete reply to those who complained that he violated SHAEF’s release agreement and took an unfair advantage over his colleagues. Mr. Kennedy was Chief of the Paris Bureau of the Associated Press and is now Managing Editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press.I’D DO IT AGAIN1EARLY in April, 1945, German resistance was crumbling fast on the Western Front. American troops crossed the Elbe. There was little blocking their way into Berlin, but they were pulled back. In the weeks that followed there was fraternization between the Americans held to one side of the Elbe and German soldiers on the other, who yelled, “Come on over, we’re not fighting you any more.” The halt permitted the Russians to edge into Berlin; that was its purpose.To our people and troops, the Russians still were our gallant allies. But official relations between Washington and Moscow already were troubled by open Russian distrust and even hostility. In March, Stalin had baselessly accused Roosevelt of attempting to negotiate a virtual separate peace—a deal in which the Germans would fall back before the Western Allies in return for Anglo­-American support of easier peace terms.Our policy, based on a conviction that the winning of World War II would be worthless if it led only to a new contest with Russia, and that almost any price was worth paying to avoid such a development, was one of appeasement and concession toward Moscow. Military commanders were warned to avoid even the appearance of taking advantage of the German preference for us over the Russians. It was against this jittery background that two German officers, Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg and Colonel Fritz Poleck, arrived at Field Marshal Montgomery's Headquarters on May 4, after all reports of fighting on the Western Front had ceased. Montgomery received them expecting only the surrender of more of the German forces facing his armies. But they said they had been sent by the government of Admiral Karl Doenitz, who had succeeded to power on Hitler’s death, to discuss the surrender of all that was left of the Third Reich. That was beyond Monty’s authority. He sent them on to Eisenhower at Forward Headquarters of the Supreme Command at Reims.Friedeburg told Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, that he was not authorized to sign a surrender, but merely to get the terms on which a surrender might be signed and to learn how the Doenitz government would be expected to put it into effect. The Doenitz cabinet had fled Berlin for Flensburg, on the German-Danish frontier. British troops entered Flensburg and the regime became a captive one, but continued to function. The British Ministry of Information announced that the powerful radio station at Flensburg was being operated by the Germans, under Allied censorship.Friedeburg was told that the new German government must authorize promptly an unconditional surrender to the Western Allies and Russia, or be held responsible for the continuance of the war. He sent this message to Doenitz. It was delivered to Flensburg by a courier from Second British Army Headquarters.While awaiting the reply, Smith ruled that the surrender—the great news for which all the Allied world was waiting anxiously—would be held in Army secrecy, with war correspondents barred. It was to be reported only by designated Army personnel, who would supply their eyewitness accounts to the correspondents later. Brigadier General Frank A. Allen, head of the Supreme Command’s Public Relations Division, mapped the press coverage of the event on that basis.Smith’s plan was upset when Charles C. Wertenbaker, head of the Paris staff of Time, bobbed up in Reims despite a rule against correspondents’ going there and got a glimpse of something that gave the show away—two German uniforms. On the argument that Wertenbaker alone should not have an on-the-scene story, Lieutenant Colonel Burrows Matthews, peacetime editor of the Buffalo Courier­-Express and a friend of the correspondents, persuaded Army Public Relations that correspondents be allowed to witness and report the surrenderSmith reluctantly agreed to accept a limited number. He didn't want too many.General Allen exhumed from the archives of SHAEF Public Relations a document entitled “Operation Jackplane.” It had been drawn up while Supreme Headquarters was still in London, and had been intended to serve as a list of the first planeload of correspondents to be flown to Berlin on that city’s fall. He decided that this would be the list for the surrender.On Sunday morning, May 6, one of Allen’s aides told me that the Associated Press staff, which I headed, was entitled to send one correspondent to report an event the nature of which could not be disclosed. I said I’d go myself.[Read: The war photo no one would publish]Those selected were taken to a small airfield outside Paris, where we met General Allen. There were seventeen on the Jackplane list. The others were from the United Press, International News Service, Reuters, Exchange Telegraph, and the French and Russian news agencies; all the American, British, Canadian, and Australian radio networks; and two Army newspapers, Stars and Stripes and The Maple Leaf (Canadian). Allen felt that his list was an equitable one, for the correspondents on it represented, indirectly, practically every newspaper and radio station in the Allied world.2As the airplane winged northeastward, Allen told us that the trip concerned the impending surrender of the Germans. Then followed the “pledge on the plane,” so much cited in the controversy which followed. Allen and some of the correspondents later vested this with the solemnity of an initiation in one of the more mystically inclined fraternal orders. In reality it was a rambling talk by the general. He first warned of the possibility that the negotiations might fall through and of the disastrous effects that premature word might have in such event. He cautioned us to disclose the purpose of our voyage to no one—not even to other war correspondents—before the surrender was signed. He added that a time would be set for the release of the news, but that he did not know when it would be. He thereupon exacted of each of us a pledge “not to communicate the results of this conference or the fact of its existence until it has been released by the Supreme Headquarters.”The pledge on the plane had no special significance. It merely reaffirmed the signed pledge, required of all war correspondents on being accredited, not to evade censorship. The imposition of release time on some of the news originating at Supreme Headquarters was an everyday practice of SHAEF Public Relations. The pledge on the plane was no less binding for this. I naturally and automatically registered my acceptance of the arrangement, as I had in hundreds of other cases. I gave my pledge in good faith, intending to honor it. I did honor it.The airplane landed at Reims and we were taken to SHAEF Forward. A few moments later, Colonel General Gustav Jodl, the new chief of staff of the German Army, and his aide, Major Wilhelm Oxenius, arrived at the Headquarters. Jodl had been sent by Doenitz with full authority to surrender. SHAEF Forward occupied the red brick building of a technical school, a two-story quadrangle sprawling over a block and enclosing a large court. We correspondents were placed in a classroom on the ground floor while Allen and his aides went upstairs to learn what was happening.We waited nine hours. Allen paid us several visits, making varying statements as plans were changed upstairs. At one point he said that our sending of the news would be held up until the surrender was announced by the heads of the Allied governments. After further discussions with members of Eisenhower’s staff, he told us that the importance of announcing the surrender immediately after the signing was so urgent that he expected the news to be released at Paris before we could return there.Several correspondents complained that this would mean that correspondents left behind in Paris would report the news ahead of those especially selected for that purpose.“But the correspondents in Paris will have only the bare announcement and you’ll have the full eyewitness account,” Allen said. “And you won’t be much behind them. We’ll get you back to Paris in short time.”Meanwhile several groups of correspondents who had not been invited to the surrender arrived in Reims by jeep. Despite the secrecy imposed, they had learned what was going on and where it was happening—through leaks in Allen’s Public Relations staff. They were loud in their denunciations of the arbitrary selection which had left them out.General Allen was deaf to their pleas. He ordered military police to bar them from the building. At sundown they were standing on the sidewalk in groups, talking angrily and peering forlornly through our classroom window.Such notables among the “illegals” as Raymond Daniell of the New York Times and Helen Kirkpatrick of the Chicago Daily News protested that they represented newspapers which maintained complete foreign staffs. It was unthinkable, they said, that such newspapers be barred from reporting one of the great news stories of history. Allen defended his exclusion of individual newspapers on the ground that he had to draw the line somewhere for lack of space.Then the outcasts discovered a flaw in his Jackplane plan in that one newspaper was represented.Price Day of the Baltimore Sun had been pressed into service by the British news agency, Exchange Telegraph, which had been assigned one of the seventeen places. Allen met the situation by ruling that Day might write his story for Extel, but might not send the same account to his own paper. (This ruling was later rescinded and Day was permitted to file to the Sun, which in any case could have picked up his story from Extel in London.)The embittered outsiders appealed to British Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan, as he arrived at the Headquarters. He said he’d intercede in their behalf. Morgan told Allen he thought something ought to be done about those correspondents outside. Allen misinterpreted this as a complaint and sent MPs out to chase them away under threat of arrest. That did not lessen their indignation.3AT 2:41 a.m., Monday, May 7, we Jackplane correspondents saw the signing of the unconditional surrender by the two crestfallen Nazi war lords. Our less fortunate confreres chafed on the sidewalks of Reims in the chill early morning air, although various Headquarters officers managed to slip WAC and Red Cross girl friends into the room to see the historic event. The surrender took place in the L-shaped war room, its walls covered with maps and casualty charts. The correspondents and other witnesses were roped off in one corner, but Army photographers buzzed around the table and mounted a stepladder placed next to it for “angle shots.”The Allied signers—Bedell Smith for the Supreme Command, General François Sevez for France, General Ivan Susloparov for the Soviet Union, and Admiral Sir Harold Burrough, R.N., for a separate Naval disarmament order—were seated at the table. The Germans entered the room uncertainly and blinking in the glare of lights. Jodl was solemn, Friedeburg shaky. (Friedeburg committed suicide a few days later.)The Allied signers arose and Smith beckoned the Germans to two vacant chairs on the opposite side of the table, remarking dryly, “There are four copies to be signed.”After the signatures of all were affixed—the documents and pens were passed from one another around the table—Jodl made a brief plea for such generosity as the Allies might be able to show to the German people and the two walked slowly out of the room.They were led to Eisenhower’s office. The Supreme Commander, flanked by his deputy, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder, asked them sternly if they understood the terms and if they would be carried out. They said yes. We were allowed to witness this scene through a doorway.In a delayed-action burst of generosity, Allen permitted the outcast correspondents to enter the Headquarters after the surrender and to look at the room in which it had been signed, so that they might describe it in their stories.We, the Lucky Seventeen, were led back to our classroom while Allen talked with high SHAEF officers to get a final decision on the time of the release of the news. While waiting, I wrote my dispatch. I handed it to a censor. He read it and stamped it.At about 4 A.M., Allen appeared and said: “Gentlemen, I had anticipated that the news would be released at once, but it appears that this is not to be the case. General Eisenhower is desirous of having the news announced immediately for its possible effect in saving lives, but his hands are tied at a high political level and we can do nothing about it. The release has been set for 3 P.M., Tuesday, Paris time.”Exclamations of disgust went up from the correspondents. The bland admission that political censorship was being imposed—contrary to the demands of military security—set off bitter recriminations. General Allen’s seventeen trained seals became almost as unruly as those he had left off his list.[From the March 1899 issue: Experiences of a war censor]“I appreciate your point of view, gentlemen,” he said. “I personally think this story ought to be released without delay. I will try my best to get it released before the time set, but I don't know how effective I shall be. In any case, there is nothing for us to do now but return to Paris.”I was exasperated by the situation, but confident that the news would be released during the morning. The absurdity of attempting to bottle up news of such magnitude was too apparent. I know from experience that one might as well try to censor the rising of the sun.We flew back to Paris in the pale gold sunshine of an early May morning. I have never seen the city so beautiful as it was from the air that day, crowned by the white gleaming dome of Sacré Coeur. Already the traffic of workers to their jobs had begun; the streets were full of little black dots. They would not work this day through. What news we had for them, and for workers everywhere! News that would make them throw down their tools and celebrate the peace after years of hardship and worry.At 10 A.M., General Allen held a press conference at the Hôtel Scribe, Public Relations Headquarters. It was an angry meeting. The correspondents barred from the signing were still complaining. The incomprehensible decision to hold up the news for thirty-six hours strained tempers more. Allen said he was doing his best to get it released that day.I learned from high SHAEF officers that the delay had been ordered from Washington, at the request of the Russians, who wanted to hold another and “more formal” ceremony in Berlin.This sounded strange. The Reims surrender was unconditional, it fulfilled the proclaimed objective of the Allies, and Russia was a full partner to it. Any second ceremony would be meaningless, except for Soviet propaganda purposes.I took a short walk. Everywhere were rumors of the end of the war and puzzlement that no announcement had come.In the Scribe lobby, correspondents were standing about in bunches, muttering their displeasure and drawing up resolutions against SHAEF Public Relations. I could see little use in joining them, so I went to our AP office on the fourth floor and took stock of the reports coming one upon the other.De Gaulle’s office said he was writing his V Day address. General Sevez, who signed for France, had sent his eyewitness account to the newspaper Figaro. Paris noon newspapers published dispatches from London saying that loud-speakers were being erected at 10 Downing Street and that Britain awaited only the formal announcement. Official word was sent to Allied soldiers at the front. The British War Ministry made known the details to its personnel, including civilian employees.I was convinced that if the formal release did not soon come, the news would inevitably break through the barrier some other way. At 2:03 P.M., Paris time, the break came. Count von Krosigk, foreign minister of the Doenitz government at Flensburg, announced the unconditional surrender in a broadcast beamed to the world and addressed to “German Men and Women.”“After a heroic fight of almost six years of incomparable hardness, Germany has succumbed to the overwhelming power of her enemies,” he said.The Krosigk broadcast was monitored by the British Ministry of Information and immediately distributed for publication. I heard it in a British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast on our office radio a few moments later. In succeeding minutes urgent telegrams arrived from the AP in New York and London relaying the Krosigk announcement.I knew that Flensburg was occupied by Allied troops. I knew that the Doenitz government could not have broadcast its announcement without the consent of the Supreme Command. It was clear that SHAEF itself had broken through the gag. German Army communications were so disrupted that a public broadcast was the only means of making sure that isolated units knew the war was over and dropped their arms.I tried to reach General Allen by telephone to tell him that the news of the surrender had been released, but was told that he was too busy to talk to me. Accompanied by Relman Morin of my staff, I went to the office of Lieutenant Colonel Richard H. Merrick, the chief American censor, and showed him the text of the Flensburg announcement.“I can’t help it,” he said. “I have orders to follow.”My pledge—in General Allen’s words—was not to break the news “until it has been released by the Supreme Headquarters.” I told Merrick that since Supreme Headquarters had released the news through the Germans, I felt under no further obligation to observe the gag. “I give you warning now that I am going to send the story,” I said.“Do as you please,” he said. He could not conceive, of course, of a correspondent getting a dispatch through the iron curtain that the censorship thought it had thrown around the European Theater.I went to my room and weighed the matter. I knew that sending the story would bring upon me the wrath of Public Relations and of the other correspondents. It was not a desire to make a “scoop” that pushed me inexorably to my decision—I had already scored plenty of those. It was a conviction that my duty was to report the news. If any personal feeling affected my judgment, it was the accumulated vexation over the dishonesties of censorship under which I had worked during five years of war. This topped them all, for here was admittedly political censorship in clear-cut violation of the cardinal point of American censorship—as enunciated from the White House down—that it would be limited to matters of genuine military security. I made up my mind. I have never regretted my decision.4I KNEW that I could reach our London office by military telephone. I had used this telephone many times, with the knowledge of Public Relations officers. I had talked over it to members of our staff in Front areas and to our London bureau on matters concerning our service. In accordance with my obligations, I had never used it to evade censorship. Anyone could call “Paris Military” from the Scribe and be connected with any telephone in London. Any enemy agent in Paris might have done this. The fact that SHAEF had left this loophole in its supposedly airtight security system is something for the military mind to explain.I started writing a condensed version of my account of the surrender and instructed Mort Gudebrod of our staff to put in a call for London. I accepted full responsibility for his action, but SHAEF Public Relations later imposed a penalty on him as well as me.I dictated the story until the telephone connection went bad. I got through all the essential details of the event at Reims—enough to make it clear that this was no rumor, but an authentic account by an eyewitness; that this was the real thing, the news for which the world was waiting.“Well, now let’s see what happens,” I said to members of my staff. “I may not be around here much longer.”They laughed nervously.The storm broke quickly. General Allen suspended the operations of the Associated Press in the entire European Theater. Even our room telephones were cut off.[Read: How officials tried to censor one of the biggest stories in the world]Correspondents dashed madly about the Scribe. Their chagrin and rage knew no bounds. Messages poured in from their home offices—why didn't they have the story?General Allen, by this time an expert at rubbing salt into open wounds, ruled that the official release time of 3 P.M. the following day was still in effect. He decided that the other correspondents might quote from my story, since it was already out, but might not send their own dispatches.The effect of such a ruling on the already shattered nerves of the correspondents may be imagined. While the crowds outside the Scribe were shouting themselves hoarse over the war's end, correspondents inside the hotel were losing their voices in denunciations of me, Allen, and the general situation.My dispatch was published and broadcast the world over, and set off a gigantic celebration. Even SHAEF itself spread it through Europe in twenty languages over the Command’s broadcasting station.As far as I could determine, no action was to be taken against me immediately, but I was not permitted to work. The most practical course seemed to be to go out and join in the celebration. I did.Allen’s suspension of the Associated Press brought a bombardment of protests in the United States. SHAEF had penalized not only the AP, but every newspaper and radio station receiving AP news and their readers and listeners—at a time when they were vitally interested in news from the European Theater. The War Department, heeding public indignation, sent a strong recommendation to SHAEF to cool down. The ban on the AP was lifted, but the suspension of Gudebrod and myself as correspondents remained in effect.At noon the following day—the “official” V-E Day, as distinguished from the real one—the embittered correspondents met in the briefing room at the Scribe. They demanded a reimposition of the suspension of the AP to bar that organization from sending the official release. Apparently they fancied the world still waiting breathlessly for the already stale news.As hysteria mounted, it was touch and go as to whether Allen or I would be their main target. Wertenbaker offered a motion that “Public Relations of SHAEF and its director (General Allen) no longer have the confidence of correspondents.” It was quickly seconded but left hanging as a new keynote was sounded by Drew Middleton of the New York Times, who said: “You realize, gentlemen, that you have taken the worst beating of your lives. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”In view of the enormity of the beating they had taken and the querulous demands of their home offices for explanations, there was only one way out of their embarrassment. That was to brand me as an unspeakable scoundrel who had broken the confidence which they had so nobly kept.Several more moderate correspondents advised against a condemnation before SHAEF’s investigation of the incident was completed and the facts determined. They were shouted down. A petition was drafted excoriating me in language worthy of the frenzy of the assembly and demanding that the Associated Press be forbidden to report news for a punitive period. It was signed by fifty-four correspondents and sent to Eisenhower. He promptly rejected it.Here was an episode in the long struggle for the freedom of the press never likely to be set on canvas: an elite battalion of knights of the press waging a fight to deny a part of the press the right to report news, with a five-star graduate of West Point as the champion of their prey.The venom loosed at the meeting found its way into the dispatches of some of the correspondents. More of it got into their explanatory messages to their home offices. Most of them probably believed in their righteousness and my wickedness. They were in no mood to examine what justification there might have been for my action, or to realize that they could have done the same thing had they been alert to developments. They were smarting too terribly to think of anything but revenge—and a plausible explanation for their failure.I was not much concerned over the action of the correspondents or an equally preposterous report of Allen accusing me of endangering lives and all but wrecking the peace. I was disaccredited as a correspondent on the basis of this report, which any investigation of the facts would have exploded.Then came a statement from Robert McLean, president of the Associated Press, expressing regret for the distribution of the surrender news “in advance of authorization by Supreme Allied Head­quarters.” This repudiation was a more serious blow. It was also a disillusionment, for I had believed that the precise difference between the Associated Press and the Nazi press was that the former reported news and the latter “authorized news.” I left for America.5ON arrival I found a national debate still raging over the ethics of my action. Everyone had an opinion; nobody, it seemed, was neutral. Despite the accusations of Army Public Relations, the distorted dispatches of griped correspondents, and McLean’s repudiation, I found—as did the War Department in a survey—that sentiment was overwhelmingly on my side. In scores of newspaper editorials and thousands of letters awaiting me, the proportion was about 80 pro to 20 con.The mass of Americans took the view that once the war in Europe was over they had a right to know it. They had perception enough to see through the accusations of correspondents beaten on a story, and sense enough to know that lives are not endangered by announcing the end of hostilities; they may be lost by withholding the announcement.But there was fierce antagonism in certain quarters: in the Army’s Public Relations bureaucracy and among newspaper organizations whose correspondents were involved. Some of the latter, notably the New York Times, were powerful in the Associated Press directorate. These quarters had applied strong pressure on McLean; he had yielded and issued his statement, admittedly without knowing the full facts at the time.I told Kent Cooper, the operating head of the AP, that in view of McLean’s statement I did not see how I could remain with the organization. He refused to accept my resignation or dismiss me. The membership of the AP was divided; the case was too hot to take a stand on. He suggested that I end the controversy by admitting a breach of confidence and asking forgiveness all around. I naturally refused that false and cowardly way out. He next passed on to me an attractive job offer elsewhere. I refused that convenient way out. I considered my connection with the AP ended, but the AP has never yet ventured a word on its disposition of the case.[Read: AP finally apologizes to reporter fired for scooping end of WWII]I set about obtaining a fair hearing, confident that it could result only in my vindication. I knew that the Flensburg announcement could not have been made without the authorization of the Supreme Command, but obtaining proof was difficult, since it could be had only from the Army itself.I called on the War Department for an explanation of how the Flensburg broadcast was made. Even when several members of Congress pressed for this information, the Army squirmed and dodged, delayed, and pretended not to know. It took a year, but at length I got what I wanted, a signed admission from Bedell Smith, chief of staff of the Supreme Command, that:—“Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk did officially announce the unconditional surrender of Germany in a broadcast to the German people and to the world from Flensburg….This announcement was made pursuant to orders from Supreme Head­quarters that the German troops were to be informed by every possible means of the surrender and directed to cease resistance….”SHAEF itself had not merely authorized the breaking of the news before the “official” release time. It had ordered it!The rest was easy. Senator Sheridan Downey presented the facts and their proof to General Eisenhower. Eisenhower, after reviewing the case, restored my credentials as a war correspondent. It was, of course, a symbolic act since the war was long over, but it lifted any bar which might prevent me from operating with the Army in the future. He did not rescind the original order. Armies don’t do things that way. But the restoration and the announcement in the Senate of the facts which led to the action were all that I needed. The record was cleared at last.Developments which followed showed the surrender staged by the Russians in its true light. It was Moscow’s first post-war move against the Western powers, a propaganda trick preliminary to the ideological offensive and territorial expansion which started immediately after the surrender was signed. The Russians’ purpose in asking the delay was to give them time to organize their mock ceremony in the ruins of the German capital. That the Berlin surrender might appear to be the real one, they asked that announcement of the event at Reims be suppressed until some hours after the Berlin performance. This was refused, but Truman and Churchill—the latter reluctantly and only on pressure from Washington—agreed to hold up the news, which belonged to the Allied peoples, until the time of the Berlin meeting. It was a political concession which might have cost Allied lives had not SHAEF violated it. It was one of those decisions of President Truman which are hard to understand, an appeasement of the Yalta-Potsdam period.No word of the real surrender in Reims has ever appeared in the Soviet-controlled press. Behind the iron curtain most people believe that the Red Army obtained the surrender of the Germans, with but slight aid from the armies of the West. This misinformation might well affect the degree of willingness with which they might march in a future war.The situation which led to my breaking through the barrier was an attempt to falsify history which will always be abhorrent to any true reporter, but it is long past and certainly not an issue in today’s troubled world. The Russian action was quite in line with the Soviet conception of the press for propaganda, and nothing to get excited about; the fault was ours for falling for it.The controversy in newspaper circles over the V-E Day story probably will never end, though with the passage of time sentiment has been increasingly in my favor. Many of the correspondents who signed the petition are still my friend; when we meet, the subject never seems to come up. I have always appreciated their good reason for chagrin at the Lime; if I had been in their place I would have been as sore. I can’t believe that I would have joined in such a denunciation without determining the facts, but then I have no way of knowing: I was never that angry.
  • I Wanted to Find Humility in Hunter Biden’s Book
    Stay sober for a while, and you stop being shocked by what people did in the grip of addiction. I’ve heard people confess to incest, to snorting carpets like a vacuum cleaner just in case something fell into the pile, to defrauding clients of millions of dollars, and—I admit this one made me gasp—to performing an amputation on himself amid a drug-induced mania.Once I found the courage to put the ugliest parts of myself out there, my reward was to find that no one really cared. I was relieved but also, to be honest, initially kind of offended—Hey, this is a big deal for me; couldn’t you be just a little impressed? I still had a perverse pride in my addiction—a very sick humblebrag. But when someone checks their watch while you’re baring your soul, believing you’re worse—or better or that different—than the people around you is a little difficult.Twelve-step critics say that the point of all this intimate sharing is humiliation for the sake of “breaking you down,” but in the best version of the practice, you experience no humiliation, just humility. The exercise strips away what others think of your addiction; you confront who you are without the judgment, or approval, of anyone else.[Molly Jong-Fast: I won’t drink today, and I won’t get the virus today]We eschew last names in “the rooms” not just to keep our outside identity a secret to others—it also helps us shed that outside identity ourselves. I thought a lot about the gift of anonymity and humility while reading Hunter Biden’s new memoir about addiction, Beautiful Things. I wondered if he’d ever been truly anonymous—to himself, if not others—in the rooms.Coverage of the book has dwelled on what normal folks find shocking: His months-long crack binges, when he consorted with hustlers, exotic dancers, and bouncers. But when I read a celebrity’s memoir on addiction, that stuff doesn’t grab me. What I want to know is whether we share a rehab alma mater (and I feel a weird form of school pride when we do). I also look for the kind of humility I’ve seen in others in recovery, the same kind I have to keep working on myself.I did find the book interesting, but mostly for what it didn’t say and where it didn’t go: I read almost 300 pages of tawdry confession, but I could count the times I felt close to him on one hand.Here is where I should note that a couple of years ago, my agent pitched me on ghostwriting what I presume is this book. Was I interested? I was! The big New Yorker piece about Hunter Biden had just come out; it focused mainly on his dealings with Burisma, but also exposed some of the most recent episodes in his addiction. The article raised many questions, none of them about oil and gas. I wanted to know if he had somehow grappled with being “the other son” of Joe Biden. What is it like to be the one whom no one talks about as a potential presidential candidate? Has he been able to figure out who he is without Joe, without Beau?I didn’t get the ghostwriting job; I also still don’t know the answers to these questions.Biden’s book is, self-consciously and explicitly, an answer to the Fox News chyron “Where’s Hunter?” The lurid stories he recounts—cooking crack at the Chateau Marmont, getting a gun pointed at him in an urban encampment—seem to have been accepted by many readers as proof of candor, but telling embarrassing stories about yourself is possible without actually letting anyone in.At one point, before his slide into hard-drug use, Biden meets with King Abdullah of Jordan on behalf of refugees (an opportunity derived, he says, from “nepotism, in the best way possible”) while undergoing alcohol withdrawal. The potentially ignominious event winds up being something of a résumé polisher, as “thoughts of those vodka mini-bottles back at my hotel were quickly subsumed by the gravity of our conversation.” He points out that the king eventually softened his policy.Later in the book, strung out in a Malibu Airbnb, he muses that his near-failure with King Abdullah could have been his bottom if only he hadn’t taken up crystallized cocaine. These sordid days in Southern California are when his ego is worn to its thinnest. He no longer believes that he’ll ever get sober. “I stopped trying to fool others into thinking I was okay. I stopped trying to fool myself,” he writes. But he still measures his low point against really specific heights: the tête-à-tête with the King of Jordan, campaigning with his dad.[Anne Applebaum: You’re not supposed to understand the rumors about Biden]Privileged people exposing the costs of their addiction definitely has value; it illustrates how the disease doesn’t discriminate. That fact can’t be repeated enough. But as a privileged person in recovery, I’ve found something else just as valuable: However outsiders perceive the distance of a fall, your bottom hits you just as hard no matter where you start.Biden writes ruefully about his bottom, how much money he spent on drugs and how much his fellow addicts stole. He was on the board of Burisma almost the entire time. When he performs the pro-and-con analysis of whether he’d take the job again, he notes that the cushy gig gave him the ability to attend to Beau during his final days, a gift no one should begrudge him. The thing he doesn’t mention explicitly is that his Burisma salary also funded his extended debauch. Forget the political scandal that his board position generated; what I would have given for him to meditate on the fully accounted trade-off he made in his personal life.Throughout, Biden’s proximity to depravity and desperation—a sort of class tourism—is buffered by whiteness and wealth. He is always just one phone call away from another rehab or someone coming to rescue him. Indeed, his salvation arrives in the form of his now-wife, Melissa, whom he meets by the pool at Los Angeles’s Petit Ermitage, where rates start at $300 a night.On the strength of one date, Melissa took him in and cut off his contact with his party pals. He slept for three days, and then he proposed. He testifies to sublime contentment. They have a son they’ve named Beau.I can’t criticize Biden for any of that. I married one of the first people I met in sobriety too. If Biden is sober and happy today, hey, whatever works. But I wonder if he’s figured out who he is without the scrutiny of the press or the aid of his family. Who he is when he’s the only person to get sober for.I sat with one particular paragraph of his book for a long time. Soon after Beau’s death, Biden sallies to another treatment center, this time under an assumed name. But as “Hunter Smith,” he declares that he feels like he’s playacting: “Yet for me to talk as ‘Hunter Smith’ about the loss of someone as close to me as my brother felt less than authentic, particularly when so many had seen me give his eulogy on TV less than two months before.”My first reaction was that he was greatly overestimating how much interest, or memory, alcoholics and addicts in rehab have for the news. (I was in treatment during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden; I didn’t find out about it for weeks.) Then I wondered, what exactly was the sticking point here? That other guests wouldn’t be able to know the depths of his grief if they didn’t know Beau Biden was whom he’d lost? Or was it that they wouldn’t be able to understand his mourning if they didn’t know that Hunter Biden was who was grieving?If I sound unduly judgy of Biden’s story, it’s because I don’t like how familiar it is. I thought I was hot shit too. I worried about people “finding out who I was.” I once tried to leave treatment because I didn’t want to miss the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and I cried when I canceled the rental of my fancy dress.But early out of that treatment, I decided not to talk about my media job in a way that made it sound different from what an old colleague used to call a “jobby-job.” Media inflates, even as it deflates. Worrying about someone “finding out who I was” was just the flip side of demanding, “Do you know who I am?”[Sarah Hayes: Hunter Biden’s perfectly legal, socially acceptable corruption]I needed to understand my sobriety separate from what I did for a living. I wanted to be honest, just not specific. I was living in a sober community with a lot of other people fresh out of treatment, many struggling to put their life together in any way possible. I knew an Ivy League–educated scholar of religion who worked in retail. A lawyer who paid rent with a job at a bagel bakery. A former executive making cold calls for an internet-services company. So dropping in references to pitching stories to The New York Times or going on cable news … eh.One evening, I shared a story about a particularly tough ongoing assignment. I felt like the editor (“my boss”) was picking on me, finding new faults in every draft I turned in (“getting on my case about my work”). It no longer felt like a job; it felt like a punishment. I was thinking of quitting. I may have gotten a little emotional about it.After the meeting was over, a young man approached. He’d just gotten a job delivering pizza, and he knew they were hiring. Would he like me to put in a good word?I started to cry. And the kid, immediately uncomfortable, took a step back before I could reel myself in. Then I did, and I said that I was going to give this job a little more time, but that I appreciated his offer more than he could possibly understand. And then he smiled the brightest smile I’d seen months.I kept thinking of that experience reading Biden’s book. I wish that Biden could acquire that kid’s gift of grace that’s born of humility, of receiving and giving help because we’re all in the exact same place. We all fall the same distance to the bottom.The clearest I’ve ever been about who I am was when I let go of who I thought I was. Hunter Biden, I fear, is worried too much about letting people know who he is; he might get more out of losing himself. I know I did.
  • I Want My Mutually Assured Destruction
    For decades, I have taught courses on nuclear weapons and the Cold War. Conveying what life was like with the everyday fear of immediate destruction, especially to younger students, has become more and more difficult over the years. Students understand, in some general way, that nuclear war was a terrifying possibility. But the “duck and cover” images—black-and-white stock footage of boys with slicked-down hair and girls in saddle shoes all dropping to the floor as if in a clumsy game—are now clichés. The nightmares of my childhood are, to them, just pop-culture kitsch.In class, I’ve shown students movies from the nuclear age, hoping that Gregory Peck’s stoicism about the death of the world in On the Beach or Charlton Heston’s damnation of all mankind in the final moments of The Planet of the Apes might make them understand some of the smothering fear of living in a world on the edge of instant oblivion. I make them watch The Day After and read Fail-Safe and Warday. To younger people, these films and books now seem like relics from some lost civilization, full of mysterious, apocalyptic texts and angry cinematic gods.But one medium from the Cold War, more than any other, gets through to my students: MTV, Music Television, which cannonballed into America’s cable systems in August 1981. When I show them videos from the age of glitter and spandex that are filled with images of nuclear destruction, they finally grasp how much the threat of instant and final war was woven into the daily life of young Americans who thought they were turning on the television just to tune out the world.[Read: A brief history of Soviet rock and roll]In fact, messages about nuclear weapons, nuclear war, and the end of humanity, by some counts, appeared almost hourly on MTV, making nuclear destruction second only to sex as the most ubiquitous video theme flooding the eyes of America’s youth in the 1980s.When MTV landed in that first year of the Reagan administration, artists weren’t sure what to do with the new medium, and neither were their record-company bosses. One of the first VJs, Alan Hunter, told me that the music industry was initially flummoxed by the whole notion of videos. Executives wanted bands that toured and sold tickets; they didn’t want to spend money on cameras and studios to film rock stars lip-synching their own hits.But the irresistible marriage of vision and sound took hold in American culture immediately, and almost overnight MTV became, as Hunter perfectly described it, “the wallpaper of people’s lives.” Videos soon evolved from disposable band promos full of wiggling butts and pouty strutting (although those would remain staples of the medium) into mini-movies that had a script and high production values.Yes, some of the videos were about how girls just wanted to have fun, or about how boys wanted to date centerfold models. More than a few of them, as some of the industry pioneers have admitted, didn’t make a lick of sense. But a surprising number were about the Cold War—and the fear that it would turn hot. As Hunter said, artists had a platform that was subversive in its ability to mix entertainment and political messages.Nuclear anxieties, born at almost the same time as rock, have a long pedigree in popular music. Even the granddaddy of all  rock-and-roll hits, Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” was at first only the B-side of a novelty single called “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town),” in which Haley fantasizes about life after the apocalypse, when the only people left … well, you get the idea.MTV, however, integrated these serious and frightening concepts into visual entertainment. The Australian pop stars Men at Work—for a time one of the most popular groups in the world—had a hit with “It’s a Mistake,” whose video features generals in Soviet and American uniforms playing soldiers like little boys—and starting World War III by accident. “Don’t try to say you’re sorry / Don’t say he drew his gun,” they sing while dressed as army grunts walking through a blasted forest. “They’ve gone and grabbed old Ronnie.” At this mention of President Ronald Reagan, an actor in a cowboy costume walks by and an old lady slugs him with an umbrella, presumably for destroying the planet.Reagan in those years was everywhere on MTV. “Mr. Reagan says, ‘We will protect you,’” Sting laments in his elegiac 1985 video for “Russians,” but “I don’t subscribe to this point of view.” In a lighter vein, one of the most memorable videos of the time was the 1986 video for “Land of Confusion,” by Genesis, which used the creepy-but-hilarious puppets from the U.K. comedy series Spitting Image to weave a trippy story about Reagan having a nightmare. When Reagan wakes up, he wants a glass of water, but misses the button labeled “Nurse” and hits “Nuke” instead. A mushroom cloud appears outside his window.Mushroom clouds were even more common on MTV than the 40th president. In David Bowie’s 1984 “Let’s Dance” video, Aboriginal children cavort about as a nuclear blast suddenly appears in the distance. Over the years, Bowie said the video was about cultural oppression and racism, but perhaps, like so many other images of Armageddon in 1980s popular culture, it reflected a nagging fear that “developed” nations were going to destroy themselves and only the innocents in other lands would be witnesses to our immolation.[Read: David Bowie’s 1987 slump held its own weird magic]This was all pretty heavy stuff for a channel that used hair gel and lip gloss by the truckload. In retrospect, the amount of political literacy the directors and bands sometimes assumed on the part of MTV’s viewers is astonishing.Consider the video “Two Tribes,” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The Eurodisco band's first hit, “Relax,” was released with so much edgy sexual imagery that the BBC banned it almost immediately.But “Two Tribes” and its late-1984 video were different. The song begins with a mournful orchestral introduction playing over one of the BBC’s actual public-service messages planned in the event of nuclear war. (“When you hear the air attack warning,” the announcer intones, “you and your family must seek cover immediately.”) A driving dance beat kicks in as the camera pulls back from an air-raid siren to show an arena filled with a clearly international crowd, exchanging bets and shouting with bloodlust.Look-alikes of Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko (a sick old man who ruled the Soviet Union for about 20 minutes in between Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev) walk into a ring, and then proceed to beat the daylights out of each other. Middle fingers turn into punches, crotch kicks, bloody ear bites, a game of Roman knuckles, and strangulation. As the fight erupts into a riot, “Reagan” and “Chernenko” pause with looks of fear on their faces, and the camera zooms out to show us that we are actually at the United Nations in New York. Then, in case anyone is still trying to grasp the point, the whole world itself explodes.“Two Tribes” entered the British charts at No. 1, was a staple on MTV, and went to No. 3 on the U.S. dance club charts. It struggled on the American pop charts, however; Americans were sometimes unwilling to sing along when nuclear anxieties were stated so bluntly. Even Sting’s “Russians” peaked at 16 on the U.S. charts, which for him was practically a flop. But the video was popular—and got the message across.Hunter posited that foreign acts were more likely to make obviously political videos about the Cold War, and the MTV record bears him out. Americans in the age of Reagan were feeling good; even as Frankie Goes to Hollywood was showing us the end of humanity, a buff Bruce Springsteen was pulling a young Courteney Cox onstage in the “Dancing in the Dark” video.But some American artists knew how to make worrying about nuclear war more seductive: sex.In 1981, Prince’s Controversy album included “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” yet another song mentioning Reagan by name, but it wasn’t released as a single. A year later, however, Prince had a monster MTV hit with “1999” and its 1982 video, which was a romp of costumes, dancing, and sexuality, all lit with bright flashes as Prince and the Revolution sang about a nuclear judgment day. “War is all around us / My mind says prepare to fight,” Prince sang, but instead of fighting, the video made clear what we all should be doing in our last hours on Earth.Sometimes the images on MTV were right in our faces, and sometimes they were subtler. Sometimes we didn’t get them at all. A misunderstood video of the era was the one for Timbuk3’s 1986 hit, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” in which the singer Pat MacDonald and his wife are living in a trailer in a postapocalyptic desert. American audiences zeroed in on the line that “fifty thou a year will buy a lotta beer” and thought the song was a college student’s ode to capitalism, instead of getting the joke that the world would be gone before graduation day.Timbuk3’s producer, Dennis Herring, told me that a final verse had made the message clear but was cut for space: “Well I'm well aware of the world out there, getting blown all to pieces, but what do I care?” The video’s director, Carlos Grasso, and MacDonald himself confirmed that the whole thing was a riff on the end of the world. MacDonald told me that he was “kind of shocked” because he thought the point was “blaringly obvious.” He chalked the misunderstanding up to the literal-mindedness of U.S. audiences. Like Hunter, he thinks that foreign audiences were quicker to grasp irony, especially about politics, than Americans in those days.[Read: The Cold War is long gone, but the nuclear threat is still here]By 1986, the Cold War was already winding down. “Future’s So Bright” dropped when Reagan and Gorbachev were talking peace, which may have obscured the message. When Morrissey released “Everyday Is Like Sunday”—a 1988 ode to catastrophe inspired by On the Beach, in which he sings, “Come, come, come, nuclear bomb!”—the video showed a bored girl in a small town, and audiences could be forgiven for thinking the song was less about the end of the world and more about Morrissey just being Morrissey.The Cold War imagery on MTV did not produce some sort of antinuclear revolt in the streets, but it infused an underlying nuclear anxiety into the popular culture across multiple generations. Hunter and his fellow VJs were amazed that MTV’s audience in the early 1980s was, as he said, “everyone from 8 to 84,” and he suggests that the experience of watching together made MTV the “the first social media” through which millions of people experienced the music and the messages together and at the same time. “You couldn’t change the channel,” Hunter said, because MTV was the only source of music videos, and if you wanted to watch Michael Jackson or Van Halen or Sheena Easton or Metallica, you had no choice but to sit there and watch whatever everyone else was watching.And that meant you were going to watch a Ronald Reagan puppet blow up the world, and so were the millions of other people watching at that moment.The effect was subtle, but real. Nearly 40 years later, I can remember watching MTV with my arm around a girl and having Men at Work’s “Overkill”—a video about insomnia brought on by fear of an inevitable nuclear war—push its way into my otherwise distracted consciousness. I wasn’t alone; people my age remember those videos, and many of the songs are still with us.And as I remind my students, so are the weapons.
  • The Atlantic Daily: SpaceX Really Might Change American Spaceflight Forever
    Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.It’s a busy time on Planet Elon. Twitter’s favorite billionaire space-entrepreneur provocateur continues to draw both ire and awe, depending on the day.This week, his company SpaceX drew applause for successfully landing a prototype of its Starship spacecraft, which Musk wants to use to send people to the moon and Mars someday; this weekend, he has a controversial hosting gig on a classic American television show.Don’t expect the attention on Musk to dim anytime soon: He is, as our space reporter, Marina Koren, argues, the future of American spaceflight, for better or worse.We check in on the latest in the billionaire’s world. He’s maybe, actually, strangely, going to do this Mars thing. “If the idea of SpaceX sending people to the moon, let alone Mars, seemed like an abstraction a decade ago, then a decade from now, it might seem like a given,” Marina writes. He’s still feuding with Jeff Bezos over the moon. “Bezos and Musk have squabbled over space projects for years, and this latest bout”—over a lucrative moon contract from NASA—“hasn’t been pretty,” Marina explains. He’s hosting this weekend’s Saturday Night Live. Yes, it’s a troll, Shirley Li argues. But don’t overthink it, Conor Friedersdorf advises. Revisit the week that was. Our senior editor Alan Taylor compiled photo highlights from around the world.Read a great book. Start that critical darling that you were supposed to read last year.Contemplate motherhood. It’s been a tough year for women and parents. And many Americans may still be processing the loss of a parent to COVID-19. If you do plan to celebrate Mother’s Day, leave the gender-stereotyped merch behind. Instead, use one of our happiness columnist’s techniques to offer Mom a little more joy this year.Put on a playlist. We curated a few for you to blast at your convenience. Here’s:   One for taking a walk; One for taking a drive; and One for cleaning up your home. For our podcast-loving pals: On this week’s episode of The Experiment, our hosts discuss what a guilty-pleasure reality show teaches us about immigration and democracy in America.Go ahead, share your vaccine selfie. Your photograph could help win over those hesitating to get a shot, Brit Trogen argued in January.Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.
  • Don’t Fall to Pieces Just Because China’s Rocket Is
    There are many unknowns in the field of space exploration. What came before the Big Bang? What is dark matter? Will we ever make contact with another civilization, or are we destined to remain alone, floating along on this tiny, insignificant speck in the universe?The latest unknown to captivate the space community is something a little less grand: Where is that giant rocket going to land when it falls out of the sky?The rocket in question belongs to China, and it is currently hurtling through the atmosphere, circling the planet about every 90 minutes, toward what is known as an “uncontrolled reentry” sometime this weekend. The expendable hardware was once part of a larger vehicle, the Long March 5B, which launched last month with the first piece of China’s new space station. Once the payload successfully reached space, the rocket, emptied of fuel, slipped away and became space junk.Launch providers usually try to ensure that their discarded rocket bits descend soon after a flight, and the hardware mostly falls into the ocean, though some pieces, on rare occasions, hit land. But this empty rocket is different. The Long March 5B vehicle was designed in such a way that its expendable rocket ended up in orbit, tumbling around at more than 17,000 miles per hour. Parts of the rocket are expected to survive the fiery reentry through Earth’s atmosphere and reach the surface, and who knows where they might land? The U.S. military is tracking the object, but even the best available data can’t predict its final destination.Considering the size of this thing—nearly 100 feet tall, more than 15 feet across, weighing 23 tons—the idea of even parts of it hurtling toward us is particularly unnerving, enough that a friend whom I haven’t seen in ages sent me this text message last night: “Are you following this China rocket thing? Are we doomed??"No one is doomed! Not because of this, at least. While the chances are not zero, the likelihood that debris from the Long March 5B will drop onto a populated area is extremely low. Even without a controlled entry, it is far more likely to smash into the ocean, which our planet thankfully has a lot of. (Honestly, the reentry we should probably be more preoccupied with is the return to social interaction after vaccination.) Stuff falls into the atmosphere every day, burning up as it goes. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than smacked with a piece of falling space debris.“The chance of someone being hurt is maybe a percent or so,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is well known in the space community for his expert monitoring of artificial space objects, told me. “The chance of you being hurt is 8 billion times smaller than that, so don’t worry about it.”[Read: A graveyard of giant spacecraft spins through space]Careening, out-of-control space debris is one of those problems that we hear about precisely because it’s so rare. It’s also quite solvable, McDowell said—just don’t build your rocket, as China did, to reach orbital velocity and start zooming around. The few times that very large pieces of space junk have come crashing down to Earth over the years—rockets, satellites, even entire space stations—no one was doomed.In the 1970s, Skylab, the first American space station, came plummeting through the atmosphere. NASA astronauts had used the floating outpost to conduct science experiments and generally get the feeling of life in microgravity. By the end of the decade, the station, now abandoned, started losing altitude. The station wasn’t designed to maneuver itself into a higher orbit, and the space shuttles that NASA thought could help haul it up weren’t ready yet, so down the station went. NASA did have the power to give it a nudge or two, but mostly Skylab was carving its own path.In 1979, as the public followed the station’s descent with, according to Time magazine, “varying degrees of fear, anger and fascination, but mostly with a detached kind of bemusement,” NASA controllers worried that some debris could hit North America. The Federal Aviation Administration even closed off airspace over Maine to protect planes. Hours before reentry, engineers commanded Skylab to fire some engines and produce a wobble that would adjust its path just a bit, bringing its descent over the ocean. The last-minute adjustment was partly successful; most of Skylab fell into the Indian Ocean, but some debris was scattered along the coast of western Australia. Suddenly, space litter became a souvenir, and people scoured the coast for remnants of Skylab, eager for a trophy or something to sell. The city council of Kalgoorlie even hauled a piece of the station into its town hall, which the mayor said was “very good for the tourist industry."[Read: If everyone left the International Space Station]When something is moving as fast as Skylab was—or the Long March 5B is now—even the slightest shift can change its trajectory by thousands of miles, bumping it from one continent toward another. NASA’s decision pushed Skylab “to fly safely over southern Canada and Maine, but may have been responsible for its Australia landing,” The New York Times reported. President Jimmy Carter even apologized to the Australian people for the mess.An empty Soviet space station came down in 1991 in a similarly uncontrolled manner over Argentina, appearing as a fireball in the sky. Some debris managed to reach the ground, igniting small fires in a trash dump in a southern coastal city, but there were no injuries. More recently, a Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, fell back to Earth in 2018, burning up over the South Pacific, with remnants landing in the water near Tahiti. Chinese officials had lost contact with the spacecraft two years earlier, sparking anxious speculation about where the out-of-control station would come down. Last spring, a disintegrating Long March 5B rocket sailed directly over Los Angeles and New York City on its final orbit of Earth before entering the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean and raining debris in the Ivory Coast in Africa. Again, no one was injured.So, yes, the Long March 5B does not threaten immediate catastrophe. But it’s still not great, and China isn’t doing much to alleviate worries. The country is known for being secretive about its space activities, both at home and abroad. Foreign-ministry officials declined to answer questions about the reentry at a press conference this week, saying only that China is “committed to the peaceful use of outer space and stands for international cooperation in this regard.”[Read: The night sky will never be the same]Already the White House press secretary has fielded questions about what the Biden administration would do if the rocket causes damage on Earth. Although one might imagine that fiery events that cross international borders would have inspired some kind of serious regulation, there’s no space law covering objects plunging to Earth. It’s up to nations to supervise their own space objects and where they fall. “In terms of the legal mechanisms governing reentry, there actually aren’t any obligations on this. There isn’t any international treaty,” Chris Newman, a space-law professor at Northumbria University at Newcastle, in the United Kingdom, told me.But there are some rules about who’s responsible if space litter damages property or injures people. Many countries are party to the 1972 Space Liability Convention, which allows one nation to hold another financially responsible for space litter. In 1978, after a fallen Soviet satellite scattered radioactive debris over northwestern Canada, the Canadian government asked the Soviet Union to fork over $6 million to cover cleanup efforts; the Soviet Union waffled for a few years, but eventually paid $3 million. This rule comes with all sorts of political entanglements, Newman said; if the Long March rocket does cause damage somewhere inhabited, the leaders of that country may decide that seeking recompense isn’t worth the potential diplomatic ripple effects of challenging China. “This is going to be a foreign-policy decision as much as a legal one,” Newman said.A more pressing concern about space debris involves the type that most people don’t notice or worry much about. The space around Earth is brimming with satellites, rocket parts, and other hunks of metal, and some objects occasionally pass dangerously close to each other and even collide. Space law doesn’t have much to say about space traffic either, but space is getting more congested every day, even without a rogue rocket.
  • ‘One Oppressive Economy Begets Another’
    Sharon Lavigne was teaching a special-education class when her daughter called to tell her about the Sunshine Project. Named for its proximity to Louisiana’s Sunshine Bridge, the operation, helmed by the Taiwanese behemoth Formosa Plastics, was on track to build one of the world’s largest plastic plants. Already the air Lavigne breathed in her native St. James Parish was some of the most toxic in the United States. Now Formosa planned to spend $9.4 billion on facilities that would make polymer and ethylene glycol, polyethylene, and polypropylene—ingredients found in antifreeze, drainage pipes, and a variety of single-use plastics—just two miles down the road from her family home. The concentration of carcinogens in the atmosphere could triple.“It hurt me like an arrow through my body,” Lavigne told me when I visited her at her home in Welcome, Louisiana, last December. “Everyone else was saying we had to move.” Within a few months of learning about the Sunshine Project in spring 2018, Lavigne, who’s 69, organized a community meeting in her den. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Lavigne said. “We not gonna be moved out and bought out and throwed out the window.” The group went on to found Rise St. James, a faith-based nonprofit with the mission of halting industrial development in the parish. “I was not a person who would speak up,” Lavigne said. “Boy, did that change.” That fall, Lavigne was spending so much time organizing marches and speaking publicly about Formosa that, after 39 years of teaching, she retired. Then two of Rise’s members died—one of cancer, the other of respiratory distress and other medical problems, conditions Lavigne links to pollution from existing plants. Stopping Formosa became her full-time job.In Louisiana—where more than a 12th of the country’s estimated 4 million enslaved people lived prior to the Civil War—descendants have the right to visit their ancestors’ graveyards. So when Lavigne learned in late 2019 that enslaved people from the Buena Vista Plantation, whom she believes she’s descended from, may have been buried on Formosa’s proposed building site, she tried to visit. Upon arriving, she said authorities told her she was trespassing and that if she returned, she’d be arrested.Back in July 2018, Coastal Environments, or CEI, an independent archaeological and environmental contractor, had alerted the Louisiana Division of Archaeology about two possible cemeteries on Formosa’s land, based on historic maps of the Buena Vista and Acadia Plantations. Formosa’s archaeological consultants had missed those sites in their initial survey, but after being instructed by the state to look again, they found and fenced off the Buena Vista cemetery. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal-advocacy nonprofit, Formosa made no public announcement of this discovery. Lavigne found out about its existence more than a year later via a public-records request submitted by Rise’s lawyers. The Acadia cemetery, Formosa reported, had still not been located and may have been destroyed by a previous owner, but both CEI and the Center for Constitutional Rights dispute that claim, arguing that Formosa’s surveyors searched in the wrong area. In March 2020, CEI identified five additional anomalies on Formosa’s territory that could also be slave cemeteries and have not yet been excavated. (“Archaeologists conducted thousands of shovel tests … no remains have been found other than at the Buena Vista site,” Janile Parks, Formosa’s director of community and government relations, wrote me via email. “When [Formosa] learned of remains at the Buena Vista site ... the company immediately coordinated with the appropriate authorities. [Formosa’s] archaeological investigations of the site have been transparent and are matters of public record.”)Rise formally requested access to the Buena Vista cemetery last year for Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, found out they were free—more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Formosa denied the Juneteenth request, and Lavigne took them to court. In a statement to the Associated Press, the company’s lawyers questioned the need for the ceremony on the basis that archaeologists couldn’t confirm the ethnicity of the human remains. District Judge Emile St. Pierre sided with Rise, giving the group temporary access to the property. “We need healing,” St. Pierre said at the end of the hearing. “Let’s look at where we are in America.”The conflict between Rise St. James and Formosa comes at a time when many Americans are insisting the country acknowledge and address the horrors of slavery and its repercussions. Around the country, cities have debated whether to take down Confederate monuments, inciting protests. Down the river from St. James Parish, in New Orleans, several monuments have already been removed, and the city council is preparing to rename schools and streets that honor Confederate officials and segregationists. Yet what’s happening with the Buena Vista grave site is unique. Unlike monuments, which are symbolic, the cemetery contains human remains, which have endowed the land with enough cultural capital to sway a judge, at least temporarily, in favor of the community that claims it. Like a time capsule, the graves link the petrochemical industry to the plantation economy, revealing how Louisiana’s petroleum industry profits from exploiting historic inequalities and showing how one brutal system gave way to another. Sharon Lavigne at home Left: Men sitting outside Blues Grocery, which is next to a new methane plant; Right: A storage facility in St. James Parish along River Road Two hundred years ago, nearly every inch of Mississippi River–adjacent land south of Natchez was part of a plantation. Rich soil made for strong harvests, and river access allowed for the easy export of goods. In Louisiana, those plantations grew sugarcane, the “white gold” that propelled the southern economy. Arduous to harvest, grueling to press, and treacherous to boil, sugar had been a rare commodity, a crop barely worth the effort, until the transatlantic slave trade solved the problem of labor. In the half century preceding the Civil War, 1 million people were sold into the Deep South, relocated from Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Along the lower Mississippi River, the population of enslaved people quadrupled despite their being worked so hard that death rates often exceeded birth rates. Nonconsensual laborers produced a quarter of the world’s cane sugar, which became so lucrative as a crop that, for a time, the nation’s highest concentration of millionaires lived between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Back then, Louisiana was the second-richest state per capita, a staggering feat when you consider that almost half of its residents lacked legal ownership of their bodies.Drive along the lower Mississippi River today in southern Louisiana, and you’ll see vestiges of that history, though the state now has the second-highest poverty rate in the union. Houses are small and trailers abundant, but more than a dozen plantations still exist, offering tours, meals, wedding venues, and overnight stays, their advertising thick with honeyed narratives about an opulent white lifestyle long gone. Until two years ago, a sign at Rosedown, the most visited plantation in the state, described enslaved people as “happy” with a “natural musical instinct.” Ormond Plantation’s website laments the hard times suffered after “the war between the states.” Only one plantation museum in Louisiana, the Whitney, focuses exclusively on the labor and culture of African and African-descended people. There, visitors can pay their respects at memorials for the enslaved, tour slave cabins, and peek in the overseer’s shed, where the tools of chattel—neck braces, balls and chains, leg irons, and paddles—hang from the walls and ceiling.The land adjacent to the Mississippi River bears the marks of another brutality, unmissable from a car, barge, or plane. Beside the restored plantation houses and acres of sugarcane that still stripe the landscape, a newer economy chugs and chuffs. More than 150 petrochemical plants operate along the 85-mile stretch of land from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Stadium-size holding tanks, miles-long pipes, and flaring smokestacks create skylines reminiscent of cities, though, aside from the occasional security truck, few humans are visible. Names such as Syngas and American Styrenics make it difficult to tell what each plant makes, but whatever it is, you can smell it, cough it out, and sometimes see it falling, a soft yellow rain from a discolored sky. The sheer quantity of plastics, synthetic rubbers, electronic components, and fertilizers manufactured here is enough that experts call the area “the Silicon Valley of the petrochemical industry.” Houma House is one of many plantations open to the public for tours. The tour highlights the legacy of sugar barons and barely mentions the history of slavery. From left: An ExxonMobil Chemical Company plastics plant seen through the brush; slave quarters at the Whitney plantation; an egret near the river The Sunshine Project has an unmistakable doomsday quality. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center poll, about two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government should do more to reduce global climate change, yet Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality has written permits for the proposed facilities to emit more than 13 million tons of greenhouse gases a year, the equivalent of three and a half coal plants. In addition, extensive research on the damaging effects of plastics has spawned a global movement to ban single-use items such as bags, straws, and cups. Despite this, Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, defends the Sunshine Project, hailing its proposed facilities as an economic win. In addition to tax revenue, Formosa anticipates that it’ll support an estimated 8,000 temporary ancillary positions in the construction and service industries and create 1,200 on-site jobs with an average yearly salary of $84,500, almost triple the median household income for St. James Parish’s Fifth District, where the plants would be located.Lavigne thinks those numbers are spin. The state has often equated industry with progress, but petrochemical facilities have a documented history of outsourcing labor. Lavigne is doubtful that Formosa will hire people from her community, besides for low-paying security work—a perspective her parish councilman, Clyde Cooper, shares. “These new companies don't hire anyone from the community,” Cooper told me over the phone. “People come, even from outside of the state, to work in construction and in the plants.” (In 2018, Cooper voted to back the Sunshine Project, on the condition that the company agree to preferential hiring from within the parish, plus funding for a hurricane evacuation route and free cancer screenings for residents of the Fifth District.)As for taxes, Louisiana’s notoriety for corporate welfare has long made it a haven for refineries and manufacturers. Since the 1930s, the Industrial Tax Exemption Program has allowed a state-level board to make decisions about parish-level property-tax exemption. According to a study by Together Louisiana, a statewide network of community organizers, from 1997 to 2016 the ITEP board approved all but eight of 16,931 corporate-tax-exemption applications. In 2017 alone, those exemptions cost state parishes about $1.9 billion, money that could’ve been spent on local parks, libraries, and schools. In 2016, Edwards issued an executive order returning decision-making power on property-tax exemptions to the parishes, but he backtracked in 2020 when he gave corporations the option of appealing local decisions to a state board.And yet, taxes and jobs are the least of Lavigne’s worries. What keeps her up at night are emissions. In the entire U.S., only one plant emits chloroprene, an ingredient in wet suits and Koozies that’s linked to liver and lung cancers. That it’s in southeast Louisiana is no accident. As reported by ProPublica, the state has a reputation for having policy makers sympathetic to industry, and lax environmental regulation. Since the 1980s, residents have been documenting high rates of miscarriages and cancer, earning the parishes along the Mississippi River the nickname “Cancer Alley.” “Ask anyone,” Harry Joseph, the local pastor of the 114-year-old Mount Triumph Baptist Church, said during a bike tour highlighting environmental injustice. “There’s not a household here that hasn’t dealt with cancer.” The region has improved considerably since the 1963 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act created federal pollution limits. But in the past decade, hydro-fracturing—the practice of injecting pressurized liquids into bedrock in order to extract fossil fuels—has produced a glut of natural gas that’s fueled the establishment of new chemical plants, and environmental progress is expected to backslide.Already under scrutiny for allegedly protecting the industry it’s meant to regulate, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality has proposed an air-emissions allowance for the Sunshine Project that includes: 7.7 tons of ethylene oxide—a carcinogen linked to breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and miscarriages; 36.58 tons of the carcinogen benzene; and 1,243 tons of nitrogen oxides, which cause and exacerbate respiratory illnesses. (Formosa “has relied on sound science in design of the Sunshine Project and is confident it meets all regulatory criteria,” Parks said in her email. “Protecting health, safety and the environment is a priority in project engineering, design and operations.”) In a still-unresolved 2020 lawsuit, a coalition of environmental organizations allege that these quantities surpass federal air standards and that the Louisiana DEQ failed to consider existing air pollution and disproportionate racial impacts in its assessment. (“Our permits were issued in accordance with all applicable state and federal laws,” Gregory Langley, the press secretary for the Louisiana DEQ, told me by email. “Great care is taken in the site selection process to identify a safe location for the plant that is protective of the adjacent communities and their residents.”)At the heart of the dispute is the Louisiana Tumor Registry, a project from Louisiana State University’s School of Public Health meant to track cancer risk throughout the state. Although the registry reports no elevated cancer risk in St. James Parish, critics point out that its data neither take into account residents’ proximity to plants nor measure the impact of new facilities. This missing information matters. The 824 residents of Welcome aren’t the only ones in the immediate vicinity of the Sunshine Project. Fifth Ward Elementary is a mile away—nearly all of its 123 students are Black.It’s not by chance that 158 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, rural Black communities bear the environmental consequences of Louisiana’s biggest industry. Overlay a map of southern Louisiana’s petrochemical and petroleum plants with archival maps of the area’s plantations, and you’ll find that in many cases the property lines match up. “One oppressive economy begets another,” Barbara L. Allen, a professor of science, technology, and society at Virginia Tech and the author of Uneasy Alchemy, a book on environmental justice in the region, told me over the phone. “The Great River Road was built on the bodies of enslaved Black people. The chemical corridor is responsible for the body burden of their descendants.”Allen’s research examines the extractive economy: how sugar monocropping transitioned to petrochemical manufacturing. During Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau gave land grants to Black maroons and the formerly enslaved along the lower Mississippi, parceling out slivers of large plantations to extended-family groups as part of reparations, while returning the bulk of the land to white owners. The result, Allen wrote in a 2006 article, was “a pattern of large, contiguous blocks of open land under single ownership … separated by communities of freed blacks and poorer whites.” Like plantations, petrochemical and petroleum plants benefit from large acreage and easy access to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. When the oil industry moved in during the first half of the 20th century, corporations began buying up the intact plantations. More than a century later, the pattern established during Reconstruction is still visible, only instead of plantations, Louisiana’s historic free towns share fence lines with plants.The proliferation of petrochemical plants along the lower Mississippi is undoubtedly slavery’s legacy. Before the Civil War, the state relied on the plantation economy. Today it relies on an industrial economy, which continues to disenfranchise residents. In her 2016 book, Strangers in Their Own Land, the sociologist Arlie Hochschild observes that many rural white Louisianans believe they must sacrifice environmental regulation in order to have jobs. For many rural Black Louisianans, that sacrifice is much starker. When industry moves in, descendants of the formerly enslaved get neither environmental security nor well-paying jobs. Like the plantations and land owners who came before them, petrochemical plants and their leadership have emerged as a new kind of “boss,” determining what happens not only to the land but also to the people who live there. The court case about Juneteenth access to the Buena Vista cemetery illustrates just how much this is a struggle about ownership of bodies: who decides which bodies go where, who has access to the bodies of the deceased, and ultimately who determines which chemicals Black people are exposed to.Politics in Louisiana often revolves around industry. “St. James Parish, on its face, is hunky-dory: fifty-fifty Black and white,” Anne Rolfes, the founder and director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit that partners with fence-line communities to advocate for environmental rights, said during the aforementioned bike tour. “However, the African American population is mostly at one end of the parish, in the Fourth and Fifth Districts. And where do you think the land-use plans put all the petrochemical plants?” Lavigne lives in the Fifth District, where nine plants are in operation, two are under construction, and four more, including Formosa’s megaplex—which itself includes 14 unique facilities—are proposed. This concentration of industry is enabled by zoning laws. Typically, land-use plans separate residential areas from industrial ones, but in 2014, the St. James Parish council voted to change river-adjacent sections of the Fourth and Fifth districts from “residential” to “residential/future industrial.” “The council will fight to keep the petrochemical plants out of the white districts, but they roll out the red carpet … when it comes to the Fourth and Fifth” Districts, Rolfes said. “It’s worse than redlining. It’s shocking, really. The council has a written plan to wipe out Black communities.” Councilman Cooper acknowledged “biased consideration” in the council’s zoning, but stopped short of calling it environmental racism. “I don’t think it’s strictly on being racist. They got big plots of unused cane and farmland on the river and there’s a rail there and easier access because it’s not as populated.” Noranda Alumina, located on the Mississippi River in Gramercy, Louisiana, is the only major alumina refinery operating in the United States. Left: The Bourgeois family lives in a predominantly white section of St. James Parish. Right: A mother, Geraldyn Shepard, waits with her daughter Tori-on for the school bus in St. James Parish. Rolfe’s assessment, however, is backed by the local historical record. In 1987, traces of vinyl chloride were discovered in the blood of children from nearby Reveilletown, a historic free town founded in the 1870s. Following a settlement, Georgia Gulf Corp., the owner of a neighboring plant, bought out the rest of that town for $3 million. Two years later, vinyl chloride had contaminated the groundwater in the historic free town of Morrisonville, and Dow Chemical Company spent $7 million buying out residents. In 2002, yet another free town, Diamond, sandwiched between two Shell Chemicals plants, was bought out decades after two fatal chemical explosions. In each case, Black families had little choice but to leave, giving up not only their houses, which pollution had rendered unsellable, but also their community. This repetition of buyouts has created what environmentalists believe is a dangerous precedent: Instead of remedying safety and environmental concerns, plants that pollute can pay their way out of trouble.Even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the river parishes’ nickname had begun shifting from “Cancer Alley” to “Death Alley.” The kinds of preexisting conditions that make COVID-19 especially deadly thrive here, giving one rallying cry against systemic racism—“I can’t breathe”—haunting significance. Still, the environmental-justice movement, which combines a demand for racial equality with the push for environmental protection, has gained traction in St. James Parish during the pandemic. Shortly before Rise’s Juneteenth ceremony, Formosa announced that it would halt construction on the Sunshine Project until COVID-19 rates dropped in the area. The decision coincided with an increase in negative media attention about its handling of the rediscovered grave sites and an impending environmental lawsuit, which was thrown out when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was reevaluating Formosa’s wetlands permits. Though the company resumed “preconstruction” activities such as road building and soil testing in October, Formosa said it would defer major construction until a COVID-19 vaccine was widely available. Work on the property is still halted today. (“The significant economic impact of COVID-19 has contributed to difficulty in evaluating construction,” Formosa’s Parks wrote. “Ongoing legal proceedings also contribute to the delay.”) Meanwhile pressure is mounting to shut down the whole project.Two U.S. representatives, the Democrats Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, are pushing the Biden administration to permanently revoke the Sunshine Project’s permits. (The congressman who had represented St. James Parish, Cedric Richmond, left his post in January to join President Joe Biden’s cabinet. So far he’s made no comment for or against Formosa.) Experts appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council have weighed in too, calling on “the United States and St. James Parish to recognize and pay reparations for the centuries of harm to Afro-descendants rooted in slavery and colonialism.” Such support is hard-earned, but how much it will matter in the long run is unclear. “Industry [in Louisiana] has just exploded,” Allen, the Virginia Tech professor, said. “In five or 10 years … I wonder if the region will even be livable.” A Rise St. James billboard on the road leading to the Sunshine Bridge Oppression runs deep in southern Louisiana, but so does resistance. On January 8, 1811, a group of enslaved people marched from Woodlawn Plantation in St. John the Baptist Parish toward New Orleans. With each plantation they passed, more people joined, armed with cane knives, hoes, clubs, and guns, until more than 500 people flowed downriver, bent on founding a new Black nation. Within days, the rebellion was quashed. Dozens of Black men and women were killed by federal troops and plantation militia, and many more were sentenced to death, their severed heads mounted on spikes and displayed along a 60-mile stretch of river.For a time, knowledge of the revolt was lost, a victim of historical amnesia. Over the past decade, though, tours, book publications, and museum exhibits have restored the event to the popular imagination. In 2019, that history came alive when the artist Dread Scott led hundreds of mostly Black volunteers in period costume on a 24-mile march past plantations and petrochemical plants, ending the reenactment at a destination the original insurgence never reached: New Orleans’s Congo Square. “Their rebellion is a profound ‘what if?’ story,” reads Scott’s website. “It had a small but real chance of succeeding.”In some ways, Lavigne’s work with Rise isn’t so different. When she and her peers organize, the odds are against them. They’re a small group advocating for change in a region shaped by plantations, in a state where politicians consistently choose industry over environment, against a corporation they believe is determined to make plastics no matter the human cost. “We are here to acknowledge the evil of slavery and its aftermath,” Lavigne announced to her online audience and to the few dozen people gathered in person at Buena Vista cemetery last Juneteenth. She placed a bouquet of roses near eight rediscovered grave shafts. “Those were their very bodies. Their very labor,” one onlooker observed. “We honor our ancestors by thriving.” The crowd swayed, singing, “I said, Lord, help me please / I got up singing—shouting!—victory.”  The stories Louisianans tell about their history matter. The 1811 revolt ended in horrific violence, but today that history is often recounted with a kind of instructional reverence. Here were enslaved people who dreamed and organized and marched so that their children might experience a better life. Here were people who were beaten down and rose up anyway, knowing very well that their greatest hope for survival might end with the loss of their life. They strove—yes, they did—and look at how they nearly succeeded.
  • The Unfolding Disaster in Arizona
    Of all the flaws in the perplexing “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, the hypocrisy shines through most clearly.As Donald Trump and his allies grasped at straws to cast doubt on the results of last year’s presidential race, they settled on a few common complaints. They said that the election process was tainted by procedures that had been hastily changed in the lead-up to voting, that it was run by partisan hacks, that outside observers were provided insufficient access to oversee the process, and that the election was corrupted by private money given by philanthropists to boards of elections to help them adapt to the pandemic.Now, more than six months after the election, the circus in Arizona, ordered by the state Senate, has become the last stand of the denialists. The review has attracted the close attention of Trump himself, who has fired off repeated, blustery statements about the count from his Mar-a-Lago exile. But Arizona is committing all the same sins that Trump’s supporters have been denouncing, using a brazenly partisan process run by apparently unqualified parties, with procedures kept secret and subject to change. Observers are being asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, reporters have been kicked out of the site, and the exercise is being largely funded by interested outside parties—even though the Arizona legislature recently passed a law that prevents local boards from accepting outside funding.If this is what it takes to conduct the count, the cure is worse than the disease—except that there is no disease, because there’s no evidence of widespread fraud in Maricopa County, and this is no cure. The point of election audits is to make voters feel more secure about the state of elections, but this one is certain to leave people feeling less confident about the process.“The goalposts keep moving,” Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, told me. “There will never be satisfaction, because the answer is not going to change. Joe Biden won Arizona free and fair and he is our legitimate president. There’s a portion of our electorate that will not believe that, because they continue to be told that the election was stolen.”The Maricopa exercise is a badly flawed process built atop a fatally flawed premise. The premise is that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud, but despite frantic efforts, Trump and his allies have failed to produce evidence of widespread fraud. (In one of the few proven cases of individual fraud, a Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty this week to voting absentee for Trump in the name of his late mother.)Arizona, and Maricopa County in particular, has already been under close scrutiny, because narrow victories in the state helped Joe Biden secure the presidency and sent Mark Kelly to the Senate. In November, Maricopa conducted a hand count of a sample of ballots under state law and found no discrepancies in the county. Earlier this year, Maricopa County also ordered a forensic audit of votes, which was conducted by three separate firms, including a certified public accountancy and two voting-systems labs accredited by the federal Election Assistance Commission. The audit searched for hacking of machines, vote-switching, and malicious software, and found none. All of this was done under the law as laid out by the Arizona legislature.In the absence of evidence of fraud, Trump’s allies launched more theoretical attacks on the election’s integrity. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri complained on the Senate floor on January 6 that state governments had not followed their own laws in conducting elections. Trump and others argued that there was no evidence of fraud only because Republican election observers had not been given sufficient access to voting centers, a baseless claim—as campaign lawyers had to admit in court cases. In Arizona and Georgia, legislators passed laws preventing county boards of elections from accepting outside money, claiming that this was necessary to avoid the appearance of fraud.Yet even though there was no evidence of problems with the 2020 election, even after hand counts, audits, and court cases, Arizona state lawmakers couldn’t simply let the matter go. After they’d repeatedly lied to voters and said there might be fraud, voters demanded more. So the state Senate decided to force a recount of the votes in Maricopa County. The county board of supervisors initially resisted, arguing that it was not legally allowed to hand over ballots to the state legislature, and the state Senate toyed with having board members arrested in February. Eventually, the county relented, and the state Senate ordered a new count of all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County.Although the process has been called an “audit” or a “recount,” it doesn’t match the procedures laid out in state law for either of those. To conduct the audit, the state hired a Florida software-security firm called Cyber Ninjas. The company refused to tell me whether it has any experience with election audits, and its website, while featuring an impressive array of ninja stock photos, offers no indications that it is qualified to conduct election-security reviews. The only apparent reason for Cyber Ninjas’ selection is that the company’s founder, Doug Logan, was a noisy proponent of “Stop the Steal” theories of fraud in the election. (Logan has not responded to my requests for comment or an interview.)The state Senate allocated just $150,000 for the audit, far too little to cover all the costs. So despite recently banning boards of elections from using private money, the Senate has turned to private donors to fill the gap. Cyber Ninjas hasn’t disclosed all of its funding sources, though some have emerged. Unsurprisingly, much of it has come from people invested in the idea of fraud. Patrick Byrne, the eccentric former head of Overstock.com, has donated $1 million and set a goal to raise almost $2 million more. Employees of One America News Network, the conspiracist pro-Trump news outlet, have also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the outlet has been given special access as the official broadcast partner of the audit.The results of this audit so far have been exactly what one might expect from an ill-defined process led by an apparently unqualified and partisan actor. Cyber Ninjas tried to avoid even explaining its putative procedures for the audit, labeling them a trade secret, until a federal judge ordered the company to release them. Not only is the process bad; it’s also likely to run far longer than anticipated. The state Senate initially planned for the count to finish by May 14, but at the current pace, it could take months more.“We know from day-to-day observation that even the procedures they set forth that they were going to use, they are not following,” said Patrick, who was previously a longtime elections official in Maricopa County.Usually audits and recounts are conducted with teams of people from different parties to ensure fairness, but most observers are Republicans, and Cyber Ninjas has not made clear the arrangements for reviewing ballots. Some of the tables where counting is occurring aren’t being watched at all. Cyber Ninjas has required observers to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which defeats the purpose of having observers present.One official told a reporter this week that auditors are examining ballots for bamboo fibers, apparently because of a baseless conspiracy theory about China flying in 40,000 fake ballots. Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state working with the state Senate, also told the pro-Trump blog Gateway Pundit that workers were using UV lights to examine ballots for watermarks, apparently a nod to a QAnon theory about watermarked fraudulent ballots. (What sort of fraudster watermarks their own misdeeds?)Predictably, the process has attracted a range of misfits and oddballs. One of the people counting ballots is Anthony Kern, a former state representative who lost his seat in November and was then present at the January 6 demonstration in Washington, D.C., that turned into an insurrection. (Kern has not been charged with breaking any laws that day.) Kern’s own name is on the ballots he’s reviewing. And when a reporter spotted Kern and tweeted a photo, he was ejected.One reason that Maricopa County was reluctant to turn over the ballots is that supervisors wanted to ensure they were following federal laws requiring that all of the documents be kept safe and secure. Now that it has the ballots, Cyber Ninjas doesn’t seem to be bothering to provide adequate physical security. Reporters have witnessed workers moving boxes around without any obvious scheme, and nothing about Cyber Ninjas suggests that the company is capable of maintaining tight control. In addition, reporters have spotted workers with blue pens, which could irreversibly taint ballots—either inadvertently, or by someone looking to raise doubt or cause problems. Outside groups have also raised questions about whether Cyber Ninjas is taking sufficient steps to protect voters’ personal information.In late April, several voting-rights groups sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department complaining that the state Senate and Cyber Ninjas were “violating their duty under federal law to retain and preserve ballots cast in a federal election, which are and have been in danger of being stolen, defaced, or irretrievably damaged.” They also warned that a canvass of Maricopa County voters could be unconstitutional voter intimidation. In a letter to the president of the state Senate on Wednesday, the head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division echoed these concerns. (Another state senator responded to the letter by apparently threatening to jail DOJ officials.)Also on Wednesday, the Arizona Democratic Party settled a lawsuit filed about the process, with an agreement requiring better transparency, tighter security protocols, and independent observers. It is tempting to say that the agreement is a good step but too late: The audit has gone on too long without enough protocols and with potential danger to evidence, so there can already be no faith in the result.But that misses the point. The problem is not that the audit is now not credible, but that it was never credible in the first place. The audit could never have succeeded. If Cyber Ninjas finishes and announces that it has validated the original results in Maricopa County, that result still wouldn’t satisfy angry Trump supporters, for the same reason that the state Senate conducted the audit in the first place: If you lie to some people long enough, they’ll believe you. And if Cyber Ninjas claims it has evidence of widespread fraud, practically no one who didn’t already believe fraud claims is likely to be persuaded, because the company’s qualifications, conduct, and statements give no reason to trust it. (Beyond that, even if the audit were to magically produce evidence of fraud, there’s no process for overturning an election that has already been certified.)Arizona has long been one of the best states in the country for election administration. If the state Senate had stuck to the principles it had laid out in the law, all of this could have been avoided. Instead, legislators not only threw out their own statutes, but endorsed a process that embodies all of their concerns about the election. As a result, the audit is certain to end badly—even if no one yet knows when or how.
  • The GOP’s ‘Critical Race Theory’ Obsession
    On January 12, Keith Ammon, a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, introduced a bill that would bar schools as well as organizations that have entered into a contract or subcontract with the state from endorsing “divisive concepts.” Specifically, the measure would forbid “race or sex scapegoating,” questioning the value of meritocracy, and suggesting that New Hampshire—or the United States—is “fundamentally racist.”Ammon’s bill is one of a dozen that Republicans have recently introduced in state legislatures and the United States Congress that contain similar prohibitions. In Arkansas, lawmakers have approved a measure that would ban state contractors from offering training that promotes “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” groups based on race, gender, or political affiliation. The Idaho legislature just passed a bill that would bar institutions of public education from compelling “students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere” to specific beliefs about race, sex, or religion. The Louisiana legislature is weighing a nearly identical measure.The language of these bills is anodyne and fuzzy—compel, for instance, is never defined in the Idaho legislation—and that ambiguity appears to be deliberate. According to Ammon, “using taxpayer funds to promote ideas such as ‘one race is inherently superior to another race or sex’ … only exacerbates our differences.” But critics of these efforts warn that the bills would effectively prevent public schools and universities from holding discussions about racism; the New Hampshire measure in particular would ban companies that do business with government entities from conducting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. “The vagueness of the language is really the point,” Leah Cohen, an organizer with Granite State Progress, a liberal nonprofit based in Concord, told me. “With this really broad brushstroke, we anticipate that that will be used more to censor conversations about race and equity.”[Read: The real stakes of the fight over history]Most legal scholars say that these bills impinge on the right to free speech and will likely be dismissed in court. “Of the legislative language so far, none of the bills are fully constitutional,” Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told me, “and if it isn’t fully constitutional, there’s a word for that: It means it’s unconstitutional.” This does not appear to concern the bills’ sponsors, though. The larger purpose, it seems, is to rally the Republican base—to push back against the recent reexaminations of the role that slavery and segregation have played in American history and the attempts to redress those historical offenses. The shorthand for the Republicans’ bogeyman is an idea that has until now mostly lived in academia: critical race theory.The late Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell is credited as the father of critical race theory. He began conceptualizing the idea in the 1970s as a way to understand how race and American law interact, and developed a course on the subject. In 1980, Bell resigned his position at Harvard because of what he viewed as the institution’s discriminatory hiring practices, especially its failure to hire an Asian American woman he’d recommended.Black students—including the future legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who enrolled at Harvard Law in 1981—felt the void created by his departure. Bell had been the only Black law professor among the faculty, and in his absence, the school no longer offered a course explicitly addressing race. When students asked administrators what could be done, Crenshaw says they received a terse response. “What is it that is so special about race and law that you have to have a course that examines it?” Crenshaw has recalled administrators asking. The administration’s inability to see the importance of understanding race and the law, she says, “got us thinking about how do we articulate that this is important and that law schools should include” the subject in their curricula.Crenshaw and her classmates asked 12 scholars of color to come to campus and lead discussions about Bell’s book Race, Racism, and American Law. With that, critical race theory began in earnest. The approach “is often disruptive because its commitment to anti-racism goes well beyond civil rights, integration, affirmative action, and other liberal measures,” Bell explained in 1995. The theory’s proponents argue that the nation’s sordid history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination is embedded in our laws, and continues to play a central role in preventing Black Americans and other marginalized groups from living lives untouched by racism.For some, the theory was a revelatory way to understand inequality. Take housing, for example. Researchers have now accumulated ample evidence that racial covenants in property deeds and redlining by the Federal Housing Authority—banned more than 60 years ago—remain a major contributor to the gulf in homeownership, and thus wealth, between Black and white people. Others, perhaps most prominently Randall Kennedy, who joined the Harvard Law faculty a few years after Bell left, questioned how widely the theory could be applied. In a paper titled “Racial Critiques of Legal Academia,” Kennedy argued that white racism was not the only reason so few “minority scholars” were members of law-school faculties. Conservative scholars argued that critical race theory is reductive—that it treats race as the only factor in social identity.As with other academic frameworks before it, the nuances of critical race theory—and the debate around it—were obscured when it escaped the ivory tower. It first entered public discourse in the early 1990s, when President Bill Clinton nominated the University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Lani Guinier to run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Republicans mounted an aggressive and ultimately successful campaign to prevent her appointment, tagging her the “Quota Queen.” Among the many reasons her adversaries said she was wrong for the job was that she had been “championing a radical school of thought called ‘critical race theory.’” The theory soon stood in for anything resembling an examination of America’s history with race. Conservatives would boil it down further: Critical race theory taught Americans to hate America. Today, across the country, school curricula and workplace trainings include materials that defenders and opponents alike insist are inspired by critical race theory but that academic critical race theorists do not characterize as such.  Fox News gave only passing thought to critical race theory until last year. The first mention on the network occurred after Bell died, in 2012. A video of President Barack Obama praising him 21 years earlier began circulating online. “Open up your minds and your hearts to the words of Mr. Derrick Bell,” Obama said. That introduction was followed by a hug between the two men, which Fox cited as further evidence of Obama’s tendency to consort with radicals. A guest on Hannity offhandedly alluded to the theory during a segment on George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2014; network regulars briefly referred to it twice in 2019. Then, in 2020, after Derek Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, and the United States became awash in anti-racist reading lists—some of which included books and articles that discussed critical race theory—Fox suddenly took a great interest in the idea. It became the latest in a long line of racialized topics (affirmative action perhaps being the most prominent) that the network has jumped on. Since June 5, 2020, the phrase has been invoked during 150 broadcasts.[Ta-Nehisi Coates: ‘A hug that the media won’t show’]If a single person bears the most responsibility for the surge in conservative interest in critical race theory, it is probably Christopher Rufo. Last summer, Rufo, a 36-year-old senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian think tank, received a tip from a municipal employee in Seattle. (Rufo had lived in the city and, in 2018, ran unsuccessfully for city council.) According to the whistleblower, the city was conducting “internalized racial superiority” training sessions for its employees. Rufo submitted a Freedom of Information Act request and wrote about his findings for the institute’s public-policy magazine.“In conceptual terms,” Rufo wrote, “the city frames the discussion around the idea that black Americans are reducible to the essential quality of ‘blackness’ and white Americans are reducible to the essential quality of ‘whiteness’—that is, the new metaphysics of good and evil.” The training was rampant, he wrote, infecting every part of the city’s municipal system. “It is part of a nationwide movement to make this kind of identity politics the foundation of our public discourse. It may be coming soon to a city or town near you.” His article—which did not include the phrase critical race theory—inspired a rush of whistleblowers from school districts and federal agencies, who reached out to him complaining about diversity training they had been invited to attend or had heard about.A month later, Rufo employed the term for the first time in an article. “Critical race theory—the academic discourse centered on the concepts of ‘whiteness,’ ‘white fragility,’ and ‘white privilege’—is spreading rapidly through the federal government,” he wrote. He related anecdotes about training influenced by critical race theory at the Environmental Protection Agency, the FBI, and the Treasury Department, among others. In early September, Tucker Carlson invited him on his Fox News show during which Rufo warned viewers that critical race theory had pervaded every institution of the federal government and was being “weaponized” against Americans. He called on President Donald Trump to ban such training in all federal departments.“Luckily, the president was watching the show and instructed his Chief of Staff to contact me the next morning,” Rufo wrote to me. (He would agree to be interviewed only by email.) Within three weeks, Trump had signed an executive order banning the use of critical race theory by federal departments and contractors in diversity training. “And thus,” he wrote to me, “the real fight against critical race theory began.”Trump’s executive order was immediately challenged in court. Nonprofit organizations that provide these training sessions argued that the order violated their free-speech rights and hampered their ability to conduct their business. In December, a federal judge agreed; President Joe Biden rescinded the order the day he took office. But by then, critical race theory was already a part of the conservative lexicon. Since Trump’s executive order, Rufo told me, he has provided his analysis “to a half-dozen state legislatures, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate.” One such state legislature was New Hampshire’s; on February 18, the lower chamber held a hearing to discuss Keith Ammon’s bill. Rufo was among those who testified in support of it.Concerned that the measure might fail on its own, Republicans have now included its language in a must-pass budget bill. In March, Republican Governor Chris Sununu signaled that he would object to “divisive concepts” legislation because he believes it is unconstitutional, but he has since tempered his stand. “The ideas of critical race theory and all of this stuff—I personally don’t think there’s any place for that in schools,” he said in early April. But, he added, “when you start turning down the path of the government banning things, I think that’s a very slippery slope.” Almost everyone I spoke with for this article assumed that Sununu would sign the budget bill, and that the divisive-concepts ban would become law.   Although free-speech advocates are confident that bills like Ammon’s will not survive challenges in court, they believe the real point is to scare off companies, schools, and government agencies from discussing systemic racism. “What these bills are designed to do is prevent conversations about how racism exists at a systemic level in that we all have implicit biases that lead to decisions that, accumulated, lead to significant racial disparities,” Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, told me. “The proponents of this bill want none of those discussions to happen. They want to suppress that type of speech.”Conservatives are not the only critics of diversity training. For years, some progressives, including critical race theorists, have questioned its value: Is it performative? Is it the most effective way to move toward equity or is it simply an effective way of restating the obvious and stalling meaningful action? But that is not the fight that has materialized over the past nine months. Instead, it is a confrontation with a cartoonish version of critical race theory.[Conor Friedersdorf: Can Chloé Valdary Sell Skeptics on DEI?]For Republicans, the end goal of all these bills is clear: initiating another battle in the culture wars and holding on to some threadbare mythology of the nation that has been challenged in recent years. What’s less clear is whether average voters care much about the debate. In a recent Atlantic/Leger poll, 52 percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said that states should pass laws banning schools from teaching critical race theory, but just 30 percent of self-identified independents were willing to say the same. Meanwhile, a strong majority of Americans, 78 percent, either had not heard of critical race theory or were unsure whether they had.Last week, after President Biden’s first joint address to Congress—and as Idaho was preparing to pass its bill—Senator Tim Scott stood in front of United States and South Carolina flags to deliver the Republican response. “From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress,” Scott said. “You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country.” Rufo immediately knew what he meant. “Senator Tim Scott denounces critical race theory in his response to Biden’s speech tonight,” he tweeted. “We have turned critical race theory into a national issue and conservative political leaders are starting to fight.”
  • The Books Briefing: Why the Graphic-Novel Format Can Be Perfect for Memoirists
    If “the medium is the message,” as the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964, what are authors saying when they choose to tell their stories via graphic memoirs? These books weave together text, illustration, photography, and archival items to enrich first-person narratives and explorations of the self. The interplay of the different components allows for an expansiveness that straight prose sometimes cannot achieve, and that makes these nonfiction works as captivating as the latest fiction page-turner.The author Alison Bechdel has used the form to examine several aspects of her life: In Are You My Mother? she pulls in primary sources such as old journal entries to make sense of her relationship with her mom; in her newest work, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, she charts her relationship to fitness, an extremely physical enterprise that lends itself to being dissected both textually and visually. The illustrations in Kristen Radtke’s Imagine Wanting Only This allow the author to easily move among locations as she recounts her attempts to escape reality, all along searching for the answers to some of life’s most nagging questions.In her graphic memoir, Drawn to Berlin, Ali Fitzgerald uses comic techniques to bring empathy and humanity to the refugee crisis, which is often discussed in terms of harsh statistics and policy proposals. And Mira Jacob, with Good Talk, which relays her experience as a member of an interracial family, found that illustrating conversations with her relatives was a better way of sharing the ideas they talked about, rather than trying to sum them up or explain them herself. ​Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email. What We’re Reading(ILLUSTRATION BY KATIE MARTIN; IMAGES FROM POPPERFOTO / GETTY) The dharma of working out“There are some juicy tensions here, of which [Alison] Bechdel the memoirist is far from unaware. Self-forgetting might be one end of working out; self-improvement, leading to self-glorification, is another.”📚 The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel(WALTER MCBRIDE / WIREIMAGE / GETTY)Alison Bechdel’s sad, funny, sprawling graphic memoir“The comic medium allows Bechdel to weave primary sources into Are You My Mother? with a cinematic efficiency—enabling her to flash back to her childhood, to memories of first loves, and into dream sequences jotted down in journals. Its stylistic flexibility accommodates more layers than any straight documentary or prose memoir could support.”📚 Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel 📚 Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel(PANTHEON)A graphic-novel memoir that tangles with the puzzle of existence “[Kristen] Radtke, an editor at Sarabande Books, uses delicately drawn panels and the occasional full-page spread to move seamlessly through memories and geographies, creating an elastic sense of time that pulls the reader into her interminably restless mind.”📚 Imagine Wanting Only This, by Kristen Radtke(FANTAGRAPHICS)Capturing Europe’s refugee crisis through comics “Throughout Drawn to Berlin, [Ali] Fitzgerald holds up different lenses to the refugee crisis, highlighting the tension between the real people she knew and the vast, faceless statistics they represent. She doesn’t employ straightforward realism to bring her subjects to life. Instead Fitzgerald gives individuals iconic features—a gap-toothed smile, a ponytail. ”📚 Drawn to Berlin, by Ali Fitzgerald 📚 Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud 📚 The Hive, by Charles Burns(MIRA JACOB / COURTESY OF PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE)Illustrating the messy reality of life as an interracial family “One day I was sitting around and I was having these conversations with my son about Michael Jackson that were so crazy—they were so funny, and deeply sad. I realized I couldn’t explain that to anyone—there was no sentence that was going to make sense of it. So I just wrote down the conversation instead. I drew us on printer paper, and I cut us out and put us on top of Michael Jackson albums.”📚 Good Talk, by Mira Jacob Correction: Last week’s newsletter gave an incorrect date for an event on happiness. It is May 20. Register here. About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Tori Latham. The book currently sitting on her coffee table is Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team. Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.
  • What the Bidens Understand About Community College
    In the last week of April, Joe Biden gave his address to a joint session of Congress, which is of course what first-year presidents do, instead of an official “State of the Union” message. In the first week of May, both he and Jill Biden spoke at Tidewater Community College, in southern Virginia.The theme connecting their presentations is one of the stalwarts in reports over the years at this site: Namely, the role of community colleges as linchpins of education and opportunity in the United States. For more on why community colleges are the institutions of this American moment, please see this dispatch from Michigan, or this from Ohio, or this with responses from Maine to Texas to California and beyond, or this thoughtful reply by Matt Reed for Inside Higher Ed. For now, my goal is to explain why a 93-second video clip, which you’ll find at the end of this post, deserves your attention.In his joint-session speech, Joe Biden spoke on behalf of his large-scale “American Families Plan” and “American Jobs Plan,” which both followed the immediate stimulus plan he promoted, called the “American Rescue Plan.”(Here’s a rhetorical note from a one-time political speechwriter: Simpler is always better, when it comes to naming big new projects. Cautionary example: During the Obama era, the U.S. and five other countries reached an agreement with Iran. Nearly everyone, admirer or critic, refers to that agreement as “the Iran nuclear deal”; almost no one outside a bureaucracy calls it by its ungainly formal title, the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA. By contrast, the matched set of three titles for this administration's main programs—American Rescue Plan, American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan—are marvels of concision. Each name is three words long; two of the three words are “American” and “Plan”; and the remaining words are “Families,” “Jobs,” and “Rescue.” Unless they had chosen “Motherhood” and “Apple Pie,” it would be hard to improve on this as a naming strategy. Students of Americana will also note the resonance with the famous three-word titles of many of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, from the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, to the Rural Electrification Administration, or REA.)The idea and ambition of the new “American (Rescue/Jobs/Families) Plan” programs, as noted in this previous post, involve seizing this moment’s historic opportunity to address long-festering inequalities and failures. Will Americans look back, decades from now, at the sweep of these proposals as something comparable to the New Deal, in brightening prospects for the nation as a whole? Or will they see it as successful in more narrowly defined terms, like the race to space in the 1960s? Or will it be seen as another sad mismatch of intentions and effects? Obviously no one knows the answer now; less obviously but just as certainly, the answer is being determined week by week, through actions of citizens, businesses, and institutions across the country. "No matter where I go, I feel most at home at community colleges." Jill Biden, the first lady, at Tidewater Community College, in southern Virginia, on May 3, 2021. (White House video) Joe Biden’s part of the community college saga came last week, in the Capitol, when as part of his lengthy address he proposed guaranteeing two free years of community college to all students. At Tidewater Community College this week, Dr. Jill Biden appeared in her capacity as a long-time English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, outside Washington—where, she said, she was known as “Dr. B.” She spoke before her husband did, and she made the case for community colleges as today’s expressions of an American ideal: of mobility for individuals, of security for families, of revitalization for towns and regions.“Our schools accept everyone,” she said, “regardless of age or race or income, or family legacy.” If you watch her presentation (on C-SPAN video here), you’ll see her stressing these points, starting around time 3:00. “They offer classes that are flexible, so students don’t have to choose between work and school. They train for real-world jobs. They tailor to the community they serve.”Obviously community colleges have their failures and shortcomings and scandals, as any institution does. But both of the Bidens emphasized the theme that has struck Deb and me in our travels: how important the community-college opportunity is, for how many people, at a time when so many other avenues of opportunity have been closed off.America’s K-12 system is the bedrock of public education; its research universities, liberal arts colleges, and other four-year schools are crown jewels. But everyone already knows about the importance of those institutions—the public schools, the famous universities. Right now, in the political and economic straits of the 2020s, community colleges may most deserve extra attention and help.You can hear both Bidens making the extended case, in the C-SPAN video from Tidewater. But if you’d like the TL;DR version of this argument, I most enthusiastically recommend spending the next 93 seconds of your life watching Raj Shaunak, of East Mississippi Community College, explain what his institution has meant to the people of his state.Many of them, he says, are “one flat tire away from losing their job, or not finishing their education.” This is a clip from the HBO documentary “Our Towns,” and I think it will give you an idea of why we have become such proponents of strengthening these engines of American opportunity.
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  • U.S. pipeline company halts operations after cyberattack
    WASHINGTON — The operator of a pipeline that transports fuel across the East Coast said Saturday it was the victim of a ransomware attack and temporarily halted all pipeline operations. Colonial Pipeline did not say what was demanded or by whom, but ransomware attacks typically involve criminal hackers who seize data and demand a large payment to release it. The attack took place Friday and also affected some of its information technology systems. The company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries primarily located on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey. The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company said it hired an outside cybersecurity firm to investigate the nature and scope of the attack and has also contacted law enforcement and federal agencies. While there have long been fears about U.S. adversaries disrupting American energy suppliers, ransomware attacks by criminal syndicates are much more common and have been soaring lately. In a statement late Friday, Colonial Pipeline said it was “taking steps to understand and resolve this issue,” focused primarily on ”the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation.” It said it was “working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline.” Oil analyst Andy Lipow said the impact of the attack on fuel supplies and prices depends on how long the pipeline is down. An outage of one or two days would be minimal, he said, but an outage of five or six days could causes shortages and price hikes, particularly in an area stretching from central Alabama to the Washington, D.C., area. Lipow said a key concern about a lengthy delay would be the supply of jet fuel needed to keep major airports operating, like those in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina. The precise nature of the attack was unclear, including who launched it and what the motives were. A Colonial Pipeline spokeswoman declined to say whether the company had received a ransom demand, as is common in attacks from cyber criminal syndicates. A leading expert in industrial control systems, CEO Robert Lee of Dragos, Inc., said everything points to a ransomware attack. “How long they’ll be down depends on how far and wide this is,” he said. The pipeline could be back up and running relatively quickly if only IT systems are affected and Colonial was well-prepared. But if the network that directly controls pipeline functions is impacted it could take days, he said. “It would not be unreasonable for a longer term, a week or so, of outages if it’s impactful on the operations side. We just don’t know that yet,” Lee said. Ransomware scrambles a victim organization’s data with encryption. The criminals leave instructions on infected computers for how to negotiate ransom payments and, once paid, provide software decryption keys. Mike Chapple, teaching professor of IT, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and a former computer scientist with the National Security Agency, said systems that control pipelines should not be connected to the internet and vulnerable to cyber intrusions. “The attacks were extremely sophisticated and they were able to defeat some pretty sophisticated security controls, or the right degree of security controls weren’t in place,” Chapple said. Brian Bethune, a professor of applied economics at Boston College, also said the impact on consumer prices should be short-lived as long as the shutdown does not last for more than a week or two. “But it is an indication of how vulnerable our infrastructure is to these kinds of cyberattacks,” he said. Bethune noted the shutdown is occurring at a time when energy prices have already been rising as the economy re-opens further as pandemic restrictions are lifted. According to the AAA auto club, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has increased by four cents since Monday to $2.94. Colonial Pipeline said it transports more than 100 million gallons of fuel daily, through a pipeline system spanning more than 5,500 miles. The FBI and the White House’s National Security Council did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The federal Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency referred questions about the incident to the company. Related Articles Battle over Suncor oil refinery intensifies as state weighs permit renewal, metro Denver residents demand closure Editorial: Polis should support this plan to implement his ambitious climate roadmap Harvard study says tighter oil, gas rules that allow exemptions make little difference At “moment of peril,” Biden opens global summit on climate U.S. ends oil, gas lease sales from public land through June A hacker’s botched attempt to poison the water supply of a small Florida city raised alarms about how vulnerable the nation’s critical infrastructure may be to attacks by more sophisticated intruders. Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration’s deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technology, said in an interview with The Associated Press in April that the government was undertaking a new effort to help electric utilities, water districts and other critical industries protect against potentially damaging cyberattacks. She said the goal was to ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block malicious cyber activity. Since then, the White House has announced a 100-day initiative aimed at protecting the country’s electricity system from cyberattacks by encouraging owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve their capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks. It includes concrete milestones for them to put technologies into use so they can spot and respond to intrusions in real time. The Justice Department has also announced a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks in which data is seized by hackers who demand payment from victims in order to release it. AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger and Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed.
  • Election officials face fines, charges in GOP voting laws
    In 2020, election officials tried to make voting easier and safer amid a global pandemic. Next time, they might get fined or face criminal charges. Republicans are creating a new slate of punishments for the county officials who run elections, arguing they overstepped their authority when they expanded voter access during the coronavirus pandemic. The new penalties, part of a nationwide Republican campaign to roll back access to the ballot, already have become law in Iowa, Georgia and Florida, and are making their way through statehouses in Texas and elsewhere. The GOP push comes after a presidential contest that saw record turnout and no widespread problems. Election officials have responded with warnings of a chilling effect on those responsible for administering the vote and counting ballots, raising fears they could be penalized for minor mistakes, get caught up in partisan fights or even leave their jobs. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds drew heavy criticism for signing a broad voting bill in March that shortens hours at polling places, narrows the early voting period and imposes new restrictions on mail and absentee ballots. The law also bans sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters, as some officials did before the 2020 election. One provision is especially worrisome to Linn County Auditor Joel Miller: a fine of up to $10,000 for a “technical infraction” of election rules. Miller says the penalty could be imposed for unintentional mistakes like opening a polling place a few minutes late, and raises concerns about partisan enforcement. “It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all those mistakes,” he told The Associated Press. “The process could be likewise corrupted by the secretary of state arbitrarily administering the law in a very uneven manner, depending on whether you’re a Democratic county or a Republican county.” Looming fines also could dissuade people from taking jobs as election workers or make staffers hesitant to help voters, especially in smaller counties that can’t afford to risk the costly penalties, said Travis Weipert, Democratic auditor of Johnson County, Iowa. “It’s literally becoming, when you look at the laws, the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “The counties that can pay to still continue what they do are going to do it, and the counties that can’t are going to be restricting voting.” A similar bill signed into law Thursday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, could lead to $25,000 fines for election supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside of early voting hours or is left unsupervised. Related Articles Red meat politics: GOP turns culture war into a food fight U.S. proposes ending rule that weakened wild bird protections Challenger hits Liz Cheney, says GOP must work with Trump In GOP stronghold, Biden pushes for his infrastructure plan Impact of devastating Indian virus surge spreads to politics There have been more than 350 restrictive voting bills filed in 47 states this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy group that advocates for voter access. Many seek to place new rules around mail and early voting, methods used without issue in 2020, with some tacking on new penalties for election administrators. There is universal agreement among experts that there was no widespread fraud or problems that compromised the results of the 2020 election. Still, it’s not unusual for lawmakers to reassess voting regulations after an election. The GOP push this year, based on President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election, has garnered intense scrutiny, including from big names in the business community who argue the legislation is discriminatory. In 2020, election officials in Harris County, Texas, which includes the Democratic stronghold of Houston and is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, went further than anywhere else in the state to create new ways to vote. They opened 24-hour polling places and implemented drive-thru voting. They also tried to mail all voters unsolicited absentee ballot applications but were blocked by the Texas Supreme Court. The county, where nearly half of the 5 million residents are Latino and 20% are Black, saw a record 1.7 million votes last year. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people cast ballots at 24-hour centers during times when polling places are normally closed. More than half of the roughly 127,000 people who voted at drive-thru centers were Black, Latino or Asian. In response, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature have pushed proposals to ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting centers, and make it a crime to send voters unsolicited absentee ballot materials. “If you got rid of every election administrator you don’t like in your state, the desire for drive-thru voting, for mail ballot voting, for expanded hours is still there. We already made it happen,” said Isabel Longoria, the election administrator of Harris County. “So you can either get with the times and proudly support these modern initiatives or you can be the person who stood in the way.” Georgia also has been in the spotlight over voting restrictions passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March. The law includes limits on where ballot drop boxes can be placed and accessed. It also allows the Legislature to select the chair of the state election board, who has the power to intervene in county election offices and install a temporary superintendent, as well as hire and fire personnel, including election directors and poll officers. Fulton County, which includes most of the Democratic stronghold of Atlanta, is one potential target, given frequent Republican criticism over long voting lines, problems processing absentee ballots and other issues. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has said the county has been “failing its voters for at least 25 years.” In response, Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts issued a statement that said the county “has been unfairly targeted by those with a grudge against us.” “While Fulton County is the clear target, all 159 of Georgia’s counties will be impacted, and I urge those counties’ leaders to examine the bill, stand up and speak out — because tomorrow it could be them,” he said. The new penalties have at least some election officials talking about getting into different lines of work. Miller, the Linn County auditor, said some have been joking about switching career paths. “Well, there’s been a couple of county treasurer jobs that became open recently,” Miller said with a laugh, “and my peers were openly discussing whether or not they should apply to be appointed as treasurers because, you know, treasurers never get in trouble.”
  • Pedestrian dies in overnight hit-and-run incident in Lakewood
    A pedestrian in Lakewood was killed overnight in a hit-and-run incident, police said. LPD is investigating an overnight fatal auto-pedestrian crash at W Colfax Ave / Oak St. The adult male pedestrian died on scene and the unknown vehicle fled. Please call Jeffcom with any info at 3-980-7300 reference CR LK21-16810. pic.twitter.com/oIZaAs1C4U — Lakewood Police (@LakewoodPDCO) May 8, 2021 Related Articles Two shootings at same Denver apartment complex, one man dead Motorcyclist dies after crash with vehicle in Aurora Man stabbed to death in Jefferson County; suspect is in custody Mother of 3-year-old Westminster girl who was shot dead by her brother pleads guilty to child abuse Love Has Won followers face more severe charges in connection with cult leader’s death Just before 1 a.m., the man was struck at West Colfax Avenue and Oak Street, police said. He died at the scene. The driver who hit the victim fled. Anyone with information on fatal hit-and-run incident is asked to call police 303-980-7300.
  • Denver weather: Expect a cool Mother’s Day with a chance of rain and thunderstorms
    After a few days with high temperatures in the 70s and 80s along the Front Range, Mother’s Day in Denver will be a breakfast-in-bed type of day where moms can stay toasty warm. On Saturday, Denver’s high temperature will top out early at about 72 degrees by noon, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. A cold front creeps in during the afternoon when temperature readings will back off into the mid- to lower-60s. Afternoon winds will gust to about 25 mph and there’s a 50% chance for showers and thunderstorms. Overnight, skies will be cloudy and the low temperature will dip to 41 degrees. Related Articles Denver weather: Thunderstorms, hail, snow and widespread rain in the forecast Denver weather: Sunny and dry before more thunderstorms and showers Meteorologist Brooks Garner is leaving FOX 31 Afternoon rain, hail expected in Denver metro area Denver weather: Warmer, milder days ahead On Mother’s Day, there’s an early chance for showers and thunderstorms, after 9 a.m., according to NWS. It will be mostly cloudy in Denver and the high temperature will top out at 53 degrees, about 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the weekend’s start. The chance for precipitation is 50%. Overnight Sunday in the city the chance for precipitation increases to 90% and the overnight low temperature drops to 39 degrees. Sunday through Tuesday, widespread showers and storms are forecast for the region. Precipitation overnight Sunday will develop into snow in the mountains and foothills. By Monday night, the Interstate 25 corridor could see snowfall into early Tuesday morning. Snow accumulation, if any,  east of the foothills should be light. Monday in Denver should be a soggy day, with showers and thunderstorms. There’s a 100% chance for precipitation and the high temperature will be a chilly 48 degrees.  
  • Barca, Madrid, Juve cling onto Super League, denounce UEFA
    The three remaining European Super League rebels stepped up their criticism of UEFA on Saturday, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus denouncing intolerable threats for their refusal to back down on the prospect of a breakaway competition. The other nine clubs who formed the ill-fated Super League three weeks ago accepted a settlement on Friday to be fined by UEFA and stay within the open Champions League structure. “We regret to see that our friends and founding partners of the Super League project have now found themselves in such inconsistent and contradictory position when signing a number of commitments to UEFA yesterday,” Barcelona, Madrid and Juventus said in a joint statement. “We have the duty to act in a responsible manner and persevere in the pursuit of adequate solutions, despite the unacceptable and ongoing pressures and threats received from UEFA.” The trio risks being banned from the Champions League as UEFA pursues a disciplinary process against them for not disavowing the Super League and being reintegrated into the existing system. Related Articles 9 Super League clubs accept UEFA fines, 3 rebels face bans Arsenal’s 25-year run in European competition on the line Kroenke says “100% committed” to Arsenal, won’t sell club Kiszla: Power to the people! What frustrated Nuggets and Avs fans could learn from quick demise of soccer’s Super League Madrid president says Super League clubs “can’t leave” plan “The founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures, threats, and offenses to abandon the project and therefore desist from their right and duty to provide solutions to the football ecosystem via concrete proposals and constructive dialogue,” Barcelona, Madrid and Juventus said. “This is intolerable under the rule of law.” The Super League project imploded after the English clubs — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham — backed out inside 48 hours last month after a backlash from the fans and British government. The Premier League clubs along with Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan have officially signed up to a settlement with UEFA to participate only in the existing open European competitions and accepted giving up 5% of revenue for one season playing in Europe. “We are fully aware of the diversity of reactions to the Super League initiative and, consequently, of the need to reflect on the reasons for some of them,” the remaining Super League clubs said. “We are ready to reconsider the proposed approach, as necessary. However, we would be highly irresponsible if, being aware of the needs and systemic crisis in the football sector, which led us to announce the Super League, we abandoned such mission to provide effective and sustainable answers to the existential questions that threaten the football industry.”
  • Hamilton tops qualifying at Spanish GP for 100th pole
    MONTMELÓ, Spain — Lewis Hamilton won his 100th career pole position after barely edging Max Verstappen to the fastest time in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday. Hamilton pushed his Mercedes to a flying lap of 1 minute, 16.74 seconds. Verstappen in his Red Bull was only 0.03 seconds behind. “Great job! That was hard work,” Hamilton told his team over the radio after shouting out to celebrate hitting the century mark. “I can’t believe we’re at 100. It is really down to the men and women at the factory who are continuously raising the bar,” Hamilton said after getting out of his Silver Arrow. “The journey we have been on has been immense.” Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was right behind in third, followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Hamilton leads the Formula One standings by eight points over Verstappen going into the fourth race of the season. Hamilton has won the Spanish GP five times, including each of the past four years. On Sunday, he will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s six wins in Montmeló. A Mercedes has won pole at the 2.9-mile Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit every year since 2013, including front-row lockouts in each of those years except for 2017. Hamilton has now taken six of those poles. Hamilton’s milestone increases the distance between his mark and Michael Schumacher’s 68 poles in second place all-time. It is promising to be a season full of milestones for the British driver. Related Articles Lewis Hamilton positive for COVID-19, will miss Formula One’s Sakhir Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton can equal Michael Schumacher’s F1 track record with 8th win It appears to be just a matter of weeks before Hamilton also hits the century mark in grand prix victories. On Sunday, he will be aiming for a 98th career victory — on a track where he was won for the past four years. He broke Schumacher’s record of 91 wins last year. And then he will try for the biggest prize of all: surpassing Schumacher’s record of seven world championships that he equalled last season. Verstappen, however, also has good memories from the Spanish GP where he got his maiden win at age 18 in 2016. This season, Verstappen could have been even closer — or perhaps ahead of Hamilton — in the standings if he had not run afoul of track limit violations that cost him points in Bahrain and Portugal. Hamilton won the season opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy. In all three races, Hamilton and Verstappen have finished either first or second.
  • Bomb kills at least 30 near girls’ school in Afghan capital
    By RAHIM FAIZ, The Associated Press KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb exploded near a girls’ school in a majority Shiite district of west Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 30 people, many of them young pupils between 11 and 15 years old. The Taliban condemned the attack and denied any responsibility. Ambulances evacuated the wounded as relatives and residents screamed at authorities near the scene of the blast at Syed Al-Shahda school, in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said. The death toll was expected to rise further. The bombing, apparently aimed to cause maximum civilian carnage, adds to fears that violence in the war-wrecked country could escalate as the U.S. and NATO end nearly 20 years of military engagement. Residents in the area said the explosion was deafening. One, Naser Rahimi, told The Associated Press he heard three separate explosions, although there was no official confirmation of multiple blasts. Rahimi also said he believed that the sheer power of the explosion meant the death toll would almost certainly climb. Rahimi said the explosion went off as the girls were streaming out of the school at around 4:30 p.m. local time. Authorities were investigating the attack but have yet to confirm any details. One of the students fleeing the school recalled the attack. the screaming of the girls, the blood. “I was with my classmate, we were leaving the school, when suddenly an explosion happened, “ said 15-year-old Zahra, whose arm had been broken by a piece of shrapnel. “Ten minutes later there was another explosion and just a couple of minutes later another explosion,” she said. “Everyone was yelling and there was blood everywhere, and I couldn’t see anything clearly.” Her friend died. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the Afghan Islamic State affiliate has targeted the Shiite neighborhood before. The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiite Muslims. Washington blamed IS for a vicious attack last year in a maternity hospital in the same area that killed pregnant women and newborn babies. In Dasht-e-Barchi, angry crowds attacked the ambulances and even beat health workers as they tried to evacuate the wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He implored residents to cooperate and allow ambulances free access to the site. Images circulating on social media purportedly showed bloodied school backpacks and books strewn across the street in front if the school, and smoke rising above the neighborhood. At one nearby hospital, Associated Press journalists saw at least 20 dead bodies lined up in hallways and rooms, with dozens of wounded people and families of victims pressing through the facility. Outside the Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital, dozens of people lined up to donate blood, while family members checked casualty posted lists on the walls. Related Articles Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by U.S., NATO U.S. orders big drawdown at Kabul embassy as troops leave Letters: What we are leaving behind in Afghanistan (4/25/21) Friedman: Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan may be a short term disaster but who knows about the long run Afghan women fear the worst, whether war or peace lies ahead Both Arian and Nazari said that at least 50 people were also wounded, and that the casualty toll could rise. The attack occurred just as the fasting day came to an end. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in a message that only the Islamic State group could be responsible for such a heinous crime. Mujahid also accused Afghanistan’s intelligence agency of being complicit with IS, although he offered no evidence. The Taliban and the Afghan government have traded accusations over a series of targeted killings of civil society workers, journalists and Afghan professionals. While IS has taken responsibility for some of those killings, many have gone unclaimed. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, blaming the Taliban even as they denied it. He offered no proof. IS has previously claimed attacks against minority Shiites in the same area, last year claiming two brutal attacks on education facilities that killed 50 people, most of them students. Even as the IS has been degraded in Afghanistan, according to government and US officials, it has stepped-up its attacks particularly against Shiite Muslims and women workers. Earlier the group took responsibility for the targeted killing of three women media personnel in eastern Afghanistan. The attack comes days after the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops officially began leaving the country. They will be out by Sept. 11 at the latest. The pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, who control or hold sway over half of Afghanistan. The top U.S. military officer said Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and possibly some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks. Associated Press photographer Rahmat Gul and video journalist Ahmad Seir in Kabul, Afghanistan and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Pakistan contributed to this report.
  • Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist
    By Alina Tugend, The New York Times Company Four years ago, Michael Heinrich was riding his motorcycle on the University of Michigan campus when a rotted tree fell on him and snapped his neck, causing him to permanently lose use of the lower half of his body. He spent weeks in intensive care and then went to inpatient rehabilitation for more than two months, About halfway through his rehab stint, his occupational therapist, Michael Blackstock, asked whether he was interested in trying virtual reality for his therapy. Heinrich, now 26 — who is returning for his master’s at the university — was game. “What I really enjoyed was being an eagle trying to go through rings,” he said, describing a virtual reality experience. “From an emotional standpoint, coming off an injury where I lost the majority of the use of my body, VR pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible.” Virtual reality, long used for gaming, has, over the past several years, moved into the health field for such things as pain management and relieving post-traumatic stress disorder. And now researchers and therapists say it has shown great promise for physical and occupational therapy. “I’ve been through PT for various injuries, and you know, sometimes I get home and I’m sort of like, well, I forget exactly what I was supposed to do,” said Brennan M. Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health and director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “How am I supposed to set up my body for this? And also, do I have the motivation to do it right now? And VR can help both of those, both by reproducing precisely what that physical movement is supposed to be and hopefully providing some additional motivation to do the exercise.” Using virtual reality for rehabilitation was growing before the coronavirus pandemic for a variety of reasons, including rapid advances in hardware and software technology and a younger generation of practitioners more comfortable using such technology. But the greater acceptance of telehealth during the pandemic has further spurred its use. For one thing, it’s simply a lot more fun than traditional rehabilitation exercises. And “VR has this uncanny ability to kind of nudge the human brain in ways that other audiovisual media cannot,” said Spiegel, who is one of the foremost experts on the use of virtual reality in health. “The bottom line is it motivates us to do things that we might not be able to do.” That’s what Pamela Pleasants, 59, found when she started doing virtual reality therapy for an injured shoulder. An associate dean at an independent school outside Boston, she learned that she was eligible to get virtual physical therapy, which she did through a company, XRHealth. She did an intake over a video call with a physical therapist provided by the company, and then the VR headset arrived in the mail. Based on the intake, the therapist decided what applications — out of eight currently offered by the company — that Pleasants would use, as well as for how long and how frequently, and then trained her how to use them. Related Articles Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? The therapist could also adjust all the settings within a program. For example, when Pleasants found the range of motion in one application caused her too much pain, the therapist adjusted it lower. The patient can change programs either using a controller or by eye gaze. She loved the different programs, especially Balloon Blast, Pleasants said, which consisted of popping balloons with a virtual sword in each hand. “In the background was how high my range of motion should be,” she said. Pleasants also found the programs geared to reduce stress, such as a guided meditation while walking through a forest, very useful for her shoulder and mental health. She continued meeting her physical therapist on video calls semiweekly. “After four months, my shoulder felt tremendously better,” she said. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center via The New York TimesA handout provided by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles shows Brennan M. Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health and director of health services research, with a patient using virtual reality. While use of the gaming technology for improving physical ailments is still in the early stages, it shows promise — and it’s fun. XRHealth is one of the few companies focused on providing VR physical and occupational therapy at home; based in Boston, it is covered by many insurance programs in Massachusetts and nationally by Medicare. The company is working to get more insurance companies to cover its services. Without insurance, people can pay $179 monthly for the headsets and two physical or occupational therapy appointments monthly from a panel of therapists the company provides. The company has all of its programs registered with the FDA, said Eran Orr, founder and chief executive. Not all the programs offered for VR rehab are games; some clinics allow a patient to virtually practice real-life skills they may have trouble doing, such as grocery shopping or dishwashing. To really push the use of virtual reality for physical and occupational therapy, “we’ll need to build a body of evidence that shows it’s effective, how we pay for it and how we can develop it in a way that’s easy to use,” said Matthew Stoudt, chief executive and a founder of Applied VR, which supplies therapeutic virtual reality. “We have to be able to demonstrate that we can bring down the cost of care, not just add to the cost paradigm.” While research specifically on VR use in physical and occupational therapy is in the early stages, an analysis of 27 studies, conducted by Matt C. Howard, an assistant professor of marketing and quantitative methods at the University of South Alabama, found that VR therapy is, in general, more effective than traditional programs. “Does it mean VR is better for everything? Of course not,” he said in an interview. “And there’s a lot we still don’t know about VR rehab.” Much of the research uses small samples with varying degrees of rigor, and more needs to be studied about how a patient’s activity in the virtual world translates into improved performance in the physical world, said Danielle Levac, an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy, movement and rehabilitation sciences at Northeastern University. Levac researches the rational for using virtual reality systems in pediatric rehabilitation; many of the children she works with have cerebral palsy. “We have to consider the downside of a lack of one-on-one contact with therapists,” she said. “I view VR as a tool that has a lot of potential, but we should keep in mind it should fit in — and not replace — an overall program of care.” Robert Ferguson, a neurorehabilitation and therapeutic technology clinical specialist at Michigan Medicine, which is part of the University of Michigan, has treated numerous patients over the past four years doing in-hospital VR occupational therapy. In fact, his first patient to use virtual reality was Heinrich, who made him realize the potential of VR to get patients to move in a way they — and their therapists — didn’t think they could. But, he said, clinicians must be well-trained on how to use the technology in the most helpful and effective way. For example, he said, cardiac patients need to be closely monitored because people tend to work harder and longer on VR than in traditional therapy with a decreased awareness of pain, which could be dangerous for such patients. One of the great benefits of VR therapy is that it can provide a stream of specific data to the clinician and patient on how often and how well the patient accomplished each exercise and where adjustments are needed. And technology keeps pushing that boundary; a new headset by Oculus allows more degrees of freedom to interact with a virtual environment, and one just released by HP can track heart rate, pupil dilation and sweat. Such tracking matters, because a doctor or technician can adjust the amount of exertion delivered to a patient. While older people — who are more likely to suffer from strokes, Parkinson’s or simply falls, that will require physical or occupational therapy — may seem less able or more hesitant to use such technology, Ferguson and others say that typically isn’t the case. “We’ve treated people from 18 years old up to 90,” he added. And in fact, VR therapy has been shown it can be particularly helpful for those with Parkinson’s and other central nervous system disorders. And he has repeatedly found that people have unknowingly done things while using virtual reality that they didn’t think they could. He remembers a patient in his 50s whose leg had been amputated. He couldn’t balance when trying to do seemingly simple movements, such as pulling up his pants. The man was a hunter, and Ferguson suggested he try a virtual reality program involving bow hunting. As part of the program, the patient was standing on one leg “and changing his center of gravity all over,” something he had not been able to do in regular therapy. “When we showed him the video, he said, ‘I can’t do that,’ Ferguson recalled. “We said, ‘you just did.’”
  • Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch
    By Kellen Browning, The New York Times Company Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a podcaster who fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, recently railed against mask mandates to her 4,000 fans in a live broadcast and encouraged them to enter stores maskless. On another day, she grew emotional while thanking them for sending her $84,000. Millie Weaver, a former correspondent for conspiracy theory website Infowars, speculated on her channel that coronavirus vaccines could be used to surveil people. Later, she plugged her merchandise store, where she sells $30 “Drain the Swamp” T-shirts and hats promoting conspiracies. And a podcaster who goes by Zak Paine or Redpill78, who pushes the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, urged his viewers to donate to the congressional campaign of an Ohio man who has said he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6. All three spread their messages on Twitch, a livestreaming video site owned by Amazon that has become a new mainstream base of operations for many far-right influencers. Streamers like them turned to the site after Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms clamped down on misinformation and hate speech before the 2020 election. Twitch comes with a bonus: The service makes it easy for streamers to make money, providing a financial lifeline just as their access to the largest online platforms has narrowed. The site is one of the avenues, along with apps like Google Podcasts, where far-right influencers have scattered as their options for spreading falsehoods have dwindled. Twitch became a multibillion-dollar business thanks to video gamers broadcasting their play of games like Fortnite and Call of Duty. Fans, many of whom are young men, pay the gamers by subscribing to their channels or donating money. Streamers earn even more by sending their fans to outside sites to either buy merchandise or donate money. Now Twitch has also become a place where right-wing personalities spread election and vaccine conspiracy theories, often without playing any video games. It is part of a shift at the platform, where streamers have branched out from games into fitness, cooking, fishing and other lifestyle topics in recent years. But unlike fringe livestreaming sites like Dlive and Trovo, which have also offered far-right personalities moneymaking opportunities, Twitch attracts far larger audiences. On average, 30 million people visit the site each day, the platform said. Twitch “monetizes the propaganda, which is unique,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who tracks extremists online. She said it was as if listeners of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who died in February, were donating in real time and chipping in greater sums whenever Limbaugh shared more controversial ideas. “You can turn the dial up and down and turn the flow of money up and down by saying certain things on your stream,” Squire said. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? At least 20 channels associated with far-right movements have started broadcasting on Twitch since the fall, according to data compiled by Genevieve Oh, a livestreaming analyst. Dozens more have been on the site for longer. Some are associated with QAnon, the false theory that former President Donald Trump is fighting a cabal of Democratic pedophiles. The channels range from intermittent broadcasters with several hundred views to ones that go live nearly every day and attract thousands of viewers. In a statement, Sara Clemens, Twitch’s chief operating officer, said QAnon users were only a “small handful” of the 7 million people who streamed on the site each month. “We will take action against users that violate our community policies against harmful content that encourages or incites self-destructive behavior, harassment, or attempts or threatens to physically harm others, including through misinformation,” she said. Twitch viewers support streamers through monthly subscriptions of $5, $10 or $25 to their channels, or by donating “bits,” a Twitch currency that can be converted to real money. The site also runs advertisements during streams. The platform and streamers split the revenue from ads and subscriptions. It is difficult to determine how much money individual streamers earn from their Twitch channels, but some of the far-right personalities have made many thousands of dollars. By viewing chat logs of streams that denote when a new user has subscribed, Oh has tallied at least $26,000 in subscriptions for Maras-Lindeman since December and about $5,000 in “bit” donations before Twitch took its cut. Weaver has earned nearly $3,000 since she began streaming regularly on Twitch in March, according to Oh’s tally, and Paine has made at least $5,000. Those numbers do not account for money made in other ways, such as through Square’s Cash App or Weaver’s online merchandise store. Twitch generally has stricter rules than other social media platforms for the kinds of views that users can express. It temporarily suspended Trump’s account for “hateful conduct” last summer, months before Facebook and Twitter made similar moves. Its community guidelines prohibit hateful conduct and harassment. Clemens said Twitch was developing a misinformation policy. This month, Twitch announced a policy that would allow it to suspend the accounts of people who committed crimes or severe offenses in real life or on other social media platforms, including violent extremism or membership in a known hate group. Twitch said it did not consider QAnon to be a hate group. Despite all this, a Twitch channel belonging to Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, a white nationalist organization, remained online until the middle of this month after The New York Times inquired about it. And white nationalist Anthime Joseph Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, had a Twitch channel for months, even though he was arrested in January by the FBI and accused of illegally storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Twitch initially said his activities had not violated the platform’s policies, then barred him this month for hateful conduct. Maras-Lindeman and Paine are Twitch Partners, a coveted status that grants improved customer support and greater options to customize streams. Twitch vets these channels to approve what they do. The company’s website says partners should “act as role models to the community.” Maras-Lindeman, who is barred from Twitter, averaged about 3,000 viewers a broadcast in March, and her live video broadcast quickly became one of the 1,200 most popular channels across all of Twitch. Her streams are often akin to extended monologues about current events. Sometimes, the “O” in her “ToreSays” username is replaced with a fiery “Q,” and she uses the slogan “Where we go one, we go all,” both symbols of the QAnon movement. She has encouraged her viewers to find legal avenues to throw Ohio legislators out of office because, she said, they were elected using illegitimate voting machines. “You want a great reset? Here it is. We’re going to do it our way, and that’s by eliminating you,” she said during one January stream. Aside from money made on Twitch, Maras-Lindeman’s fans donated more than $84,000 for her birthday through a GoFundMe campaign. She said the donations went toward a new car, medical treatments and a lawyer. In an email, Maras-Lindeman disputed the characterization of her as a member of the far right and said she did not advocate violence. “It is not a crime to discuss science and challenge popular current narratives or express my thoughts and opinions,” she said. On a recent stream, Maras-Lindeman addressed questions emailed to her for this article. She said she was a “centrist” who was simply encouraging her viewers to become more politically active. Paine’s channel has more than 14,000 followers and is rife with conspiracy theories about vaccines and cancer. In one stream, he and a guest encouraged viewers to drink a bleach solution that claims to cure cancer, which the Food and Drug Administration has said is dangerous. Last week, he referred to a QAnon belief that people are killing children to “harvest” a chemical compound from them, then talked about a “criminal cabal” controlling the government, saying people do not understand “what plane of existence they come from.” Paine, who is barred from Twitter and YouTube, has also asked his Twitch audience to donate to the House campaign of J.R. Majewski, an Air Force veteran in Toledo, Ohio, who attracted attention last year for painting his lawn to look like a Trump campaign banner. Majewski has used QAnon hashtags but distanced himself from the movement in an interview with his local newspaper, The Toledo Blade. Majewski has appeared on Paine’s streams, where they vape, chat about Majewski’s campaign goals and take calls from listeners. “He is exactly the type of person that we need to get in Washington, D.C., so that we can supplant these evil cabal criminal actors and actually run our own country,” Paine said on one stream. Neither Paine nor Majewski responded to a request for comment. Joan Donovan, a Harvard University researcher who studies disinformation and online extremism, said streamers who rely on their audience’s generosity to fund themselves felt pressured to continue raising the stakes. “The incentive to lie, cheat, steal, hoax and scam is very high when the cash is easy to acquire,” she said.
  • Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech
    By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times Company On the outside, Apple’s new AirTag looks like a ho-hum product that we have all seen before. It’s a disc-shaped tracking gadget that can be attached to items like house keys to help you find them. But inside, the story gets far more interesting. The AirTag is one of the first consumer electronics to support a new wireless technology, ultrawideband, which lets you detect precise proximity between objects. Using ultrawideband, your iPhone can sense whether an AirTag is an inch or dozens of feet away from it. It’s so accurate that its app will even show an arrow pointing you in the direction of the AirTag. That’s far better than other trackers that rely on Bluetooth, an older wireless technology that can only roughly guess an item’s proximity. (More on how this all works later.) Using ultrawideband to find lost items is just one early example of what the technology can do. Because of its pinpoint-precise ability to transfer data quickly between devices, ultrawideband could become the next wireless standard that succeeds Bluetooth. It could lead to better wireless earphones, keyboards, video game controllers — you name it. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Frederic Nabki, chief technology officer of Spark Microsystems, a Montreal-based firm that is developing ultrawideband technology, said of trackers like the AirTag. “It sends its data really, really fast.” I tested Apple’s $29 AirTag, which will be released Friday, for about a week. I used the tracker to find house keys, locate my dogs and track a backpack. I also ran similar tests with Tile, a $25 tracker that relies on Bluetooth and that has been around for about eight years. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? Last week, Tile complained in an antitrust hearing that Apple had copied its product while putting smaller companies at a disadvantage. From my tests comparing AirTag and Tile, I found that ultrawideband was far superior to Bluetooth for finding items. What’s more, the AirTag demonstrated that ultrawideband is next-generation tech that is worth getting excited about. Here’s what you need to know. How ultrawideband and Bluetooth work Ultrawideband has been in development for more than 15 years, but it was built into chips for iPhones and other smartphones only in the past two years. When you use ultrawideband to find a tracker, it works similarly to sonar, which detects objects underwater. You send a ping to the tag, and the tag bounces a ping back to your phone. The amount of time it takes for the ping to come back is used to calculate the distance between the two objects. But when you use Bluetooth to find a tracker, your phone is pushing out a continuous signal in search of it. The farther you move away from the tracker, the weaker the signal gets, and the closer you move toward it, the stronger it becomes. This technique is used to tell you roughly how far away you are from the tracker. Tile vs. AirTag So what do the two underlying wireless technologies mean in practice? Tile works with both iPhones and Android phones using Bluetooth technology to find items. Open the Tile app, select an item and hit the “find” button. The app will look for the Tile and send a signal to connect, after which it makes the tracker play a melody. If the signal connection is weak, it will tell you to move around until the signal gets stronger. If your phone can’t find a Tile because it is outside its range, you can put it in “lost mode.” The tracker will search for other Tile owners who have granted the Tile app access to their location to help find other people’s lost items. If a Tile-owning Samaritan is near your Tile, that person’s device will share its location with the Tile network, which will show where the item was last spotted on a map. Apple’s AirTag works with iPhones both new and old. Newer devices (the iPhone 11 and 12 series) can take advantage of ultrawideband’s precise locator abilities. To find an item, you open the Find My app, select an item and tap Find. From there, the app will form a connection with the AirTag. The app combines data gathered with the phone’s camera, sensors and ultrawideband chip to direct you to the location of the tag, using an arrow to point you to it. Older iPhones can track AirTags with Bluetooth using a method similar to Tile’s. Similar to Tile, when an AirTag is lost and outside the range of your phone, you can put it in lost mode and allow other Apple phones to find the AirTag to help you see where the item was last spotted on a map. Testing The benefits of ultrawideband could easily be seen in a few tests. For one experiment, I asked my wife to hide several AirTags and Tiles throughout our home and then time how long it took me to find them. In one test, she hid an AirTag attached to my motorcycle key somewhere in our bedroom. Apple’s Find My app used an arrow to point me toward the mattress and I pressed a button to make the tag play a sound. After rummaging through the covers and peeking under the bed, I found the AirTag crammed under the mattress. It took about 90 seconds. Next, I had to find a Tile attached to my house key. I opened the Tile app and hit the Find button. The app said the signal was weak and suggested I walk around to find a stronger connection. As I moved downstairs, I could hear the Tile’s melody and the app said the signal was getting stronger. I found the Tile hidden inside a bin in a garage locker. It took about a minute. The toughest was an AirTag hidden inside a book. Apple’s Find My app pointed toward the correct shelf, but it couldn’t tell me precisely which book the tag was shoved inside. After removing four books from the shelf and flipping through pages, I found the AirTag inside a cookbook. This provided my wife with three minutes of entertainment. Separately, to test how the trackers worked when they were too far from my phone, I attached a Tile and an AirTag to both my dogs’ collars and put the tags in lost mode when my wife took them for a walk. Nearby smartphones eventually helped me locate both trackers to show me where the dogs were in the neighborhood. Bottom line Even though the AirTag is an impressive demonstration of ultrawideband technology, that doesn’t make it the best tracker for everyone. Because of the AirTag’s compatibility with Apple products, I would give an AirTag to an iPhone owner. But I would give a Tile to a person with an Android phone. The AirTag is also far from perfect. I wished they were louder — they are very quiet compared with Tiles — so playing sound wasn’t very helpful for finding them. I also did not love that for most purposes, AirTag requires buying a separate accessory, like a key ring, to hold the tracker. In contrast, the Tile has a hole punched into its corner to attach to a key ring or zipper head. (The $29 price tag of the AirTag is eclipsed by Apple’s $35 leather key ring.) Still, ultrawideband gives AirTag a major advantage — and even Tile thinks so. CJ Prober, Tile’s chief executive, said last week that Apple had refused to give his company access to the iPhone’s ultrawideband chip to make its own trackers that work with it. “They launched a competing product and they’re leveraging that technology that allows it to do things that our product can’t,” Prober said in an interview. “We really think competition should be fair. Fair competition leads to better outcomes for consumers.” Apple said in a statement that it had worked hard to protect the privacy of iPhone users’ location data, adding that it embraced competition. This month, it announced that it would soon release a plan for other companies to take advantage of the ultrawideband technology inside Apple devices. I’m happy to wait for those future products using this neat wireless technology. Because of its greater efficiency at transmitting data, ultrawideband could make future wireless devices immensely better, Nabki said. As an example, he cited cord-free earphones that connect instantly, use very little battery and sound as good as wired ones. That sounds much cooler than finding house keys.
The Denver Post
  • U.S. pipeline company halts operations after cyberattack
    WASHINGTON — The operator of a pipeline that transports fuel across the East Coast said Saturday it was the victim of a ransomware attack and temporarily halted all pipeline operations. Colonial Pipeline did not say what was demanded or by whom, but ransomware attacks typically involve criminal hackers who seize data and demand a large payment to release it. The attack took place Friday and also affected some of its information technology systems. The company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries primarily located on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey. The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company said it hired an outside cybersecurity firm to investigate the nature and scope of the attack and has also contacted law enforcement and federal agencies. While there have long been fears about U.S. adversaries disrupting American energy suppliers, ransomware attacks by criminal syndicates are much more common and have been soaring lately. In a statement late Friday, Colonial Pipeline said it was “taking steps to understand and resolve this issue,” focused primarily on ”the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation.” It said it was “working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline.” Oil analyst Andy Lipow said the impact of the attack on fuel supplies and prices depends on how long the pipeline is down. An outage of one or two days would be minimal, he said, but an outage of five or six days could causes shortages and price hikes, particularly in an area stretching from central Alabama to the Washington, D.C., area. Lipow said a key concern about a lengthy delay would be the supply of jet fuel needed to keep major airports operating, like those in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina. The precise nature of the attack was unclear, including who launched it and what the motives were. A Colonial Pipeline spokeswoman declined to say whether the company had received a ransom demand, as is common in attacks from cyber criminal syndicates. A leading expert in industrial control systems, CEO Robert Lee of Dragos, Inc., said everything points to a ransomware attack. “How long they’ll be down depends on how far and wide this is,” he said. The pipeline could be back up and running relatively quickly if only IT systems are affected and Colonial was well-prepared. But if the network that directly controls pipeline functions is impacted it could take days, he said. “It would not be unreasonable for a longer term, a week or so, of outages if it’s impactful on the operations side. We just don’t know that yet,” Lee said. Ransomware scrambles a victim organization’s data with encryption. The criminals leave instructions on infected computers for how to negotiate ransom payments and, once paid, provide software decryption keys. Mike Chapple, teaching professor of IT, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and a former computer scientist with the National Security Agency, said systems that control pipelines should not be connected to the internet and vulnerable to cyber intrusions. “The attacks were extremely sophisticated and they were able to defeat some pretty sophisticated security controls, or the right degree of security controls weren’t in place,” Chapple said. Brian Bethune, a professor of applied economics at Boston College, also said the impact on consumer prices should be short-lived as long as the shutdown does not last for more than a week or two. “But it is an indication of how vulnerable our infrastructure is to these kinds of cyberattacks,” he said. Bethune noted the shutdown is occurring at a time when energy prices have already been rising as the economy re-opens further as pandemic restrictions are lifted. According to the AAA auto club, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has increased by four cents since Monday to $2.94. Colonial Pipeline said it transports more than 100 million gallons of fuel daily, through a pipeline system spanning more than 5,500 miles. The FBI and the White House’s National Security Council did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The federal Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency referred questions about the incident to the company. Related Articles Battle over Suncor oil refinery intensifies as state weighs permit renewal, metro Denver residents demand closure Editorial: Polis should support this plan to implement his ambitious climate roadmap Harvard study says tighter oil, gas rules that allow exemptions make little difference At “moment of peril,” Biden opens global summit on climate U.S. ends oil, gas lease sales from public land through June A hacker’s botched attempt to poison the water supply of a small Florida city raised alarms about how vulnerable the nation’s critical infrastructure may be to attacks by more sophisticated intruders. Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration’s deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technology, said in an interview with The Associated Press in April that the government was undertaking a new effort to help electric utilities, water districts and other critical industries protect against potentially damaging cyberattacks. She said the goal was to ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block malicious cyber activity. Since then, the White House has announced a 100-day initiative aimed at protecting the country’s electricity system from cyberattacks by encouraging owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve their capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks. It includes concrete milestones for them to put technologies into use so they can spot and respond to intrusions in real time. The Justice Department has also announced a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks in which data is seized by hackers who demand payment from victims in order to release it. AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger and Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed.
  • Election officials face fines, charges in GOP voting laws
    In 2020, election officials tried to make voting easier and safer amid a global pandemic. Next time, they might get fined or face criminal charges. Republicans are creating a new slate of punishments for the county officials who run elections, arguing they overstepped their authority when they expanded voter access during the coronavirus pandemic. The new penalties, part of a nationwide Republican campaign to roll back access to the ballot, already have become law in Iowa, Georgia and Florida, and are making their way through statehouses in Texas and elsewhere. The GOP push comes after a presidential contest that saw record turnout and no widespread problems. Election officials have responded with warnings of a chilling effect on those responsible for administering the vote and counting ballots, raising fears they could be penalized for minor mistakes, get caught up in partisan fights or even leave their jobs. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds drew heavy criticism for signing a broad voting bill in March that shortens hours at polling places, narrows the early voting period and imposes new restrictions on mail and absentee ballots. The law also bans sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters, as some officials did before the 2020 election. One provision is especially worrisome to Linn County Auditor Joel Miller: a fine of up to $10,000 for a “technical infraction” of election rules. Miller says the penalty could be imposed for unintentional mistakes like opening a polling place a few minutes late, and raises concerns about partisan enforcement. “It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all those mistakes,” he told The Associated Press. “The process could be likewise corrupted by the secretary of state arbitrarily administering the law in a very uneven manner, depending on whether you’re a Democratic county or a Republican county.” Looming fines also could dissuade people from taking jobs as election workers or make staffers hesitant to help voters, especially in smaller counties that can’t afford to risk the costly penalties, said Travis Weipert, Democratic auditor of Johnson County, Iowa. “It’s literally becoming, when you look at the laws, the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “The counties that can pay to still continue what they do are going to do it, and the counties that can’t are going to be restricting voting.” A similar bill signed into law Thursday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, could lead to $25,000 fines for election supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside of early voting hours or is left unsupervised. Related Articles Red meat politics: GOP turns culture war into a food fight U.S. proposes ending rule that weakened wild bird protections Challenger hits Liz Cheney, says GOP must work with Trump In GOP stronghold, Biden pushes for his infrastructure plan Impact of devastating Indian virus surge spreads to politics There have been more than 350 restrictive voting bills filed in 47 states this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy group that advocates for voter access. Many seek to place new rules around mail and early voting, methods used without issue in 2020, with some tacking on new penalties for election administrators. There is universal agreement among experts that there was no widespread fraud or problems that compromised the results of the 2020 election. Still, it’s not unusual for lawmakers to reassess voting regulations after an election. The GOP push this year, based on President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election, has garnered intense scrutiny, including from big names in the business community who argue the legislation is discriminatory. In 2020, election officials in Harris County, Texas, which includes the Democratic stronghold of Houston and is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, went further than anywhere else in the state to create new ways to vote. They opened 24-hour polling places and implemented drive-thru voting. They also tried to mail all voters unsolicited absentee ballot applications but were blocked by the Texas Supreme Court. The county, where nearly half of the 5 million residents are Latino and 20% are Black, saw a record 1.7 million votes last year. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people cast ballots at 24-hour centers during times when polling places are normally closed. More than half of the roughly 127,000 people who voted at drive-thru centers were Black, Latino or Asian. In response, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature have pushed proposals to ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting centers, and make it a crime to send voters unsolicited absentee ballot materials. “If you got rid of every election administrator you don’t like in your state, the desire for drive-thru voting, for mail ballot voting, for expanded hours is still there. We already made it happen,” said Isabel Longoria, the election administrator of Harris County. “So you can either get with the times and proudly support these modern initiatives or you can be the person who stood in the way.” Georgia also has been in the spotlight over voting restrictions passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March. The law includes limits on where ballot drop boxes can be placed and accessed. It also allows the Legislature to select the chair of the state election board, who has the power to intervene in county election offices and install a temporary superintendent, as well as hire and fire personnel, including election directors and poll officers. Fulton County, which includes most of the Democratic stronghold of Atlanta, is one potential target, given frequent Republican criticism over long voting lines, problems processing absentee ballots and other issues. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has said the county has been “failing its voters for at least 25 years.” In response, Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts issued a statement that said the county “has been unfairly targeted by those with a grudge against us.” “While Fulton County is the clear target, all 159 of Georgia’s counties will be impacted, and I urge those counties’ leaders to examine the bill, stand up and speak out — because tomorrow it could be them,” he said. The new penalties have at least some election officials talking about getting into different lines of work. Miller, the Linn County auditor, said some have been joking about switching career paths. “Well, there’s been a couple of county treasurer jobs that became open recently,” Miller said with a laugh, “and my peers were openly discussing whether or not they should apply to be appointed as treasurers because, you know, treasurers never get in trouble.”
  • Pedestrian dies in overnight hit-and-run incident in Lakewood
    A pedestrian in Lakewood was killed overnight in a hit-and-run incident, police said. LPD is investigating an overnight fatal auto-pedestrian crash at W Colfax Ave / Oak St. The adult male pedestrian died on scene and the unknown vehicle fled. Please call Jeffcom with any info at 3-980-7300 reference CR LK21-16810. pic.twitter.com/oIZaAs1C4U — Lakewood Police (@LakewoodPDCO) May 8, 2021 Related Articles Two shootings at same Denver apartment complex, one man dead Motorcyclist dies after crash with vehicle in Aurora Man stabbed to death in Jefferson County; suspect is in custody Mother of 3-year-old Westminster girl who was shot dead by her brother pleads guilty to child abuse Love Has Won followers face more severe charges in connection with cult leader’s death Just before 1 a.m., the man was struck at West Colfax Avenue and Oak Street, police said. He died at the scene. The driver who hit the victim fled. Anyone with information on fatal hit-and-run incident is asked to call police 303-980-7300.
  • Denver weather: Expect a cool Mother’s Day with a chance of rain and thunderstorms
    After a few days with high temperatures in the 70s and 80s along the Front Range, Mother’s Day in Denver will be a breakfast-in-bed type of day where moms can stay toasty warm. On Saturday, Denver’s high temperature will top out early at about 72 degrees by noon, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. A cold front creeps in during the afternoon when temperature readings will back off into the mid- to lower-60s. Afternoon winds will gust to about 25 mph and there’s a 50% chance for showers and thunderstorms. Overnight, skies will be cloudy and the low temperature will dip to 41 degrees. Related Articles Denver weather: Thunderstorms, hail, snow and widespread rain in the forecast Denver weather: Sunny and dry before more thunderstorms and showers Meteorologist Brooks Garner is leaving FOX 31 Afternoon rain, hail expected in Denver metro area Denver weather: Warmer, milder days ahead On Mother’s Day, there’s an early chance for showers and thunderstorms, after 9 a.m., according to NWS. It will be mostly cloudy in Denver and the high temperature will top out at 53 degrees, about 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the weekend’s start. The chance for precipitation is 50%. Overnight Sunday in the city the chance for precipitation increases to 90% and the overnight low temperature drops to 39 degrees. Sunday through Tuesday, widespread showers and storms are forecast for the region. Precipitation overnight Sunday will develop into snow in the mountains and foothills. By Monday night, the Interstate 25 corridor could see snowfall into early Tuesday morning. Snow accumulation, if any,  east of the foothills should be light. Monday in Denver should be a soggy day, with showers and thunderstorms. There’s a 100% chance for precipitation and the high temperature will be a chilly 48 degrees.  
  • Barca, Madrid, Juve cling onto Super League, denounce UEFA
    The three remaining European Super League rebels stepped up their criticism of UEFA on Saturday, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus denouncing intolerable threats for their refusal to back down on the prospect of a breakaway competition. The other nine clubs who formed the ill-fated Super League three weeks ago accepted a settlement on Friday to be fined by UEFA and stay within the open Champions League structure. “We regret to see that our friends and founding partners of the Super League project have now found themselves in such inconsistent and contradictory position when signing a number of commitments to UEFA yesterday,” Barcelona, Madrid and Juventus said in a joint statement. “We have the duty to act in a responsible manner and persevere in the pursuit of adequate solutions, despite the unacceptable and ongoing pressures and threats received from UEFA.” The trio risks being banned from the Champions League as UEFA pursues a disciplinary process against them for not disavowing the Super League and being reintegrated into the existing system. Related Articles 9 Super League clubs accept UEFA fines, 3 rebels face bans Arsenal’s 25-year run in European competition on the line Kroenke says “100% committed” to Arsenal, won’t sell club Kiszla: Power to the people! What frustrated Nuggets and Avs fans could learn from quick demise of soccer’s Super League Madrid president says Super League clubs “can’t leave” plan “The founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures, threats, and offenses to abandon the project and therefore desist from their right and duty to provide solutions to the football ecosystem via concrete proposals and constructive dialogue,” Barcelona, Madrid and Juventus said. “This is intolerable under the rule of law.” The Super League project imploded after the English clubs — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham — backed out inside 48 hours last month after a backlash from the fans and British government. The Premier League clubs along with Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan have officially signed up to a settlement with UEFA to participate only in the existing open European competitions and accepted giving up 5% of revenue for one season playing in Europe. “We are fully aware of the diversity of reactions to the Super League initiative and, consequently, of the need to reflect on the reasons for some of them,” the remaining Super League clubs said. “We are ready to reconsider the proposed approach, as necessary. However, we would be highly irresponsible if, being aware of the needs and systemic crisis in the football sector, which led us to announce the Super League, we abandoned such mission to provide effective and sustainable answers to the existential questions that threaten the football industry.”
  • Hamilton tops qualifying at Spanish GP for 100th pole
    MONTMELÓ, Spain — Lewis Hamilton won his 100th career pole position after barely edging Max Verstappen to the fastest time in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday. Hamilton pushed his Mercedes to a flying lap of 1 minute, 16.74 seconds. Verstappen in his Red Bull was only 0.03 seconds behind. “Great job! That was hard work,” Hamilton told his team over the radio after shouting out to celebrate hitting the century mark. “I can’t believe we’re at 100. It is really down to the men and women at the factory who are continuously raising the bar,” Hamilton said after getting out of his Silver Arrow. “The journey we have been on has been immense.” Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was right behind in third, followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Hamilton leads the Formula One standings by eight points over Verstappen going into the fourth race of the season. Hamilton has won the Spanish GP five times, including each of the past four years. On Sunday, he will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s six wins in Montmeló. A Mercedes has won pole at the 2.9-mile Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit every year since 2013, including front-row lockouts in each of those years except for 2017. Hamilton has now taken six of those poles. Hamilton’s milestone increases the distance between his mark and Michael Schumacher’s 68 poles in second place all-time. It is promising to be a season full of milestones for the British driver. Related Articles Lewis Hamilton positive for COVID-19, will miss Formula One’s Sakhir Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton can equal Michael Schumacher’s F1 track record with 8th win It appears to be just a matter of weeks before Hamilton also hits the century mark in grand prix victories. On Sunday, he will be aiming for a 98th career victory — on a track where he was won for the past four years. He broke Schumacher’s record of 91 wins last year. And then he will try for the biggest prize of all: surpassing Schumacher’s record of seven world championships that he equalled last season. Verstappen, however, also has good memories from the Spanish GP where he got his maiden win at age 18 in 2016. This season, Verstappen could have been even closer — or perhaps ahead of Hamilton — in the standings if he had not run afoul of track limit violations that cost him points in Bahrain and Portugal. Hamilton won the season opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy. In all three races, Hamilton and Verstappen have finished either first or second.
  • Bomb kills at least 30 near girls’ school in Afghan capital
    By RAHIM FAIZ, The Associated Press KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb exploded near a girls’ school in a majority Shiite district of west Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 30 people, many of them young pupils between 11 and 15 years old. The Taliban condemned the attack and denied any responsibility. Ambulances evacuated the wounded as relatives and residents screamed at authorities near the scene of the blast at Syed Al-Shahda school, in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said. The death toll was expected to rise further. The bombing, apparently aimed to cause maximum civilian carnage, adds to fears that violence in the war-wrecked country could escalate as the U.S. and NATO end nearly 20 years of military engagement. Residents in the area said the explosion was deafening. One, Naser Rahimi, told The Associated Press he heard three separate explosions, although there was no official confirmation of multiple blasts. Rahimi also said he believed that the sheer power of the explosion meant the death toll would almost certainly climb. Rahimi said the explosion went off as the girls were streaming out of the school at around 4:30 p.m. local time. Authorities were investigating the attack but have yet to confirm any details. One of the students fleeing the school recalled the attack. the screaming of the girls, the blood. “I was with my classmate, we were leaving the school, when suddenly an explosion happened, “ said 15-year-old Zahra, whose arm had been broken by a piece of shrapnel. “Ten minutes later there was another explosion and just a couple of minutes later another explosion,” she said. “Everyone was yelling and there was blood everywhere, and I couldn’t see anything clearly.” Her friend died. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the Afghan Islamic State affiliate has targeted the Shiite neighborhood before. The radical Sunni Muslim group has declared war on Afghanistan’s minority Shiite Muslims. Washington blamed IS for a vicious attack last year in a maternity hospital in the same area that killed pregnant women and newborn babies. In Dasht-e-Barchi, angry crowds attacked the ambulances and even beat health workers as they tried to evacuate the wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastigar Nazari said. He implored residents to cooperate and allow ambulances free access to the site. Images circulating on social media purportedly showed bloodied school backpacks and books strewn across the street in front if the school, and smoke rising above the neighborhood. At one nearby hospital, Associated Press journalists saw at least 20 dead bodies lined up in hallways and rooms, with dozens of wounded people and families of victims pressing through the facility. Outside the Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital, dozens of people lined up to donate blood, while family members checked casualty posted lists on the walls. Related Articles Formal start of final phase of Afghan pullout by U.S., NATO U.S. orders big drawdown at Kabul embassy as troops leave Letters: What we are leaving behind in Afghanistan (4/25/21) Friedman: Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan may be a short term disaster but who knows about the long run Afghan women fear the worst, whether war or peace lies ahead Both Arian and Nazari said that at least 50 people were also wounded, and that the casualty toll could rise. The attack occurred just as the fasting day came to an end. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in a message that only the Islamic State group could be responsible for such a heinous crime. Mujahid also accused Afghanistan’s intelligence agency of being complicit with IS, although he offered no evidence. The Taliban and the Afghan government have traded accusations over a series of targeted killings of civil society workers, journalists and Afghan professionals. While IS has taken responsibility for some of those killings, many have gone unclaimed. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack, blaming the Taliban even as they denied it. He offered no proof. IS has previously claimed attacks against minority Shiites in the same area, last year claiming two brutal attacks on education facilities that killed 50 people, most of them students. Even as the IS has been degraded in Afghanistan, according to government and US officials, it has stepped-up its attacks particularly against Shiite Muslims and women workers. Earlier the group took responsibility for the targeted killing of three women media personnel in eastern Afghanistan. The attack comes days after the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops officially began leaving the country. They will be out by Sept. 11 at the latest. The pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, who control or hold sway over half of Afghanistan. The top U.S. military officer said Sunday that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and possibly some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks. Associated Press photographer Rahmat Gul and video journalist Ahmad Seir in Kabul, Afghanistan and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Pakistan contributed to this report.
  • Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist
    By Alina Tugend, The New York Times Company Four years ago, Michael Heinrich was riding his motorcycle on the University of Michigan campus when a rotted tree fell on him and snapped his neck, causing him to permanently lose use of the lower half of his body. He spent weeks in intensive care and then went to inpatient rehabilitation for more than two months, About halfway through his rehab stint, his occupational therapist, Michael Blackstock, asked whether he was interested in trying virtual reality for his therapy. Heinrich, now 26 — who is returning for his master’s at the university — was game. “What I really enjoyed was being an eagle trying to go through rings,” he said, describing a virtual reality experience. “From an emotional standpoint, coming off an injury where I lost the majority of the use of my body, VR pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible.” Virtual reality, long used for gaming, has, over the past several years, moved into the health field for such things as pain management and relieving post-traumatic stress disorder. And now researchers and therapists say it has shown great promise for physical and occupational therapy. “I’ve been through PT for various injuries, and you know, sometimes I get home and I’m sort of like, well, I forget exactly what I was supposed to do,” said Brennan M. Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health and director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “How am I supposed to set up my body for this? And also, do I have the motivation to do it right now? And VR can help both of those, both by reproducing precisely what that physical movement is supposed to be and hopefully providing some additional motivation to do the exercise.” Using virtual reality for rehabilitation was growing before the coronavirus pandemic for a variety of reasons, including rapid advances in hardware and software technology and a younger generation of practitioners more comfortable using such technology. But the greater acceptance of telehealth during the pandemic has further spurred its use. For one thing, it’s simply a lot more fun than traditional rehabilitation exercises. And “VR has this uncanny ability to kind of nudge the human brain in ways that other audiovisual media cannot,” said Spiegel, who is one of the foremost experts on the use of virtual reality in health. “The bottom line is it motivates us to do things that we might not be able to do.” That’s what Pamela Pleasants, 59, found when she started doing virtual reality therapy for an injured shoulder. An associate dean at an independent school outside Boston, she learned that she was eligible to get virtual physical therapy, which she did through a company, XRHealth. She did an intake over a video call with a physical therapist provided by the company, and then the VR headset arrived in the mail. Based on the intake, the therapist decided what applications — out of eight currently offered by the company — that Pleasants would use, as well as for how long and how frequently, and then trained her how to use them. Related Articles Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? The therapist could also adjust all the settings within a program. For example, when Pleasants found the range of motion in one application caused her too much pain, the therapist adjusted it lower. The patient can change programs either using a controller or by eye gaze. She loved the different programs, especially Balloon Blast, Pleasants said, which consisted of popping balloons with a virtual sword in each hand. “In the background was how high my range of motion should be,” she said. Pleasants also found the programs geared to reduce stress, such as a guided meditation while walking through a forest, very useful for her shoulder and mental health. She continued meeting her physical therapist on video calls semiweekly. “After four months, my shoulder felt tremendously better,” she said. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center via The New York TimesA handout provided by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles shows Brennan M. Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health and director of health services research, with a patient using virtual reality. While use of the gaming technology for improving physical ailments is still in the early stages, it shows promise — and it’s fun. XRHealth is one of the few companies focused on providing VR physical and occupational therapy at home; based in Boston, it is covered by many insurance programs in Massachusetts and nationally by Medicare. The company is working to get more insurance companies to cover its services. Without insurance, people can pay $179 monthly for the headsets and two physical or occupational therapy appointments monthly from a panel of therapists the company provides. The company has all of its programs registered with the FDA, said Eran Orr, founder and chief executive. Not all the programs offered for VR rehab are games; some clinics allow a patient to virtually practice real-life skills they may have trouble doing, such as grocery shopping or dishwashing. To really push the use of virtual reality for physical and occupational therapy, “we’ll need to build a body of evidence that shows it’s effective, how we pay for it and how we can develop it in a way that’s easy to use,” said Matthew Stoudt, chief executive and a founder of Applied VR, which supplies therapeutic virtual reality. “We have to be able to demonstrate that we can bring down the cost of care, not just add to the cost paradigm.” While research specifically on VR use in physical and occupational therapy is in the early stages, an analysis of 27 studies, conducted by Matt C. Howard, an assistant professor of marketing and quantitative methods at the University of South Alabama, found that VR therapy is, in general, more effective than traditional programs. “Does it mean VR is better for everything? Of course not,” he said in an interview. “And there’s a lot we still don’t know about VR rehab.” Much of the research uses small samples with varying degrees of rigor, and more needs to be studied about how a patient’s activity in the virtual world translates into improved performance in the physical world, said Danielle Levac, an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy, movement and rehabilitation sciences at Northeastern University. Levac researches the rational for using virtual reality systems in pediatric rehabilitation; many of the children she works with have cerebral palsy. “We have to consider the downside of a lack of one-on-one contact with therapists,” she said. “I view VR as a tool that has a lot of potential, but we should keep in mind it should fit in — and not replace — an overall program of care.” Robert Ferguson, a neurorehabilitation and therapeutic technology clinical specialist at Michigan Medicine, which is part of the University of Michigan, has treated numerous patients over the past four years doing in-hospital VR occupational therapy. In fact, his first patient to use virtual reality was Heinrich, who made him realize the potential of VR to get patients to move in a way they — and their therapists — didn’t think they could. But, he said, clinicians must be well-trained on how to use the technology in the most helpful and effective way. For example, he said, cardiac patients need to be closely monitored because people tend to work harder and longer on VR than in traditional therapy with a decreased awareness of pain, which could be dangerous for such patients. One of the great benefits of VR therapy is that it can provide a stream of specific data to the clinician and patient on how often and how well the patient accomplished each exercise and where adjustments are needed. And technology keeps pushing that boundary; a new headset by Oculus allows more degrees of freedom to interact with a virtual environment, and one just released by HP can track heart rate, pupil dilation and sweat. Such tracking matters, because a doctor or technician can adjust the amount of exertion delivered to a patient. While older people — who are more likely to suffer from strokes, Parkinson’s or simply falls, that will require physical or occupational therapy — may seem less able or more hesitant to use such technology, Ferguson and others say that typically isn’t the case. “We’ve treated people from 18 years old up to 90,” he added. And in fact, VR therapy has been shown it can be particularly helpful for those with Parkinson’s and other central nervous system disorders. And he has repeatedly found that people have unknowingly done things while using virtual reality that they didn’t think they could. He remembers a patient in his 50s whose leg had been amputated. He couldn’t balance when trying to do seemingly simple movements, such as pulling up his pants. The man was a hunter, and Ferguson suggested he try a virtual reality program involving bow hunting. As part of the program, the patient was standing on one leg “and changing his center of gravity all over,” something he had not been able to do in regular therapy. “When we showed him the video, he said, ‘I can’t do that,’ Ferguson recalled. “We said, ‘you just did.’”
  • Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch
    By Kellen Browning, The New York Times Company Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a podcaster who fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, recently railed against mask mandates to her 4,000 fans in a live broadcast and encouraged them to enter stores maskless. On another day, she grew emotional while thanking them for sending her $84,000. Millie Weaver, a former correspondent for conspiracy theory website Infowars, speculated on her channel that coronavirus vaccines could be used to surveil people. Later, she plugged her merchandise store, where she sells $30 “Drain the Swamp” T-shirts and hats promoting conspiracies. And a podcaster who goes by Zak Paine or Redpill78, who pushes the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, urged his viewers to donate to the congressional campaign of an Ohio man who has said he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6. All three spread their messages on Twitch, a livestreaming video site owned by Amazon that has become a new mainstream base of operations for many far-right influencers. Streamers like them turned to the site after Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms clamped down on misinformation and hate speech before the 2020 election. Twitch comes with a bonus: The service makes it easy for streamers to make money, providing a financial lifeline just as their access to the largest online platforms has narrowed. The site is one of the avenues, along with apps like Google Podcasts, where far-right influencers have scattered as their options for spreading falsehoods have dwindled. Twitch became a multibillion-dollar business thanks to video gamers broadcasting their play of games like Fortnite and Call of Duty. Fans, many of whom are young men, pay the gamers by subscribing to their channels or donating money. Streamers earn even more by sending their fans to outside sites to either buy merchandise or donate money. Now Twitch has also become a place where right-wing personalities spread election and vaccine conspiracy theories, often without playing any video games. It is part of a shift at the platform, where streamers have branched out from games into fitness, cooking, fishing and other lifestyle topics in recent years. But unlike fringe livestreaming sites like Dlive and Trovo, which have also offered far-right personalities moneymaking opportunities, Twitch attracts far larger audiences. On average, 30 million people visit the site each day, the platform said. Twitch “monetizes the propaganda, which is unique,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who tracks extremists online. She said it was as if listeners of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who died in February, were donating in real time and chipping in greater sums whenever Limbaugh shared more controversial ideas. “You can turn the dial up and down and turn the flow of money up and down by saying certain things on your stream,” Squire said. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? At least 20 channels associated with far-right movements have started broadcasting on Twitch since the fall, according to data compiled by Genevieve Oh, a livestreaming analyst. Dozens more have been on the site for longer. Some are associated with QAnon, the false theory that former President Donald Trump is fighting a cabal of Democratic pedophiles. The channels range from intermittent broadcasters with several hundred views to ones that go live nearly every day and attract thousands of viewers. In a statement, Sara Clemens, Twitch’s chief operating officer, said QAnon users were only a “small handful” of the 7 million people who streamed on the site each month. “We will take action against users that violate our community policies against harmful content that encourages or incites self-destructive behavior, harassment, or attempts or threatens to physically harm others, including through misinformation,” she said. Twitch viewers support streamers through monthly subscriptions of $5, $10 or $25 to their channels, or by donating “bits,” a Twitch currency that can be converted to real money. The site also runs advertisements during streams. The platform and streamers split the revenue from ads and subscriptions. It is difficult to determine how much money individual streamers earn from their Twitch channels, but some of the far-right personalities have made many thousands of dollars. By viewing chat logs of streams that denote when a new user has subscribed, Oh has tallied at least $26,000 in subscriptions for Maras-Lindeman since December and about $5,000 in “bit” donations before Twitch took its cut. Weaver has earned nearly $3,000 since she began streaming regularly on Twitch in March, according to Oh’s tally, and Paine has made at least $5,000. Those numbers do not account for money made in other ways, such as through Square’s Cash App or Weaver’s online merchandise store. Twitch generally has stricter rules than other social media platforms for the kinds of views that users can express. It temporarily suspended Trump’s account for “hateful conduct” last summer, months before Facebook and Twitter made similar moves. Its community guidelines prohibit hateful conduct and harassment. Clemens said Twitch was developing a misinformation policy. This month, Twitch announced a policy that would allow it to suspend the accounts of people who committed crimes or severe offenses in real life or on other social media platforms, including violent extremism or membership in a known hate group. Twitch said it did not consider QAnon to be a hate group. Despite all this, a Twitch channel belonging to Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, a white nationalist organization, remained online until the middle of this month after The New York Times inquired about it. And white nationalist Anthime Joseph Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, had a Twitch channel for months, even though he was arrested in January by the FBI and accused of illegally storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Twitch initially said his activities had not violated the platform’s policies, then barred him this month for hateful conduct. Maras-Lindeman and Paine are Twitch Partners, a coveted status that grants improved customer support and greater options to customize streams. Twitch vets these channels to approve what they do. The company’s website says partners should “act as role models to the community.” Maras-Lindeman, who is barred from Twitter, averaged about 3,000 viewers a broadcast in March, and her live video broadcast quickly became one of the 1,200 most popular channels across all of Twitch. Her streams are often akin to extended monologues about current events. Sometimes, the “O” in her “ToreSays” username is replaced with a fiery “Q,” and she uses the slogan “Where we go one, we go all,” both symbols of the QAnon movement. She has encouraged her viewers to find legal avenues to throw Ohio legislators out of office because, she said, they were elected using illegitimate voting machines. “You want a great reset? Here it is. We’re going to do it our way, and that’s by eliminating you,” she said during one January stream. Aside from money made on Twitch, Maras-Lindeman’s fans donated more than $84,000 for her birthday through a GoFundMe campaign. She said the donations went toward a new car, medical treatments and a lawyer. In an email, Maras-Lindeman disputed the characterization of her as a member of the far right and said she did not advocate violence. “It is not a crime to discuss science and challenge popular current narratives or express my thoughts and opinions,” she said. On a recent stream, Maras-Lindeman addressed questions emailed to her for this article. She said she was a “centrist” who was simply encouraging her viewers to become more politically active. Paine’s channel has more than 14,000 followers and is rife with conspiracy theories about vaccines and cancer. In one stream, he and a guest encouraged viewers to drink a bleach solution that claims to cure cancer, which the Food and Drug Administration has said is dangerous. Last week, he referred to a QAnon belief that people are killing children to “harvest” a chemical compound from them, then talked about a “criminal cabal” controlling the government, saying people do not understand “what plane of existence they come from.” Paine, who is barred from Twitter and YouTube, has also asked his Twitch audience to donate to the House campaign of J.R. Majewski, an Air Force veteran in Toledo, Ohio, who attracted attention last year for painting his lawn to look like a Trump campaign banner. Majewski has used QAnon hashtags but distanced himself from the movement in an interview with his local newspaper, The Toledo Blade. Majewski has appeared on Paine’s streams, where they vape, chat about Majewski’s campaign goals and take calls from listeners. “He is exactly the type of person that we need to get in Washington, D.C., so that we can supplant these evil cabal criminal actors and actually run our own country,” Paine said on one stream. Neither Paine nor Majewski responded to a request for comment. Joan Donovan, a Harvard University researcher who studies disinformation and online extremism, said streamers who rely on their audience’s generosity to fund themselves felt pressured to continue raising the stakes. “The incentive to lie, cheat, steal, hoax and scam is very high when the cash is easy to acquire,” she said.
  • Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech
    By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times Company On the outside, Apple’s new AirTag looks like a ho-hum product that we have all seen before. It’s a disc-shaped tracking gadget that can be attached to items like house keys to help you find them. But inside, the story gets far more interesting. The AirTag is one of the first consumer electronics to support a new wireless technology, ultrawideband, which lets you detect precise proximity between objects. Using ultrawideband, your iPhone can sense whether an AirTag is an inch or dozens of feet away from it. It’s so accurate that its app will even show an arrow pointing you in the direction of the AirTag. That’s far better than other trackers that rely on Bluetooth, an older wireless technology that can only roughly guess an item’s proximity. (More on how this all works later.) Using ultrawideband to find lost items is just one early example of what the technology can do. Because of its pinpoint-precise ability to transfer data quickly between devices, ultrawideband could become the next wireless standard that succeeds Bluetooth. It could lead to better wireless earphones, keyboards, video game controllers — you name it. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Frederic Nabki, chief technology officer of Spark Microsystems, a Montreal-based firm that is developing ultrawideband technology, said of trackers like the AirTag. “It sends its data really, really fast.” I tested Apple’s $29 AirTag, which will be released Friday, for about a week. I used the tracker to find house keys, locate my dogs and track a backpack. I also ran similar tests with Tile, a $25 tracker that relies on Bluetooth and that has been around for about eight years. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? Last week, Tile complained in an antitrust hearing that Apple had copied its product while putting smaller companies at a disadvantage. From my tests comparing AirTag and Tile, I found that ultrawideband was far superior to Bluetooth for finding items. What’s more, the AirTag demonstrated that ultrawideband is next-generation tech that is worth getting excited about. Here’s what you need to know. How ultrawideband and Bluetooth work Ultrawideband has been in development for more than 15 years, but it was built into chips for iPhones and other smartphones only in the past two years. When you use ultrawideband to find a tracker, it works similarly to sonar, which detects objects underwater. You send a ping to the tag, and the tag bounces a ping back to your phone. The amount of time it takes for the ping to come back is used to calculate the distance between the two objects. But when you use Bluetooth to find a tracker, your phone is pushing out a continuous signal in search of it. The farther you move away from the tracker, the weaker the signal gets, and the closer you move toward it, the stronger it becomes. This technique is used to tell you roughly how far away you are from the tracker. Tile vs. AirTag So what do the two underlying wireless technologies mean in practice? Tile works with both iPhones and Android phones using Bluetooth technology to find items. Open the Tile app, select an item and hit the “find” button. The app will look for the Tile and send a signal to connect, after which it makes the tracker play a melody. If the signal connection is weak, it will tell you to move around until the signal gets stronger. If your phone can’t find a Tile because it is outside its range, you can put it in “lost mode.” The tracker will search for other Tile owners who have granted the Tile app access to their location to help find other people’s lost items. If a Tile-owning Samaritan is near your Tile, that person’s device will share its location with the Tile network, which will show where the item was last spotted on a map. Apple’s AirTag works with iPhones both new and old. Newer devices (the iPhone 11 and 12 series) can take advantage of ultrawideband’s precise locator abilities. To find an item, you open the Find My app, select an item and tap Find. From there, the app will form a connection with the AirTag. The app combines data gathered with the phone’s camera, sensors and ultrawideband chip to direct you to the location of the tag, using an arrow to point you to it. Older iPhones can track AirTags with Bluetooth using a method similar to Tile’s. Similar to Tile, when an AirTag is lost and outside the range of your phone, you can put it in lost mode and allow other Apple phones to find the AirTag to help you see where the item was last spotted on a map. Testing The benefits of ultrawideband could easily be seen in a few tests. For one experiment, I asked my wife to hide several AirTags and Tiles throughout our home and then time how long it took me to find them. In one test, she hid an AirTag attached to my motorcycle key somewhere in our bedroom. Apple’s Find My app used an arrow to point me toward the mattress and I pressed a button to make the tag play a sound. After rummaging through the covers and peeking under the bed, I found the AirTag crammed under the mattress. It took about 90 seconds. Next, I had to find a Tile attached to my house key. I opened the Tile app and hit the Find button. The app said the signal was weak and suggested I walk around to find a stronger connection. As I moved downstairs, I could hear the Tile’s melody and the app said the signal was getting stronger. I found the Tile hidden inside a bin in a garage locker. It took about a minute. The toughest was an AirTag hidden inside a book. Apple’s Find My app pointed toward the correct shelf, but it couldn’t tell me precisely which book the tag was shoved inside. After removing four books from the shelf and flipping through pages, I found the AirTag inside a cookbook. This provided my wife with three minutes of entertainment. Separately, to test how the trackers worked when they were too far from my phone, I attached a Tile and an AirTag to both my dogs’ collars and put the tags in lost mode when my wife took them for a walk. Nearby smartphones eventually helped me locate both trackers to show me where the dogs were in the neighborhood. Bottom line Even though the AirTag is an impressive demonstration of ultrawideband technology, that doesn’t make it the best tracker for everyone. Because of the AirTag’s compatibility with Apple products, I would give an AirTag to an iPhone owner. But I would give a Tile to a person with an Android phone. The AirTag is also far from perfect. I wished they were louder — they are very quiet compared with Tiles — so playing sound wasn’t very helpful for finding them. I also did not love that for most purposes, AirTag requires buying a separate accessory, like a key ring, to hold the tracker. In contrast, the Tile has a hole punched into its corner to attach to a key ring or zipper head. (The $29 price tag of the AirTag is eclipsed by Apple’s $35 leather key ring.) Still, ultrawideband gives AirTag a major advantage — and even Tile thinks so. CJ Prober, Tile’s chief executive, said last week that Apple had refused to give his company access to the iPhone’s ultrawideband chip to make its own trackers that work with it. “They launched a competing product and they’re leveraging that technology that allows it to do things that our product can’t,” Prober said in an interview. “We really think competition should be fair. Fair competition leads to better outcomes for consumers.” Apple said in a statement that it had worked hard to protect the privacy of iPhone users’ location data, adding that it embraced competition. This month, it announced that it would soon release a plan for other companies to take advantage of the ultrawideband technology inside Apple devices. I’m happy to wait for those future products using this neat wireless technology. Because of its greater efficiency at transmitting data, ultrawideband could make future wireless devices immensely better, Nabki said. As an example, he cited cord-free earphones that connect instantly, use very little battery and sound as good as wired ones. That sounds much cooler than finding house keys.
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  • Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist
    By Alina Tugend, The New York Times Company Four years ago, Michael Heinrich was riding his motorcycle on the University of Michigan campus when a rotted tree fell on him and snapped his neck, causing him to permanently lose use of the lower half of his body. He spent weeks in intensive care and then went to inpatient rehabilitation for more than two months, About halfway through his rehab stint, his occupational therapist, Michael Blackstock, asked whether he was interested in trying virtual reality for his therapy. Heinrich, now 26 — who is returning for his master’s at the university — was game. “What I really enjoyed was being an eagle trying to go through rings,” he said, describing a virtual reality experience. “From an emotional standpoint, coming off an injury where I lost the majority of the use of my body, VR pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible.” Virtual reality, long used for gaming, has, over the past several years, moved into the health field for such things as pain management and relieving post-traumatic stress disorder. And now researchers and therapists say it has shown great promise for physical and occupational therapy. “I’ve been through PT for various injuries, and you know, sometimes I get home and I’m sort of like, well, I forget exactly what I was supposed to do,” said Brennan M. Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health and director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “How am I supposed to set up my body for this? And also, do I have the motivation to do it right now? And VR can help both of those, both by reproducing precisely what that physical movement is supposed to be and hopefully providing some additional motivation to do the exercise.” Using virtual reality for rehabilitation was growing before the coronavirus pandemic for a variety of reasons, including rapid advances in hardware and software technology and a younger generation of practitioners more comfortable using such technology. But the greater acceptance of telehealth during the pandemic has further spurred its use. For one thing, it’s simply a lot more fun than traditional rehabilitation exercises. And “VR has this uncanny ability to kind of nudge the human brain in ways that other audiovisual media cannot,” said Spiegel, who is one of the foremost experts on the use of virtual reality in health. “The bottom line is it motivates us to do things that we might not be able to do.” That’s what Pamela Pleasants, 59, found when she started doing virtual reality therapy for an injured shoulder. An associate dean at an independent school outside Boston, she learned that she was eligible to get virtual physical therapy, which she did through a company, XRHealth. She did an intake over a video call with a physical therapist provided by the company, and then the VR headset arrived in the mail. Based on the intake, the therapist decided what applications — out of eight currently offered by the company — that Pleasants would use, as well as for how long and how frequently, and then trained her how to use them. Related Articles Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? The therapist could also adjust all the settings within a program. For example, when Pleasants found the range of motion in one application caused her too much pain, the therapist adjusted it lower. The patient can change programs either using a controller or by eye gaze. She loved the different programs, especially Balloon Blast, Pleasants said, which consisted of popping balloons with a virtual sword in each hand. “In the background was how high my range of motion should be,” she said. Pleasants also found the programs geared to reduce stress, such as a guided meditation while walking through a forest, very useful for her shoulder and mental health. She continued meeting her physical therapist on video calls semiweekly. “After four months, my shoulder felt tremendously better,” she said. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center via The New York TimesA handout provided by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles shows Brennan M. Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health and director of health services research, with a patient using virtual reality. While use of the gaming technology for improving physical ailments is still in the early stages, it shows promise — and it’s fun. XRHealth is one of the few companies focused on providing VR physical and occupational therapy at home; based in Boston, it is covered by many insurance programs in Massachusetts and nationally by Medicare. The company is working to get more insurance companies to cover its services. Without insurance, people can pay $179 monthly for the headsets and two physical or occupational therapy appointments monthly from a panel of therapists the company provides. The company has all of its programs registered with the FDA, said Eran Orr, founder and chief executive. Not all the programs offered for VR rehab are games; some clinics allow a patient to virtually practice real-life skills they may have trouble doing, such as grocery shopping or dishwashing. To really push the use of virtual reality for physical and occupational therapy, “we’ll need to build a body of evidence that shows it’s effective, how we pay for it and how we can develop it in a way that’s easy to use,” said Matthew Stoudt, chief executive and a founder of Applied VR, which supplies therapeutic virtual reality. “We have to be able to demonstrate that we can bring down the cost of care, not just add to the cost paradigm.” While research specifically on VR use in physical and occupational therapy is in the early stages, an analysis of 27 studies, conducted by Matt C. Howard, an assistant professor of marketing and quantitative methods at the University of South Alabama, found that VR therapy is, in general, more effective than traditional programs. “Does it mean VR is better for everything? Of course not,” he said in an interview. “And there’s a lot we still don’t know about VR rehab.” Much of the research uses small samples with varying degrees of rigor, and more needs to be studied about how a patient’s activity in the virtual world translates into improved performance in the physical world, said Danielle Levac, an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy, movement and rehabilitation sciences at Northeastern University. Levac researches the rational for using virtual reality systems in pediatric rehabilitation; many of the children she works with have cerebral palsy. “We have to consider the downside of a lack of one-on-one contact with therapists,” she said. “I view VR as a tool that has a lot of potential, but we should keep in mind it should fit in — and not replace — an overall program of care.” Robert Ferguson, a neurorehabilitation and therapeutic technology clinical specialist at Michigan Medicine, which is part of the University of Michigan, has treated numerous patients over the past four years doing in-hospital VR occupational therapy. In fact, his first patient to use virtual reality was Heinrich, who made him realize the potential of VR to get patients to move in a way they — and their therapists — didn’t think they could. But, he said, clinicians must be well-trained on how to use the technology in the most helpful and effective way. For example, he said, cardiac patients need to be closely monitored because people tend to work harder and longer on VR than in traditional therapy with a decreased awareness of pain, which could be dangerous for such patients. One of the great benefits of VR therapy is that it can provide a stream of specific data to the clinician and patient on how often and how well the patient accomplished each exercise and where adjustments are needed. And technology keeps pushing that boundary; a new headset by Oculus allows more degrees of freedom to interact with a virtual environment, and one just released by HP can track heart rate, pupil dilation and sweat. Such tracking matters, because a doctor or technician can adjust the amount of exertion delivered to a patient. While older people — who are more likely to suffer from strokes, Parkinson’s or simply falls, that will require physical or occupational therapy — may seem less able or more hesitant to use such technology, Ferguson and others say that typically isn’t the case. “We’ve treated people from 18 years old up to 90,” he added. And in fact, VR therapy has been shown it can be particularly helpful for those with Parkinson’s and other central nervous system disorders. And he has repeatedly found that people have unknowingly done things while using virtual reality that they didn’t think they could. He remembers a patient in his 50s whose leg had been amputated. He couldn’t balance when trying to do seemingly simple movements, such as pulling up his pants. The man was a hunter, and Ferguson suggested he try a virtual reality program involving bow hunting. As part of the program, the patient was standing on one leg “and changing his center of gravity all over,” something he had not been able to do in regular therapy. “When we showed him the video, he said, ‘I can’t do that,’ Ferguson recalled. “We said, ‘you just did.’”
  • Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch
    By Kellen Browning, The New York Times Company Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a podcaster who fought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, recently railed against mask mandates to her 4,000 fans in a live broadcast and encouraged them to enter stores maskless. On another day, she grew emotional while thanking them for sending her $84,000. Millie Weaver, a former correspondent for conspiracy theory website Infowars, speculated on her channel that coronavirus vaccines could be used to surveil people. Later, she plugged her merchandise store, where she sells $30 “Drain the Swamp” T-shirts and hats promoting conspiracies. And a podcaster who goes by Zak Paine or Redpill78, who pushes the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, urged his viewers to donate to the congressional campaign of an Ohio man who has said he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6. All three spread their messages on Twitch, a livestreaming video site owned by Amazon that has become a new mainstream base of operations for many far-right influencers. Streamers like them turned to the site after Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms clamped down on misinformation and hate speech before the 2020 election. Twitch comes with a bonus: The service makes it easy for streamers to make money, providing a financial lifeline just as their access to the largest online platforms has narrowed. The site is one of the avenues, along with apps like Google Podcasts, where far-right influencers have scattered as their options for spreading falsehoods have dwindled. Twitch became a multibillion-dollar business thanks to video gamers broadcasting their play of games like Fortnite and Call of Duty. Fans, many of whom are young men, pay the gamers by subscribing to their channels or donating money. Streamers earn even more by sending their fans to outside sites to either buy merchandise or donate money. Now Twitch has also become a place where right-wing personalities spread election and vaccine conspiracy theories, often without playing any video games. It is part of a shift at the platform, where streamers have branched out from games into fitness, cooking, fishing and other lifestyle topics in recent years. But unlike fringe livestreaming sites like Dlive and Trovo, which have also offered far-right personalities moneymaking opportunities, Twitch attracts far larger audiences. On average, 30 million people visit the site each day, the platform said. Twitch “monetizes the propaganda, which is unique,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who tracks extremists online. She said it was as if listeners of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who died in February, were donating in real time and chipping in greater sums whenever Limbaugh shared more controversial ideas. “You can turn the dial up and down and turn the flow of money up and down by saying certain things on your stream,” Squire said. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? At least 20 channels associated with far-right movements have started broadcasting on Twitch since the fall, according to data compiled by Genevieve Oh, a livestreaming analyst. Dozens more have been on the site for longer. Some are associated with QAnon, the false theory that former President Donald Trump is fighting a cabal of Democratic pedophiles. The channels range from intermittent broadcasters with several hundred views to ones that go live nearly every day and attract thousands of viewers. In a statement, Sara Clemens, Twitch’s chief operating officer, said QAnon users were only a “small handful” of the 7 million people who streamed on the site each month. “We will take action against users that violate our community policies against harmful content that encourages or incites self-destructive behavior, harassment, or attempts or threatens to physically harm others, including through misinformation,” she said. Twitch viewers support streamers through monthly subscriptions of $5, $10 or $25 to their channels, or by donating “bits,” a Twitch currency that can be converted to real money. The site also runs advertisements during streams. The platform and streamers split the revenue from ads and subscriptions. It is difficult to determine how much money individual streamers earn from their Twitch channels, but some of the far-right personalities have made many thousands of dollars. By viewing chat logs of streams that denote when a new user has subscribed, Oh has tallied at least $26,000 in subscriptions for Maras-Lindeman since December and about $5,000 in “bit” donations before Twitch took its cut. Weaver has earned nearly $3,000 since she began streaming regularly on Twitch in March, according to Oh’s tally, and Paine has made at least $5,000. Those numbers do not account for money made in other ways, such as through Square’s Cash App or Weaver’s online merchandise store. Twitch generally has stricter rules than other social media platforms for the kinds of views that users can express. It temporarily suspended Trump’s account for “hateful conduct” last summer, months before Facebook and Twitter made similar moves. Its community guidelines prohibit hateful conduct and harassment. Clemens said Twitch was developing a misinformation policy. This month, Twitch announced a policy that would allow it to suspend the accounts of people who committed crimes or severe offenses in real life or on other social media platforms, including violent extremism or membership in a known hate group. Twitch said it did not consider QAnon to be a hate group. Despite all this, a Twitch channel belonging to Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, a white nationalist organization, remained online until the middle of this month after The New York Times inquired about it. And white nationalist Anthime Joseph Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, had a Twitch channel for months, even though he was arrested in January by the FBI and accused of illegally storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Twitch initially said his activities had not violated the platform’s policies, then barred him this month for hateful conduct. Maras-Lindeman and Paine are Twitch Partners, a coveted status that grants improved customer support and greater options to customize streams. Twitch vets these channels to approve what they do. The company’s website says partners should “act as role models to the community.” Maras-Lindeman, who is barred from Twitter, averaged about 3,000 viewers a broadcast in March, and her live video broadcast quickly became one of the 1,200 most popular channels across all of Twitch. Her streams are often akin to extended monologues about current events. Sometimes, the “O” in her “ToreSays” username is replaced with a fiery “Q,” and she uses the slogan “Where we go one, we go all,” both symbols of the QAnon movement. She has encouraged her viewers to find legal avenues to throw Ohio legislators out of office because, she said, they were elected using illegitimate voting machines. “You want a great reset? Here it is. We’re going to do it our way, and that’s by eliminating you,” she said during one January stream. Aside from money made on Twitch, Maras-Lindeman’s fans donated more than $84,000 for her birthday through a GoFundMe campaign. She said the donations went toward a new car, medical treatments and a lawyer. In an email, Maras-Lindeman disputed the characterization of her as a member of the far right and said she did not advocate violence. “It is not a crime to discuss science and challenge popular current narratives or express my thoughts and opinions,” she said. On a recent stream, Maras-Lindeman addressed questions emailed to her for this article. She said she was a “centrist” who was simply encouraging her viewers to become more politically active. Paine’s channel has more than 14,000 followers and is rife with conspiracy theories about vaccines and cancer. In one stream, he and a guest encouraged viewers to drink a bleach solution that claims to cure cancer, which the Food and Drug Administration has said is dangerous. Last week, he referred to a QAnon belief that people are killing children to “harvest” a chemical compound from them, then talked about a “criminal cabal” controlling the government, saying people do not understand “what plane of existence they come from.” Paine, who is barred from Twitter and YouTube, has also asked his Twitch audience to donate to the House campaign of J.R. Majewski, an Air Force veteran in Toledo, Ohio, who attracted attention last year for painting his lawn to look like a Trump campaign banner. Majewski has used QAnon hashtags but distanced himself from the movement in an interview with his local newspaper, The Toledo Blade. Majewski has appeared on Paine’s streams, where they vape, chat about Majewski’s campaign goals and take calls from listeners. “He is exactly the type of person that we need to get in Washington, D.C., so that we can supplant these evil cabal criminal actors and actually run our own country,” Paine said on one stream. Neither Paine nor Majewski responded to a request for comment. Joan Donovan, a Harvard University researcher who studies disinformation and online extremism, said streamers who rely on their audience’s generosity to fund themselves felt pressured to continue raising the stakes. “The incentive to lie, cheat, steal, hoax and scam is very high when the cash is easy to acquire,” she said.
  • Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech
    By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times Company On the outside, Apple’s new AirTag looks like a ho-hum product that we have all seen before. It’s a disc-shaped tracking gadget that can be attached to items like house keys to help you find them. But inside, the story gets far more interesting. The AirTag is one of the first consumer electronics to support a new wireless technology, ultrawideband, which lets you detect precise proximity between objects. Using ultrawideband, your iPhone can sense whether an AirTag is an inch or dozens of feet away from it. It’s so accurate that its app will even show an arrow pointing you in the direction of the AirTag. That’s far better than other trackers that rely on Bluetooth, an older wireless technology that can only roughly guess an item’s proximity. (More on how this all works later.) Using ultrawideband to find lost items is just one early example of what the technology can do. Because of its pinpoint-precise ability to transfer data quickly between devices, ultrawideband could become the next wireless standard that succeeds Bluetooth. It could lead to better wireless earphones, keyboards, video game controllers — you name it. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Frederic Nabki, chief technology officer of Spark Microsystems, a Montreal-based firm that is developing ultrawideband technology, said of trackers like the AirTag. “It sends its data really, really fast.” I tested Apple’s $29 AirTag, which will be released Friday, for about a week. I used the tracker to find house keys, locate my dogs and track a backpack. I also ran similar tests with Tile, a $25 tracker that relies on Bluetooth and that has been around for about eight years. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? Last week, Tile complained in an antitrust hearing that Apple had copied its product while putting smaller companies at a disadvantage. From my tests comparing AirTag and Tile, I found that ultrawideband was far superior to Bluetooth for finding items. What’s more, the AirTag demonstrated that ultrawideband is next-generation tech that is worth getting excited about. Here’s what you need to know. How ultrawideband and Bluetooth work Ultrawideband has been in development for more than 15 years, but it was built into chips for iPhones and other smartphones only in the past two years. When you use ultrawideband to find a tracker, it works similarly to sonar, which detects objects underwater. You send a ping to the tag, and the tag bounces a ping back to your phone. The amount of time it takes for the ping to come back is used to calculate the distance between the two objects. But when you use Bluetooth to find a tracker, your phone is pushing out a continuous signal in search of it. The farther you move away from the tracker, the weaker the signal gets, and the closer you move toward it, the stronger it becomes. This technique is used to tell you roughly how far away you are from the tracker. Tile vs. AirTag So what do the two underlying wireless technologies mean in practice? Tile works with both iPhones and Android phones using Bluetooth technology to find items. Open the Tile app, select an item and hit the “find” button. The app will look for the Tile and send a signal to connect, after which it makes the tracker play a melody. If the signal connection is weak, it will tell you to move around until the signal gets stronger. If your phone can’t find a Tile because it is outside its range, you can put it in “lost mode.” The tracker will search for other Tile owners who have granted the Tile app access to their location to help find other people’s lost items. If a Tile-owning Samaritan is near your Tile, that person’s device will share its location with the Tile network, which will show where the item was last spotted on a map. Apple’s AirTag works with iPhones both new and old. Newer devices (the iPhone 11 and 12 series) can take advantage of ultrawideband’s precise locator abilities. To find an item, you open the Find My app, select an item and tap Find. From there, the app will form a connection with the AirTag. The app combines data gathered with the phone’s camera, sensors and ultrawideband chip to direct you to the location of the tag, using an arrow to point you to it. Older iPhones can track AirTags with Bluetooth using a method similar to Tile’s. Similar to Tile, when an AirTag is lost and outside the range of your phone, you can put it in lost mode and allow other Apple phones to find the AirTag to help you see where the item was last spotted on a map. Testing The benefits of ultrawideband could easily be seen in a few tests. For one experiment, I asked my wife to hide several AirTags and Tiles throughout our home and then time how long it took me to find them. In one test, she hid an AirTag attached to my motorcycle key somewhere in our bedroom. Apple’s Find My app used an arrow to point me toward the mattress and I pressed a button to make the tag play a sound. After rummaging through the covers and peeking under the bed, I found the AirTag crammed under the mattress. It took about 90 seconds. Next, I had to find a Tile attached to my house key. I opened the Tile app and hit the Find button. The app said the signal was weak and suggested I walk around to find a stronger connection. As I moved downstairs, I could hear the Tile’s melody and the app said the signal was getting stronger. I found the Tile hidden inside a bin in a garage locker. It took about a minute. The toughest was an AirTag hidden inside a book. Apple’s Find My app pointed toward the correct shelf, but it couldn’t tell me precisely which book the tag was shoved inside. After removing four books from the shelf and flipping through pages, I found the AirTag inside a cookbook. This provided my wife with three minutes of entertainment. Separately, to test how the trackers worked when they were too far from my phone, I attached a Tile and an AirTag to both my dogs’ collars and put the tags in lost mode when my wife took them for a walk. Nearby smartphones eventually helped me locate both trackers to show me where the dogs were in the neighborhood. Bottom line Even though the AirTag is an impressive demonstration of ultrawideband technology, that doesn’t make it the best tracker for everyone. Because of the AirTag’s compatibility with Apple products, I would give an AirTag to an iPhone owner. But I would give a Tile to a person with an Android phone. The AirTag is also far from perfect. I wished they were louder — they are very quiet compared with Tiles — so playing sound wasn’t very helpful for finding them. I also did not love that for most purposes, AirTag requires buying a separate accessory, like a key ring, to hold the tracker. In contrast, the Tile has a hole punched into its corner to attach to a key ring or zipper head. (The $29 price tag of the AirTag is eclipsed by Apple’s $35 leather key ring.) Still, ultrawideband gives AirTag a major advantage — and even Tile thinks so. CJ Prober, Tile’s chief executive, said last week that Apple had refused to give his company access to the iPhone’s ultrawideband chip to make its own trackers that work with it. “They launched a competing product and they’re leveraging that technology that allows it to do things that our product can’t,” Prober said in an interview. “We really think competition should be fair. Fair competition leads to better outcomes for consumers.” Apple said in a statement that it had worked hard to protect the privacy of iPhone users’ location data, adding that it embraced competition. This month, it announced that it would soon release a plan for other companies to take advantage of the ultrawideband technology inside Apple devices. I’m happy to wait for those future products using this neat wireless technology. Because of its greater efficiency at transmitting data, ultrawideband could make future wireless devices immensely better, Nabki said. As an example, he cited cord-free earphones that connect instantly, use very little battery and sound as good as wired ones. That sounds much cooler than finding house keys.
  • TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum
    NEEDHAM, Mass. — Travel website TripAdvisor has removed an insensitive review of the Auschwitz Museum after initially saying it complied with its submission guidelines. The museum at the site of the Nazi concentration camp in Poland on Thursday tweeted that it had asked the Massachusetts-based travel website to take down a review in which the writer said they went to Auschwitz to “test the chamber” and called the site “fun for the family.” More than 1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz during World War II. According to the company, “it complies with their submission guidelines,” the tweet said. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction? TripAdvisor later reversed course, removing the review and banning the user who wrote it. The museum then thanked TripAdvisor. In a statement, the company said it does not tolerate discrimination and regularly blocks or removes millions of reviews that violate its guidelines. “In this case, our initial screening failed to identify this review as promoting intolerance. Through our escalation process, this review was removed. We always aim to get it right the first time and we apologize to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum and the Jewish community at-large for this initial miss,” the statement said.
  • ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says
    The Office of the New York Attorney General said in a new report that a campaign funded by the broadband industry submitted millions of fake comments supporting the 2017 repeal of net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission’s contentious 2017 repeal undid Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from slowing or blocking websites and apps or charging companies more for faster speeds to consumers. The industry had sued to stop these rules before they were repealed but lost. The proceeding generated a record-breaking number of comments — more than 22 million — and nearly 18 million were fake, the attorney general’s office found. It has long been known that the tally included fake comments. One 19-year-old in California submitted more than 7.7 million pro-net neutrality comments. The attorney general’s office did not identify the origins of another “distinct group” of more than 1.6 million pro-net neutrality comments, many of which used mailing addresses outside the U.S. A broadband industry group, called Broadband for America, spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million of the fake FCC comments. Half a million fake letters were also sent to Congress. The goal of the broadband industry campaign, according to internal documents the attorney general’s office received, was to make it seem like there was “widespread grassroots support” for the repeal of net neutrality that could give the FCC chairman at the time, Ajit Pai, “volume and intellectual cover” for the repeal. The agency is supposed to use the comments it receives, from industry and public-industry groups and the public, to shape how it makes its rules. The FCC did not immediately answer how or if it has changed its commenting process, but the acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a prepared statement that “widespread problems with the record” of the 2017 proceedings “was troubling at the time” and the agency has to learn and improve the commenting process. The fake comments had high-profile victims. In 2018, two senators, Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said their identities were stolen to file fake comments for the net neutrality proceeding. “We were among those whose identities were misused to express viewpoints we do not hold,” they wrote to the FCC’s then-chairman, Pai, asking him to investigate the fake comments. Many expect the FCC to try to reinstate net neutrality rules once a third Democratic commissioner is appointed. The agency is currently split half Democrat and Republican, which makes undoing the repeal unlikely. Broadband for America’s website says its members include AT&T and Comcast as well as major trade groups for the wireless, cable and telecom industries. The campaign hired companies known as lead generators which created the fake comments, but that the attorney general’s office had not found evidence that the broadband companies had “direct knowledge of fraud” and thus they had not violated New York law, according to the report. Still, the report criticized the broadband industry group’s behavior as “troubling,” saying the campaign organizers ignored red flags and hid the broadband industry’s involvement. The lead generators copied names and addresses they had already collected and said those people had agreed to join the campaign against net neutrality, the report said. One company copied information that had been stolen in a data breach and posted online. The attorney general, Letitia James, also announced agreements with three of the companies that were responsible for millions of the fake comments, Fluent Inc., Opt-Intelligence Inc. and React2Media Inc., that require them to change practices in future advocacy campaigns and pay $4.4 million in fines. The companies did not immediately reply to requests for comment. The attorney general’s office and other law enforcement agencies are still investigating ″other responsible parties,” according to the report. AT&T, Comcast and industry trade groups NCTA and USTelecom did not immediately respond to questions.
  • Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction?
    Facebook’s oversight board, which on Wednesday upheld the company’s ban of former President Donald Trump, also had some harsh words for its corporate sponsor: Facebook. “In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” the board wrote in its decision. But critics aren’t convinced that the board’s decision represents a triumph of accountability. Many, in fact, see its narrow focus on one-off content issues as a distraction from deeper problems such as Facebook’s massive power, its shadowy algorithms that can amplify hate and misinformation, and more serious and complicated questions about government regulation. “It’s much easier to talk about Donald Trump” than about Facebook’s business, said Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson, a longtime critic of Facebook. “They want to keep us in conversation about this piece of content or that piece of content, that this is about freedom of speech rather than about algorithms amplifying certain types of content, which has nothing to do with freedom of speech.” The board, Robinson said, is “is a ruse to stave off regulatory action.” Coming after months of deliberation and nearly 10,000 public comments on the matter, the board’s decision on Trump told Facebook to specify how long the suspension of his account would last, saying that its “indefinite” ban on Trump was unreasonable. The ruling, which gives Facebook six months to comply, effectively postpones any possible Trump reinstatement and puts the onus for that decision squarely back on the company. “They made the right choice,” said Yael Eisenstat, a former CIA officer who worked for six months in 2018 as Facebook’s global head for election-integrity operations for political advertising and is now a researcher at Betalab. But the focus on the oversight-board process, she said, gives Facebook exactly what it wants. “We’re diverting our time, attention and energy away from the more important discussion about how to hold the company accountable for their own tools, designs and business decisions that helped spread dangerous conspiracy theories,” she said. Facebook said it has publicly made clear that the oversight board is not a replacement for regulation. “We established the independent Oversight Board to apply accountability and scrutiny of our actions,” the company said in a statement. “It is the first body of its kind in the world: an expert-led independent organization with the power to impose binding decisions on a private social media company.” One major source of concern among Facebook critics: The oversight board reported that the company refused to answer detailed questions about how its technical features and advertising-based business model might also amplify extremism. The watchdog group Public Citizen said it was troubling that Facebook declined, for instance, to say how its news feed affected the visibility of Trump’s posts. “Not everybody sees what any individual posts, so the algorithms decide who sees it, how they see it, when they see it and Facebook presumably has all kinds of information about the engagement levels,” said Robert Weissman, the group’s president. “The company owes us all a post mortem on the way Facebook is used and operated — did it amplify what Trump was saying and contribute to the insurrection.” Another worry: How Facebook’s actions resonate overseas. The board looks at whether Facebook’s decisions are accountable to international human rights norms as well as the company’s own policies. “The question that everybody’s asking is if Facebook is in a lucrative market and is confronted with a political leader who incites violence, will Facebook choose human rights and human safety above its bottom line?” said Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project. “It’s fair to say a former U.S. president is not the only world leader seen as inciting violence.” Facebook created the oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its mishandling of misinformation, hate speech and nefarious influence campaigns on its platform. The Trump decision was the board’s 10th since it began taking on cases late last year. The board’s nine previous decisions have tended to favor free expression over the restriction of content. The company funds the board through an “independent trust.” Its 20 members, which will eventually grow to 40, include a former prime minister of Denmark, the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, plus legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists. The first four board members were directly chosen by Facebook. Those four then worked with Facebook to select additional members. Facebook’s most prominent critics — including misinformation researchers, academics and activists — are notably missing from the roster. Related Articles Facebook board upholds Trump ban, just not an indefinite one An inside look at the slander industry, where reputations are destroyed “These are very smart and capable people who put themselves on this board,” Robinson said. But, he said, “the oversight board is a bunch of Mark Zuckerberg consultants. He hired them, he paid for them and he can get rid of them if he wants to.” Board spokesman Dex Hunter-Torricke urged critics to judge the board on the decisions it makes. “This is not a group of people who feel any obligation to go soft on the company,” said Hunter-Torricke, who previously served as a speechwriter for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In Wednesday’s decision, he added, “the board has very clearly said Facebook broke the rules as well as Mr. Trump, and that’s not appropriate.” Associated Press Writer David Klepper contributed to this story.
  • Top Workplaces 2021: Salesforce creates tools to reimagine the workplace
    At Salesforce, innovation is a core value, and it’s become more critical as the company worked to reimagine how businesses operate during a global pandemic. “Even during one of the most challenging times, our teams have managed to develop a tool that is helping guide the path toward reopening,” says Gary Nafus, senior vice president, enterprise sales for Salesforce, a global leader in customer relationship management software. “As customer zero of Work.com, we’re leveraging the tool to guide our return to the office. Through Work.com, employees are prompted to select their shift preferences for the week ahead. This allows us to manage floor capacities, avoid potential bottlenecks, and know who’s scheduled to be in the office — and we can visualize all this in the Workplace Command Center.” Work.com also lets employees complete brief, daily wellness check-ins to ensure they are healthy before getting approval to enter the office. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the site provides contract tracing tools and pinpoints office areas that need to be cleaned and sanitized.  Continuing work from home Looking ahead to the rest of the year and into 2022, the company plans to continue being flexible and allow most of its employees to work from home. To do that successfully, Salesforce has found new ways to help employees feel connected. “At Salesforce, we’re combining the strength of our values, our platform, and our people to reimagine the way we work for the better — whether in-person or in the cloud,” Nafus says. “Everyone has a role to play in driving our culture, and no lone leader or employee can succeed without the strength of our community behind them. We’re looking to our most valuable asset — our people — to help lead us into the future.” Focus on Colorado The California-based company plans to continue maintaining a strong presence in Colorado because Denver is home to a diverse slate of industries, including aviation, bioscience, and financial services. “We first set up shop in the region starting in 2013, supporting leading customers including the State of Colorado, the City and County of Denver, Ball Corporation, amongst other top organizations,” Nafus says. “Our expansion in Denver reflects the excitement here, and we’re looking forward to continuing to grow in the Mile-High City!” Related Articles Top Workplaces 2021: MotoRefi grows, opens second headquarters in Denver Top Workplaces 2021: West + Main gets creative to help homebuyers Top Workplaces 2021: Supreme Lending helps make homeowners’ dreams come true Metro Denver housing crunch squeezes buyers, agents Top Workplaces 2021: Pinnacol Assurance focuses on employee health Commitment to giving Despite the challenges of the past year, Salesforce plans to continue giving back to the community. Every employee gets seven days of paid time off to volunteer and can match charitable contributions up to $5,000 per year. Salesforce’s top 100 volunteers also get $10,000 grants to give to the nonprofit of their choice. Since the company was founded in 2009, its employees have donated more than 4 million volunteer time hours. “Our culture is about meaningful work, purpose, and belonging, which we cultivate through our giving back efforts,” Nafus says. This is the second year Salesforce has been named to the Top Workplaces list. “In addition to our culture, it’s our people that are the secret sauce that makes us a Top Workplace,” Nafus says. “Throughout this past year, Salesforce Colorado has grown tremendously and has risen to the challenge – our employees have shown up for our customers, our communities, and each other in incredible ways. We are living our values and looking for people who share our passion for doing good.” No. 3 Salesforce Years named: 2 Founded: 1999 Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif. Employees: 50,000, with 717 in Colorado Facts: Salesforce is the global leader in customer relationship management software and creates digital products to help companies connect with their customers.
  • Top Workplaces 2021: Keysight Technologies helps fuel Colorado’s tech boom
    This is the third year Keysight Technologies has earned a spot on The Denver Post’s Top Workplaces list.  Keysight manufactures equipment and software to design, test, manufacture and optimize electronics technology. The company is part of Colorado’s ongoing tech boom and was founded in 2014. Headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., Keysight spans 30 countries and has more than 13,500 employees, with nearly 1,000 in Colorado. Editor’s note: Keysight Technologies did not reply to email and phone requests for additional information for this profile.  No. 2 Keysight Technologies Years named: 3 Founded: 2014 Headquarters: Santa Rosa, Calif. Employees: 13,500, with 941 in Colorado Facts: Keysight manufactures equipment and software to design, test, manufacture and optimize electronics technology.
  • Apple’s app store goes on trial in threat to “walled garden”
    SAN RAMON, Calif. — On Monday, Apple faces one of its most serious legal threats in recent years: A trial that threatens to upend its iron control over its app store, which brings in billions of dollars each year while feeding more than 1.6 billion iPhones, iPads, and other devices. The federal court case is being brought by Epic Games, maker of the popular video game Fortnite. Epic wants to topple the so-called “walled garden” of the app store, which Apple started building 13 years ago as part of a strategy masterminded by co-founder Steve Jobs. Epic charges that Apple has transformed a once-tiny digital storefront into an illegal monopoly that squeezes mobile apps for a significant slice of their earnings. Apple takes a commission of 15% to 30% on purchases made within apps, including everything from digital items in games to subscriptions. Apple denies Epic’s claims. Apple’s highly successful formula has helped turn the iPhone maker into one of the world’s most profitable companies, one with a market value that now tops $2.2 trillion. Privately held Epic is puny by comparison, with an estimated market value of $30 billion. Its aspirations to get bigger hinge in part on its plan to offer an alternative app store on the iPhone. The North Carolina company also wants to break free of Apple’s commissions. Epic says it forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to Apple before it expelled Fortnite from its app store last August, after Epic added a payment system that bypassed Apple. Epic then sued Apple, prompting a courtroom drama that could shed new light on Apple’s management of its app store. Both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney will testify in a Oakland, California federal courtroom that will be set up to allow for social distancing and will require masks at all times. Neither side wanted a jury trial, leaving the decision to U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who already seems to know her ruling will probably be appealed, given the stakes in the case. Much of the evidence will revolve around arcane but crucial arguments about market definitions. Epic contends the iPhone has become so ingrained in society that the device and its ecosystem have turned into a monopoly Apple can exploit to unfairly enrich itself and thwart competition. Apple claims it faces significant competition from various alternatives to video games on iPhones. For instance, it points out that about 2 billion other smartphones don’t run iPhone software or work with its app store — primarily those relying on Google’s Android system. Epic has filed a separate case against Google, accusing it of illegally gouging apps through its own app store for Android devices. Apple will also depict Epic as a desperate company hungry for sources of revenue beyond the aging Fortnite. It claims Epic merely wants to freeload off an iPhone ecosystem in which Apple has invested more than $100 billion over the past 15 years. Estimates of Apple’s app store revenue range from $15 billion to $18 billion annually. Apple disputes those estimates, although it hasn’t publicly disclosed its own figures. Instead, it has emphasized that it doesn’t collect a cent from 85% of the apps in its store. The commissions it pockets, Apple says, are a reasonable way for the company to recoup its investment while financing an app review process it calls essential to preserving the security of apps and their users. About 40% of the roughly 100,000 apps submitted for review each week are rejected for some sort of problem, according to Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer. Epic will try to prove that Apple uses the security issue to disguise its true motivation — maintaining a monopoly that wrings more profits from app makers who can’t afford not to be available on the iPhone. But the smaller company may face an uphill battle. Last fall, the judge expressed some skepticism in court before denying Epic’s request to reinstate Fortnite on Apple’s app store pending the outcome of the trial. At that time, Gonzalez Rogers asserted that Epic’s claims were “at the frontier edges of antitrust law.” The trial is expected to last most of May, with a decision to come in the ensuing weeks.
  • An inside look at the slander industry, where reputations are destroyed
    By Aaron Krolik and Kashmir Hill, The New York Times Company I wanted to slander someone. My colleague Kashmir Hill and I were trying to learn who is responsible for — and profiting from — the growing ecosystem of websites whose primary purpose is destroying reputations. So I wrote a nasty post. About myself. Then we watched as a constellation of sites duplicated my creation. To get slander removed, many people hire a “reputation management” company. In my case, it was going to cost roughly $20,000. We soon discovered a secret, hidden behind a smoke screen of fake companies and false identities. The people facilitating slander and the self-proclaimed good guys who help remove it are often one and the same. The stain At first glance, the websites appear amateurish. They have names like BadGirlReports.date, BustedCheaters.com and WorstHomeWrecker.com. Photos are badly cropped. Grammar and spelling are afterthoughts. They are clunky and text-heavy, as if they’re intended to be read by machines, not humans. But do not underestimate their power. When someone attacks you on these so-called gripe sites, the results can be devastating. Earlier this year, we wrote about a woman in Toronto who poisoned the reputations of dozens of her perceived enemies by posting lies about them. To assess the slander’s impact, we wrote a software program to download every post from a dozen of the most active complaint sites: more than 150,000 posts about some 47,000 people. Then we set up a web crawler that searched Google and Bing for thousands of the people who had been attacked. Related Articles Meet virtual reality, your new physical therapist Extremists find a financial lifeline on Twitch Apple AirTag review: A humble tracker with next-generation tech TripAdvisor removes insensitive review of Auschwitz Museum ISPs behind millions of fake net neutrality comments, NY AG says For about one-third of the people, the nasty posts appeared on the first pages of their results. For more than half, the gripe sites showed up at the top of their image results. Sometimes search engines go a step further than simply listing links; they display what they consider the most relevant phrases about whatever you’re searching for. One woman in Ohio was the subject of so many negative posts that Bing declared in bold at the top of her search results that she “is a liar and a cheater” — the same way it states that Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States. For roughly 500 of the 6,000 people we searched for, Google suggested adding the phrase “cheater” to a search of their names. The unverified claims are on obscure, ridiculous-looking sites, but search engines give them a veneer of credibility. Posts from Cheaterboard.com appear in Google results alongside Facebook pages and LinkedIn profiles — or, in my case, articles in The New York Times. That would be bad enough for people whose reputations have been savaged. But the problem is all the worse because it’s so hard to fix. And that is largely because of the secret, symbiotic relationship between those facilitating slander and those getting paid to remove it. The spread The posts I created featured an awkward selfie and described me as a “loser who will do anything for attention.” We posted a version of the same insult on five gripe sites. Each selfie included a unique watermark that allowed us to track it if it showed up somewhere new. For an image posted to Cheaterboard.com, for example, we hid the domain name and the date in the file code. The posts spread quickly. Inside two hours, the Cheaterboard one had popped up on FoulSpeakers.com. Within a month, the original five posts had spawned 21 copies on 15 sites. What was the point of copying the posts? A big clue were the ads that appeared next to them, offering help removing reputation-tarnishing content. The New York TimesCyrus Sullivan, who runs FoulSpeakers.com, in Portland, Ore. We contacted all of the sites that copied the original posts. Only two responded, and only one person consented to an interview: Cyrus Sullivan, who runs FoulSpeakers.com. Sullivan, 37, of Portland, Oregon, has been in the complaint-site business since 2008, when he started STDCarriers.com. It was inspired by his own experience; in his senior year at the University of Oregon, he said, he had sex with a woman who belatedly told him that she had herpes. “I thought there needs to be a way to warn people about something like that,” Sullivan said. STDCarriers.com let people anonymously post unverified information about people who they said had sexually transmitted diseases. Sullivan said he hadn’t made much money until 2012, when STDCarriers.com attracted national media attention. Anderson Cooper had a daytime talk show at the time, and he did a segment dressing down Sullivan and others who ran complaint sites. Sullivan’s web traffic soared, and posts soon flooded the site. After a couple of stints in jail — among other things, he was convicted of sending death threats to a woman and of throwing Sriracha Doritos into the face of police officers, “using the spicy dust as a weapon, like pepper spray,” according to a court filing — he started FoulSpeakers.com in 2018. It billed itself as “a foul speech search engine and web archive” that captured awful things written about people on other sites, such as my post on Cheaterboard.com. Sullivan told us that copying content was a great way to lure people to his sites. (He said he didn’t feel bad about spreading unverified slander. “Teach children not to talk to strangers, then teach them not to believe what they read on the internet,” he said.) But there was a financial incentive as well. Sullivan had started a reputation-management service to help people get “undesirable information” about themselves removed from their search engine results. The “gold package” cost $699.99. For those customers, Sullivan would alter the computer code underlying the offending posts, instructing search engines to ignore them. The safecracker Some reputation-management firms use adversarial tactics to get posts taken down. But cozier relationships are the norm. For example, ads for 247Removal.com appear on a dozen prominent gripe websites, and were attached to some of the posts about me. 247Removal’s owner is Heidi Glosser, 38. She said she didn’t know how her ads had ended up on those sites. Glosser charges $750 or more per post removal, which adds up to thousands of dollars for most of her clients. To get posts removed, she said, she often pays an “administrative fee” to the gripe site’s webmaster. We asked her whether this was extortion. “I can’t really give you a direct answer,” she said. On the first page of Glosser’s own Google search results is a link to a court ruling related to her 2003 conviction for burglary and safecracking. “It’s not related to me,” she said. She urged us to do a background check on her, which confirmed her involvement. Glosser said she had decided to try to help people improve their online reputations in 2018, after she watched an 11-minute documentary about revenge porn. The film focused on Scott Breitenstein, a former plumber who ran sites hosting nude photos of people posted without their consent. Sites controlled by Breitenstein also were venues for unverified allegations about cheaters, scams, predators, deadbeats and “potential johns.” After the documentary came out, Breitenstein told business partners that he had sold his websites. He didn’t respond to requests for comment. Glosser said her goal was to assist victims of Breitenstein and his ilk. Glosser used to live near Breitenstein in Dayton, Ohio. She said that was a coincidence. “Dayton is not as small as everyone thinks it is,” she said. She said she doesn’t know Breitenstein. Why, then, were Glosser and her deceased wife friendly with members of the Breitenstein family on Facebook? Glosser wouldn’t say. An unlikely signature We noticed that the same ad kept appearing on the proliferating posts about me being a loser. It was a simple text ad for something called RepZe.com: “Remove Cheaters Sites Contents.” Most sidebar ads are programmatic. That means they are served up by an ad network with no involvement by the people who run a site, and they change every time you visit. That wasn’t the case here. The RepZe ads were permanent fixtures, written into the websites’ coding. When Kashmir called RepZe, a woman identifying herself as Sofia refused to answer questions and said to email the company instead. Nobody responded to the emails. When I reached out to RepZe via a form on its site to ask about removing one of the posts about me, Sofia called me. She said that for $1,500 the post would be removed within 24 hours. The removal would come with a “lifetime guarantee,” she said. She encouraged me to act quickly. “I don’t want to scare you, but these posts can spread,” she warned. At this point, we figured that when someone paid a company like RepZe to get a post removed, RepZe then paid the complaint site to delete it. But our understanding turned out to be incomplete at best. RepZe claims to be based in a Denver suburb. But the company isn’t registered for business in Colorado. The address on its website belongs to Anytime Mailbox, which charges $9.99 per month to create the appearance of an office, accepting mail on someone’s behalf and then scanning and emailing it to the client. (Anytime’s CEO, Matt Going, said he couldn’t answer questions about RepZe, except to say it was no longer a customer.) The three people listed as RepZe employees have scant online presences and do not seem to exist. One page on the website includes a message from RepZe’s CEO, identified as “Mr. M. Moore.” At the bottom of the message is what appears to be his signature. Upon closer inspection, it is Marilyn Monroe’s autograph. RepZe has promotional videos on YouTube. The people in the videos, including those who claimed to be employees or customers, are paid actors. (We identified them on a freelancing site, Fiverr, where they charged as little as $25 to appear in videos.) We tracked down actual customers of RepZe. All relayed the same basic story. They had hired the company to remove negative posts about them, which it quickly did. But then RepZe would threaten that, absent swift payment of the thousands of dollars the customers had agreed to pay, the posts would reappear and multiply. “The content will be restored,” a RepZe representative wrote in a text to one customer, who posted screenshots of the exchange on Facebook. “We are trying to help. You are trying to piss my ass off.” Then, months later, the posts would reappear. One disgruntled customer created RepZeFraud.com under the pseudonym Greg Saint. He said he had paid RepZe $4,000 in 2019 to remove two negative posts. Months later, he said, copies of the posts began reappearing online, and he suspected RepZe was responsible. He created RepZeFraud.com to expose the person he thought was really behind the service: a 28-year-old web developer in India, Vikram Parmar. A clue in the metadata We had first heard Parmar’s name months earlier, from a California software developer, Aaron Greenspan. Greenspan runs PlainSite.org, which posts court documents and thus makes people’s criminal records easier to find. He said one of those people, a convicted murderer, had tried to destroy his and his family’s online reputations. Greenspan could have paid to get the posts removed, but he didn’t like the idea of ransom. Instead, he set out to unmask whoever was behind the sites and the reputation-management companies. This was easier said than done. “You don’t know where it is, who runs it, who hosts it,” he said. “That’s how they evade any accountability.” The websites use what are known as privacy proxy services to hide who owns them and where they’re hosted. Greenspan combed through digital clues and tracked down lawsuits involving the sites — which he began cataloging on PlainSite — to map out the industry. He concluded that many sites appeared to be owned by a small handful of people. Every time he got in touch with one of them, that person would point him to other people and say they were the true bad actors. Greenspan got in touch with RepZe, which had ads next to many of the posts attacking him. He pretended to be an interested customer. RepZe gave him a quote of $14,800 to remove 17 posts. The company sent a contract. Greenspan looked at the document’s metadata and found “Vikram Parmar” listed as the author. A quick Google search revealed that Parmar faced criminal charges. In 2014, he had created a fake website that charged people money to apply for nonexistent jobs with India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. Prosecutors in New Delhi charged him and a collaborator with criminal conspiracy. (Parmar claimed that an “unscrupulous client” had hired him to create what he thought was a legitimate website. The case is pending.) Greenspan sent Parmar a message on Skype in September 2019. They began to chat. (Greenspan showed us screenshots of the chats.) He demanded that Parmar delete posts about him for free. Parmar removed one, on DirtyScam.com, and then their conversation became friendlier. Parmar complained to Greenspan about the greediness of the owners of other complaint sites. One of them was a guy in Ohio named Scott Breitenstein, who Parmar said owned hundreds of sites that stole original content from “legitimate” ones. Parmar told Greenspan that he’d had to pay Breitenstein to get copycat posts taken down. He said Breitenstein had instructed him to send checks to another person. Her name was Heidi Glosser. “One of the Gentlemen” We reached Parmar via Skype in February. He was on vacation in the Indian seaside town of Goa. We said we were working on an article about the reputation-management industry. He denied involvement, saying he was “a real estate builder and also working on some government projects.” Then we laid out what we knew. We had linked Parmar not just to RepZe but also to another cleanup service, RemoveReports.com. In addition, we had found that he was involved with ReportCheater.com, WebActivism.com, WtfCheater.com, RealtorScam.com and DirtyScam.com. All were listed by RepZe or RemoveReports as places from which they could remove content. At least one of the sites had been registered under Parmar’s name. Others were linked to him in different ways. Some have the same Google ad account; some share IP addresses; some had been registered to Parmar’s email address. In other words, Parmar seemed to be running sites that produced slander and running sites that made money by removing that slander. Parmar sounded uneasy. He said anyone could use anyone else’s email address to register a site. Then he admitted to doing some reputation-management work. Then he asked that his name not be used in this article. Then he suggested other people in the industry whom we should investigate instead of him. (The list included Breitenstein and Glosser.) “You are pretty much accurate but targeting a wrong guy,” he wrote in a Skype message. “I am just mediator,” he added. “I am one of the gentleman.” Parmar resurfaced in April, about 20 minutes after we emailed RepZe seeking comment for this article. In messages over Skype, he said he didn’t own the complaint sites but was providing them services, including helping them improve their performance on search engines. Why were his email address and Google ad accounts linked to the complaint sites? Parmar didn’t have a coherent explanation. My experiment ends Three months after my experiment started, my search results were suffering the consequences. Bing helpfully recommended adding “loser” to a search for “Aaron Krolik.” When you Googled my name, Cheaters.news was at the top of the image results. There’s no way for me to delete the posts that I wrote; the slander sites don’t allow that. Based on estimates provided by removal services, it would cost me about $20,000 to get the posts taken down — and even then, more posts might appear in their place. There is another way to lessen the posts’ impact. In certain circumstances, Google will remove harmful content from individuals’ search results, including links to “sites with exploitative removal practices.” If a site charges to remove posts, you can ask Google not to list it. Google didn’t advertise this policy widely, and few victims of online slander seem aware that it’s an option. That’s in part because when you Google ways to clean up your search results, Google’s solution is buried under ads for reputation-management services like RepZe. I eventually found the Google form. I submitted a claim to have one URL removed. “Your email has been sent to our team,” Google told me. Three days later, I received an email from Google saying the URL would be removed from my search results. Later that day, it was gone. I submitted the 25 other links. They were removed, too, but images from gripe sites kept reappearing in my search results. Other people who have used Google’s form reported similar experiences: It mostly works, but is less effective for images. And if you have an attacker who won’t stop writing posts about you, it’s almost useless. The slander remains. Parmar, a self-described expert in how to influence search results, has recently taken steps to burnish his own reputation. Around the time that we started trying to reach him, articles began appearing online casting him in glowing terms. One piece gushed about his “rags-to-riches story.” Another, on Freelancer.com, said his web-marketing business generated $2 million a year in revenue. Parmar was quoted as saying he had bought cars for himself and his family. “I live like a BOSS,” he said.
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