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Black People Arrested in NYC Protests Were Charged with Felonies at Much Higher Rate Than Whites

VICE News - 2 hours 45 min ago

The New York Police Department arrested white and Black people by the hundreds during the height of the city’s Black Lives Matter protests, but the two groups often faced radically different fates in the criminal justice system.

White people made up about 44% of the 2,000-plus total arrests that occurred in connection to the protests between May 28 and June 7, according to data released Wednesday by the New York state’s Office of the Attorney General. Black people made up about 39%. But while 16% of the Black arrestees ended up being charged with a felony, just about 3% of arrested white people faced similar charges.

Latinx people made up about 13% of the total arrests. Nearly 8% of those arrestees were charged with felonies.

This new data backs up a June report by VICE News that found that Black and brown were already being punished more severely than white people for joining the demonstrations, according to accounts from public defenders and protesters. One public defender’s organization in Manhattan found that, between May 29 and June 6, just 5% of the 72 people it had arraigned in what the organization called “protest-related cases” were white.

Arraignments don’t always involve felony charges, and not every person charged with a felony ends up getting held for an arraignment; they can also be released with what’s known as a “desk appearance ticket,” or a request to come back to court at a later date to kick off a criminal case. But almost 70% of those 72 arraignments involved charges for burglary in the third degree, a nonviolent felony that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

“The only folks who were being held were the kids of color, who were being charged with these ridiculous, trumped-up felony cases. And that was just really, really enraging,” Jessica Heyman told VICE News at the time. Heyman is an attorney for the New York County Defender Services, which supplied VICE News with the data on its clients’ races.

Days after that VICE News report, the Manhattan district attorney’s office released data confirming that most of its protest-linked arraignments involved non-white people. Of the 484 people arraigned in what the office dubbed “protest and ‘looting’ related cases” between May 28 and June 4, just 30 — or 6% — were white.

Black people made up about 71% of those arraignments. “Black-Hispanic” and “White-Hispanic” people made up another 20%, according to the office.

About 430 of those arraignments involved felonies. The top charge in most of the cases was burglary in the third degree.

The racial disparity in Manhattan takes on new resonance in light of the data from the attorney general’s office, which found that nearly 1,500 of the protest-linked arrests occurred in Manhattan. Fewer than 350 arrests took place in Brooklyn, and another 250 happened in the Bronx.

In its report, the Office of the Attorney General also details a litany of complaints it received about the NYPD, which include allegations of excessive force, mistreatment of essential workers, and detentions of neutral legal observers (who attend protests to monitor police conduct and help advise arrestees of their rights). In response, the office also offered several measures to reform the police, such as strengthening accountability for officers and crafting what the report calls “clear, carefully calibrated standards for the use of force with real consequences for violations.”

Its recommendations, however, likely won’t appease protesters, many of whom have demanded that the NYPD be defunded or abolished entirely. The office has pledged to continue investigating the NYPD’s interactions with protesters.

Cover: Protesters walking across the Brooklyn Bridge after a peaceful memorial for George Floyd held at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn, New York, NY on June 4, 2020. Protests are taking place across the country after the death of George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis, was filmed by a bystander. (Photo by Christopher Lazzaro/Alive Coverage/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Houston's Mayor Just Canceled the GOP's Texas Convention Over Coronavirus

VICE News - 3 hours 38 min ago

Houston’s Democratic mayor moved to block the Republican Party of Texas from holding a massive indoor convention in his city on Wednesday, citing an exploding number of coronavirus cases in the city.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) pushed Houston First, a public-private partnership that owns the George R. Brown Convention Center, where the event was to take place, to cancel the party’s contract.

That move came through Wednesday afternoon, scuttling the GOP’s plans to hold an indoor convention of at least 5,000 people, even as the city has seen its highest number of COVID cases to date in recent days.

State Republicans had been full steam ahead on the convention until Turner’s move, and it’s unclear exactly what they’ll do now.

“We are moving forward unless we are prevented from doing so and we are not currently seeing any indication that we would be prevented from doing so,” Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey told VICE News earlier on Wednesday, before Turner’s move.

But Dickey said that the party was planning an emergency backup contingency to hold the convention online in case they were legally barred from holding it in person.

Dickey and the party didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment for whether they’d fight Turner’s order, but multiple Republicans privately told VICE News that it might be a blessing in disguise for their party. Having a Democratic mayor cancel the event allows GOP leaders to to avoid having to cross a restive base that isn’t taking the pandemic very seriously, while also avoiding the risk of a super-spreader event caused by their unwillingness to cancel a massive indoor rally.

The convention had been Republicans’ best chance to hold a major indoor event before the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Fla. in late August, but the state and city have seen explosions in the number of COVID cases and are at risk of seeing their hospitals run out of beds to treat new cases.

President Trump may force some more indoor rallies like the one he held in Tulsa a few weeks ago, though it’s looking less and less like he’ll be able to do so. Tulsa’s top health official said Wednesday that the rally likely contributed to that city’s recent spike in COVID cases.

Trump’s next rally is planned for a partially outdoor airplane hanger in New Hampshire and he already had to cancel the only other indoor rally he had on the books, in Alabama, because of rising cases there. But it’s unclear whether Republican National Convention in Jacksonville will go any smoother than the one that was just canceled in Houston.

Multiple GOP lawmakers have said they won’t attend, and it’s unclear whether the city’s mayor will be willing to lift social distancing and mask-wearing rules for Trump to hold the massive, crowded rally he wants to hold in a few weeks’ time.

Cover: Sylvester Turner, mayor of Houston, speaks during a conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Friday, March 9, 2018. (Photo: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Texas Republicans Are Throwing a Huge Convention in the Middle of a Coronavirus Spike

VICE News - 7 hours 40 min ago

Texas is posting record-high numbers of coronavirus cases, but that isn’t stopping Republicans from planning a massive indoor convention in the state’s hardest-hit city.

The Republican Party of Texas is just a week away from gathering at least 5,000 people for its state convention in Houston, even though the city’s Democratic mayor is begging them to reconsider.

The state’s GOP leaders insist they can handle the health hazards — and that the risks are worth taking.

“New viruses are going to come and life has to continue. We can’t live in a world where there’s never again a live, in-person concert or convention or gathering of people to peaceably assemble and address their grievances with the government. That would be anti-American, and I am proud and pleased to be part of a group trying to make sure that dystopian future never becomes a reality,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey told VICE News Wednesday morning.

Texas reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, its highest single-day increase in both cases and deaths since the pandemic’s start. The state had more than 9,200 hospitalized cases as well as 75 more daily deaths from the pandemic, all new and grim records.

Houston has been hardest hit: The region alone saw more than 2,100 new cases on Tuesday. This recent spike forced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to make an about-face in his rush to reopen the state. Abbott had opposed COVID-controlling efforts so stridently that he’d banned local governments from requiring masks, but last week he reversed course and ordered Texans to wear masks when in public in most of the state.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) has begged the GOP to move their convention online, like Democrats did, warning that it could turn into a superspreader event and promising to shut it down if participants didn’t closely adhere to health guidelines. On Wednesday, Turner said he has directed his administration to explore ways to force them to cancel it entirely.

"Where there are provisions that would allow us to cancel this convention — we will exercise those provisions," Turner said at a virtual city council meeting on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune. "And the plan is to exercise those provisions to cancel this agreement, this contract, today — to not go forward with this convention."

It’s unclear whether Turner has the legal standing to force Republicans to cancel their convention, however. The George R. Brown Convention Center, the event’s host, is run by a public-private partnership, not solely by the mayor’s office.

Dickey rolled his eyes at Turner’s concerns.

“Harris County [Houston’s county] has 4.6 million people. We’re talking about bringing maybe 5,000 people. For those who don’t want to do the math that’s 1 person per thousand,” he said. “The idea that this would be a meaningful impact on the volume of what Harris and Houston is seeing or what Texas is seeing is so disingenuous that the best possible reading of it is a total lack of awareness and the most likely readings are sadly political gamesmanship and distraction.”

Gov. Abbott's decision

The one man who does have the clear legal authority to do so is Abbott. The governor has remained mum about whether he would consider canceling his own party’s convention, and has refused to say whether he thought it should be moved online. Abbott’s spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. But tellingly, Abbott decided not to give an in-person speech and will instead deliver a video address.

The convention is expected to be smaller than in the past, with 5,000 to 6,000 attendees, down from a peak of 12,000 in recent years — but it’s still the largest state convention in the country, and there are more actual delegates than even at the Republican National Convention.

Other Republicans admitted concerns about the event, though they said they had to be weighed against the party’s ability to codify its party platform, elect its delegates to the national convention and settle a race for party chairman between Dickey former Rep. Allen West.

“The risk associated with the event is considerable.”

“The risk associated with the event is considerable. You have a large number of people traveling in from all over the state and if anyone contracts it while they’re there, they’d be taking it home with them,” said Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak.

But any concerns have been outweighed by Texas Republicans’ skepticism of the health officials’ dire warnings against large indoor gatherings, frustration that reporters have been so critical of their plans for an indoor event after what they saw as boosterism for outdoor Black Lives Matter protests. The Republican Party of Texas’ executive committee voted by a two-to-one margin earlier this week against moving the convention online.

“I don’t know if I buy everything Fauci says.”

“I don’t know if I buy everything Fauci says,” said Chuck Branch, a member of the 62-person Texas State Republican Executive Committee who voted for an in-person convention after his idea for a hybrid option was shot down by the committee. “What about all the riots and all the protestors out there, no social distancing and no masking? I don’t hear the media having any problems with all the challenges that has caused.”

Mackowiak and Branch plan to attend, but others aren’t so sure.

GOP fears

Brendan Steinhauser, a senior GOP strategist in the state, was an early COVID survivor — he and his wife got sick in March. His company is a convention sponsor and had long planned to have a major footprint at the event, but he said they were now debating whether he’d go or not, while trying to figure out how to minimize exposure for his employees.

“We’re deciding as we speak. I don’t want to put my team in a position where their health is threatened,” he said.

Some sponsors have gotten cold feet as well, including the The Texas Medical Association, which pulled its sponsorship after the GOP refused to move the convention online. Multiple Republicans said they’d talked to older activists who had decided against going because of the health risks, and some GOP strategists were struggling with how much risk they were personally willing to endure.

Dickey insisted the committee is taking plenty of precautions, with temperature checks at every entrance to make sure people with fevers can’t enter the convention, plans for social distancing in the convention and a mask requirement for participants that mirrors the governor’s own order.

Dickey shrugged off questions about whether the fear of the virus was disenfranchising longtime activists — ”One of the characteristics of a convention always has been that the activity at a convention is determined by those who make it to convention, those who physically arrive at our convention, and it has been such since the days of our founding at independence hall,” he said.

The party’s insistence on an in-person convention in Texas sets up a crucial test of whether it’s feasible to safely hold an indoor event of thousands just one month ahead of the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Fla.

“This is certainly a test run,” said Mackowiak. “If they have significant problems in Houston then it would make Jacksonville very difficult to pull off.”

But a number of high-profile Republicans have said in recent days they won’t attend the Republican National Convention as coronavirus cases spike in that state as well. On Tuesday, Trump himself signaled he wasn’t quite as bullish about a massive convention as he once had been.

“When we signed a few weeks ago, it looked good. And now all of a sudden it's spiking up a little bit — and that’s going to go down — it really depends on the timing,” Trump told Greta van Susteren. “Look, we’re very flexible. We can do a lot of things, but we’re very flexible.”

Dickey said he wouldn’t order or even suggest that groups cancel the ancillary social and networking events that usually ring the convention, though many of those events’ hosts have decided to cancel their events anyways.

But while he acknowledged there was some health risk for those attending, he downplayed any concerns.

“Is it worth driving to work on any given day?” he asked rhetorically when asked why it was worth risking peoples’ health and possibly their lives to stick with an in-person convention. “People die every day on the way to work, every single day. No one argues that we should all give up our cars. How much more important is fighting for the future of our country and our state?”

But that’s not the only question facing the GOP.

“No one wants this to go badly,” said Mackowiak. “The question is, can this be pulled off with little or no public health consequences? We’re going to find out.”

Cover: Delegates clap after the National Anthem at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Thursday, May 12, 2016 in Dallas. (Photo: Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

New Video Shows 7 Youth-Home Staffers Restraining a Black Boy Who Died a Few Days Later

VICE News - 7 hours 45 min ago

Newly released surveillance footage shows seven staffers at a Michigan youth home tackling and fatally restraining Cornelius Fredericks, a 16-year-old Black boy, for about 12 minutes after he threw food across the facility’s cafeteria.

The teen went into cardiac arrest and died two days after the April 29 incident.

The boy’s family referenced the video when they sued the Kalamazoo-based youth home, Lakeside Academy, and the company that manages it, Sequel Youth and Family Services, last month. While three staffers involved in Fredericks’ restraint — one of whom is a nurse accused of taking too long to call for medical care — have since been charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse, attorney Goeffrey Fieger told the Associated Press that’s not enough, and that more employees should be charged based on the video.

His office released one angle of the surveillance video Tuesday, or about 18 minutes of footage. After that, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) followed up by releasing two other surveillance videos: one with nearly 28 minutes of footage, and one with about 17 minutes of footage.

“The mechanism for dealing with children in this facility was abuse and fear,” Fieger, a well-known attorney in metro Detroit, told the Associated Press. “In fact, suffocation was regularly practiced upon children. They called it ‘fearing.’”

Fredericks was at Lakeside Academy as a ward of the state, since his mother had died when he was young.

The video released by Fieger’s office Tuesday shows Lakeside staff taking away Fredericks’ tray after he threw food. While Fredericks was talking to two staff members in the cafeteria, he tossed more food across the room. A staffer pushed him to the ground. At that point, Fredericks chucked a sandwich, too. Several male employees then toppled Fredericks and pinned down his chest, arms, and legs, obscuring his body from view, while other teens in the video continued eating or changed seats. Some told Michigan investigators that such restraints were common.

Once Fredericks was apparently unconscious, staffers attempted to place his limp body into an upright position, according to the video. They stood around him as he lay on the cafeteria floor before performing chest compressions. While the video doesn’t contain audio, attorneys for Fredericks’ family have alleged he screamed “I can’t breathe” before he fell unconscious. Fieger said Fredericks also urinated on himself.

Fieger has said the footage released Tuesday is incomplete and appears to jump around at times. The state said the videos they released were provided by Lakeside. Lawyers for the arrested staff members have similarly said the videos don’t provide a complete account of the events that led to Fredericks’ death.

The state said Tuesday that 125 kids have been removed from Lakeside as a result of an investigation that uncovered 10 licensing violations. The MDHHS has cut ties with the facility while it works to revoke its license.

“The incident shown in the videos is outrageous and heartbreaking. We have vowed to do everything in our power to prevent a senseless tragedy like this from happening again,” Robert Gordon, director of MDHHS, said in a statement making the surveillance footage public.

Sequel Youth Services, which runs similar facilities across the U.S., told the Detroit News that the employees’ actions were against the company's policies. The company told VICE News last month that the employees involved were fired, and that restraints were only allowed in emergency situations.

Three of those employees — Zachary Solis, Michael Mosley, and Heather McLogan — were also criminally charged by Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting last month. Their attorneys told NBC News that they disagreed with the charges.

Kiana Garrity, an attorney for Mosley, said that it was wrong of Fieger to release the video Tuesday, and that there’s “loads of context” that the public is unaware of regarding the surveillance footage.

She said in an email that there are four surveillance cameras in the cafeteria, and that the two she has received footage from show no evidence that Mosley laid on Fredericks’ chest or abdomen. Additionally, she said that the video released by Fieger Tuesday doesn’t show that Fredericks had threatened those around him the day he was restrained. He was held down for those threats, and not simply because he threw food, she said. She also said it’s false that Fredericks said he couldn’t breathe.

The attorney for McLogan, a nurse at the facility, told CNN she had done nothing criminal. And Solis’ attorney told NBC News that they were all following rules outlined in their employee handbook, and would be acquitted.

Cover: Screen shot from surveillance video posted by attorney Goeffrey Fieger's office

Netflix’s ‘365 Days’ Glorifies Kidnapping and Blurs Consent. But TikTok Loves It.

VICE News - 10 hours 55 min ago

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When Mik Zazon, an Instagram influencer who focuses on body positivity, sat down to watch the film “365 Days” on Netflix, she had already seen a few horny TikTok tributes to the movie’s male lead. Since the movie was now trending, she figured why not watch it?

Netflix’s description seemed to promise a suspenseful thriller: “A woman falls victim to a dominant mafia boss, who imprisons her and gives her one year to fall in love with him.” But what Zazon saw instead was a film that tried to sell itself as a love story — between a violent kidnapper and his victim.

“It’s not love. It’s sexual assault. It’s abuse, multiple forms of abuse,” said Zazon, who launched a petition urging Netflix to remove the film, which now has more than 68,000 signatures. “When you put a movie out like that, it is glamorizing, it is romanticizing — it is teaching young men that women want to do whatever they want. It’s teaching young women that’s what they’re supposed to do, to just want to do what men want to do.”

Adapted from a series of successful novels often compared to “50 Shades of Grey,” “365 Days” — or “365 DNI” — was well-received when it premiered in Poland in February. But since the film’s arrival on Netflix in June, its popularity has exploded worldwide. Despite being panned by critics, the movie has bounced in and out of the Top 10 rankings in the United States, Britain, Brazil, India, and more.

“It’s not love. It’s sexual assault. It’s abuse, multiple forms of abuse.”

It’s also a sensation on TikTok, where people joke about trying to get themselves kidnapped in Italy and post memes answering the mafia boss’ catchphrase, “Are you lost, baby girl?” (Sometimes they respond with an enthusiastic “Yes, daddy!”) Many have also shared their wide-eyed reactions to the film’s “yacht scene,” where the pair have vigorous sex in multiple positions.

But the film has its detractors, like Zazon, who say it glamorizes sexual violence, sex trafficking, and intimate partner violence. Other petitions similar to hers have popped up on Change.org, while the singer Duffy, who recently revealed that she’d been kidnapped and raped, sent a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about the movie and its real-world implications.

The decision to stream the movie, Duffy said, was “irresponsible,” according to Deadline.

“When I was trafficked and raped, I was lucky to come away with my life, but far too many have not been so lucky. And now I have to witness these tragedies, and my tragedy, eroticized and demeaned,” she wrote. “To anyone who may exclaim ‘It is just a movie’, it is not ‘just’ when it has great influence to distort a subject which is widely undiscussed, such as sex trafficking and kidnapping, by making the subject erotic.”

Netflix didn’t respond to VICE News’ request for comment about the demands to remove the movie from its platform. It also doesn’t typically release viewership data. The company that distributed and co-produced “365 Days” also didn’t reply to a request for comment.

The film tells the story of Italian mobster Massimo, who kidnaps a Polish woman named Laura because he’s spent years having visions of her. Massimo tells Laura that he’ll keep her captive for 365 days to convince her to fall in love with him. If she doesn’t love him back by then, he’ll free her.

Spoiler: After several extremely long, extremely explicit sex scenes — including multiple scenes where Laura’s consent is questionable at best — Laura does fall in love with Massimo. The movie ends with Laura pregnant and preparing to marry the man who kidnapped her. (The visions that led Massimo to do so are never explained.)

Pamela Meija, head of research at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, worries that the behavior of fictional characters like Massimo can reverberate onto the real young people who may idolize him or his relationship with Laura.

“When you see this kind of behavior and these kinds of [actions] normalized — not only normalized but held up as the romantic ideal,” she said, “that can be very, very harmful and potentially really affect what you then are willing to accept or able to see as normal or good or healthy or loving behavior.” The message is “that is what your relationship should look like if it is [a] grand romance, if it is truly epic and life-changing.”

Throughout the film, Massimo is sexually aggressive toward Laura and other women. In the film’s first sex scene, Massimo roughly forces a flight attendant into a blow job. She’s working on his private plane, so she is presumably his employee. There’s no sign that this woman, who’s never named, consents. But she does smile slyly afterward — apparently to indicate that she was totally cool with what just happened, and that it’s super sexy when your boss demands that you perform oral sex on him.

During Massimo and Laura’s first meeting, he promises her, “I won’t do anything without your permission.” That pledge is a bit undermined, however, by the fact that he’s simultaneously groping her breast. In the universe of “365 Days,” only penetrative sex seems to require consent. Laura ultimately gives that consent on the infamous yacht, although the wildly uneven power dynamic between the two characters throws her ability to truly consent into question.

Zazon pointed out that young people in much of the United States have very little access to comprehensive sex ed, while domestic violence remains prevalent across the country. One in four American women, as well as one in nine American men, experience physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking involving an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"We’re not really taught what healthy love is; we’re just taught to stay away from sex. And that is not helping anybody," Zazon said, adding, "We have a person running our country right now that has said just grab her by the P-word. It’s very apparent that we have a serious issue going on."

Meija traced the popularity of “365 Days” back to other wildly popular films that fed — and continue to feed — a culture that romanticizes abusive relationships. “Twilight” implied that stalking was proof of a timeless love affair. The narrative of “50 Shades of Grey” was concerned with consent, given its extended focus on whether the two lovers would agree to a consensual contract. But the film still ended up depicting a relationship where the female partner gave in to the man’s sexual whims to the point that his preferences became hers.

The story of Laura and Massimo, Meija said, “takes that to its next logical step, where, well, in that case, she has to be simply told what it is that she needs and restrained, or her life changed in some way, until she accepts that that’s what she wants.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline takes calls 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY. If you cannot speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.

Cover: Michele Morrone attends the "Bar Giuseppe" red carpet during the 14th Rome Film Festival on October 18, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court Just Ruled to Let Religious Employers Deny Workers’ Birth Control

VICE News - 11 hours 3 min ago

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The Trump administration is free to let employers deny their workers birth control coverage if they have religious or moral objections, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The 7-2 decision caps off years of lawsuits over the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “birth control mandate.” Ever since the Obama administration required employers to offer their workers contraceptive coverage nearly a decade ago, religious liberty proponents and reproductive rights advocates have been locked in a fight over which employers, exactly, should be exempt from that requirement. Over the years, the government has given churches and other houses of worship, as well as some other employers, ways to skirt that requirement.

But in 2017, the Trump administration issued new rules that expanded the number of organizations who can refuse to cover their employees’ birth control. Under those rules, private employers with sincerely held religious and moral objections are exempt from the mandate.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued over those rules, and won in a lower court. But the Trump administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor — a Catholic religious group and an icon among conservatives for their opposition to the birth control mandate — asked the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury did have the authority to carve out those exemptions.

“The only question we face today is what the plain language of the statute authorizes,” Thomas wrote. “And the plain language of the statute clearly allows the Departments to create the preventive care standards as well as the religious and moral exemptions.”

The reliably conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh all joined Thomas’ opinion, as did Chief Justice John Roberts (who had recently sided with the liberals in multiple cases).

Justice Elena Kagan also voted with the majority, but wrote a separate opinion to explain why. Justice Stephen Breyer joined her opinion. Both of those justices typically vote with the liberal wing of the court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, meanwhile, dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In that dissent, Ginsburg pointed out the government has estimated between 70,500 and 126,400 women could lose their “no-cost contraceptive services” if more employers were exempt from providing it.

“This court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” she wrote.

Ginsburg made history back in May, when she called into the arguments over the case — held over the phone, due to the coronavirus pandemic — from the hospital. At the time, she was recovering from a “non-surgical treatment” for a benign gallbladder condition.

Ginsburg wasted no time making it clear where she stood on the case.

“You are shifting the employer’s religious beliefs — the cost of them — onto the employees,” Ginsburg told then-Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Women who lose birth control coverage, she added, will likely be forced to hunt for coverage from government programs like Medicaid or pay for their health care out of pocket. “The women end up getting nothing.”

Cover: In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Confessions of a Chinese Fentanyl Trafficker: ‘I’m Really Afraid of Hurting People’

VICE News - 11 hours 49 min ago

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You don’t need the dark web to buy drugs from China — or at least that’s how it looks on Google. With just a little bit of searching, you can find websites that offer to ship a range of illicit substances — including the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl — straight from the factory in China to a mailing address in the United States.

But on the internet, things aren’t always what they seem.

Our team at VICE News spent the last year making a podcast called “Painkiller: America’s Fentanyl Crisis,” tracing the illicit supply chain back to suppliers in Mexico and China. As part of our reporting, we reached out to a number of online retailers based in China who advertised fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. Eventually, we convinced one trafficker to meet in person at a public park in Shanghai. He told us about his path into the business, the unintended consequences of a recent Chinese government crackdown on fentanyl, and his concerns about dealing a drug that’s responsible for tens of thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S.

“I’m really afraid of hurting people,” he said. “I don’t want people to get hurt by the drugs, by the medicine, by my companies. That’s my concern.”

Drug traffickers can face the death penalty in China, so we are not identifying our contact or his website. When we asked his name during our first phone conversation last fall, he replied, “It doesn’t matter,” before suggesting the pseudonym Mr. Yue.

Mr. Yue’s website lists dozens of different chemicals for sale, including synthetic stimulants (aka bath salts), cannabinoids (aka K2 or Spice), steroids, human growth hormone, and more. The listings include pictures of white and brown powders and crystal shards. One is for methoxyacetyl fentanyl, a common and powerful variety of the drug. The post promises wholesale discounts, next-day shipping, and free replacements if the drugs are lost or seized by authorities in the mail. But when we contacted Mr. Yue, he said his website was outdated: He no longer offers fentanyl. Instead, he’s now “teaching people to make it themselves.”

There are several ways to synthesize fentanyl. Some rely on precursor chemicals that have been outlawed in both the U.S. and China, but other methods use basic chemicals that are available for making regular products such as rubber and industrial products. The recipes are easily found online, but Mr. Yue claimed to supply something more — essentially an illustrated, step-by-step guide for setting up and operating a clandestine fentanyl lab.

Mr. Yue said he stopped making and selling actual fentanyl last May, after the Chinese government bowed to U.S. pressure and began regulating synthetic opioids as controlled substances. Previously, the drugs were essentially legal to manufacture, and some companies even received tax breaks and other subsidies from Beijing as chemical exporters. The new rules appear to be having the desired effect: U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows fentanyl seizures in the mail fell to 143 pounds in the last fiscal year, a 45% drop from 2018.

Fentanyl is now pouring into the U.S. from Mexico, where the Sinaloa cartel and other criminal groups have established production. Mr. Yue said he had at least one customer in Mexico, a country, he observed, where “money can do anything.”

Mr. Yue shared parts of his personal life, including his love of NBA basketball and LeBron James. He told us he grew up in a poor family in a small village in Shandong province, about 400 miles northwest of Shanghai. He earned a master’s degree in biology and began working at a chemical factory, but it wasn’t enough for his family. “They have a lot of expectations,” he said.

He stumbled into the drug trade, he said, because he needed money. He made contacts online and started to build up his business, but the government crackdown on fentanyl was hurting his bottom line. He was too afraid to risk selling it anymore.

“I can’t touch it,” he said. “Yes, fentanyl can bring money, but I can’t touch it. I lost many opportunities to make big money.”

Mr. Yue reiterated recently that he was quitting the fentanyl business because it was too risky. His site still listed synthetic opioids for sale, though he claimed it simply hadn’t been updated in awhile. He said he’d moved on to other products in high demand in the U.S., including reagents for coronavirus testing kits and N95 respirator masks.

“I can’t believe there are still so many Americans hanging around in the streets and with nothing on their face,” he said. “How can they be so stupid?”

Listen to the entire series “Painkiller: America’s Fentanyl Crisis” for free on Spotify now.

Cover: VICE News Tonight/VICE TV. Animation by Jeremy Sengly.

As local news crumbles, should the federal government intervene?

Columbia Journalism Review - 13 hours 10 min ago
Journalism is just one of the industries hard-hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic. While we reimagine journalism’s structures and funding models, what role might the government play in intervening to support the role of a functioning press—not just someday, but now?  In a new report published by the Hussman School of Journalism and […]

China escalates its threats to Hong Kong’s free press

Columbia Journalism Review - 13 hours 45 min ago

A little over a week ago, China unveiled and immediately implemented a draconian new law cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong. Its first full day in effect—July 1, which marked the twenty-third anniversary of Britain restoring Hong Kong to Chinese control—ought to have been marked by massive pro-democracy protests; thousands of people did take to the streets, but faced water cannons, pepper spray, and mass arrests, including under the new law. (Among those detained: a 15-year-old with a pro-independence flag.) As Vivian Wang and Alexandra Stevenson reported for the New York Times last week, the enacting of the law also led to self-censorship: activists deleted social-media accounts; writers asked at least one news website to remove their old posts. “We are being paranoid,” Albert Wan, who owns an independent bookstore, told the Times. “I don’t know how else to put it.” Since Wan said that, books by pro-democracy leaders have been pulled from public libraries, pending a “review.”

As is often the case with speech restrictions, the new law is broad and vague. Nominally, it criminalizes “secession,” “subversion,” “terrorism,” and “collusion” with foreign powers; in practice, observers fear that it gives China’s ruling Communist Party a pretext to ban activity that it doesn’t like. On the mainland, one such activity is independent journalism; Hong Kong, by contrast, has traditionally been a beachhead for free reporting, with a vibrant local press and a heavy presence of international news organizations. Now journalists in the territory fear a retrenchment. Before the law was enacted, almost all of the respondents to a poll conducted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association said that they expected it to affect press freedom, and a strong majority said that it made them either very or somewhat afraid for their personal safety. Sure enough, the law as enacted contains provisions that will regulate news outlets and impose limits on their reporting, including their access to court proceedings. Technically, Reporters Without Borders writes, the law can be used to threaten journalists writing about Hong Kong from anywhere in the world. According to The Guardian, foreign freelancers who have been covering the protests in Hong Kong are thinking about leaving, and local outlets are seeking to clarify whether they’re still allowed to quote pro-independence slogans; in a tweet last week, RTHK, a public broadcaster, rendered “Liberate Hong Kong” as “L*******#HongKong.” According to the Financial Times, one unnamed outlet already started rejecting sensitive content.

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The law contains provisions specific to foreign media working in Hong Kong. (This comes, of course, in the context of a tit-for-tat between the US and China over press registration and access; in March, China expelled American journalists working for the Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal from the mainland, and banned their employers from reassigning them to Hong Kong.) China has established a new national-security bureau in Hong Kong which, among other things, will oversee “the management of and services for” foreign news agencies. On Friday, we learned that the bureau will be headed by Zheng Yanxiong, a Party official from Guangdong province, which neighbors Hong Kong, who has a background in propaganda and crushing dissent. In 2011, during a local uprising which garnered significant international attention, Zheng was recorded saying that “foreign media can be trusted when pigs can climb trees.” The Journal’s Chun Han Wong reports that Zheng was involved in suppressing critical newspapers in Guangdong. Wu Qiang, an expert in Chinese politics, told the Journal that Zheng is expected to “impose stricter controls over press and speech freedoms in Hong Kong.”

What might that look like? Jodi Schneider, a Bloomberg editor who heads the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, told the Post recently that she expects Beijing to place limits on the number of Western correspondents allowed to work in the territory. Bill Bishop, who writes the newsletter Sinocism, says he expects visa accreditation to become more complicated. Gady Epstein, China affairs editor at The Economist, even speculated, to Axios, that international outlets that use Hong Kong as a regional hub might decamp for Tokyo, Singapore, or Taiwan.

Journalists working in Hong Kong are no strangers to restrictions on press freedom. The territory’s media climate has deteriorated in recent years—in 2002, it ranked 18th on Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index; now it ranks 80th. (The 2020 index lists 180 countries and territories worldwide. The US ranks 45th; China ranks 177th.) Figures linked to the Chinese government have expanded their ownership of local outlets, allowing Beijing to manipulate coverage from afar. In 2018, Victor Mallet, then Asia editor at the Financial Times, was expelled from Hong Kong, after he chaired an event with a pro-independence activist. Journalists faced official harassment while covering pro-democracy protests in 2014, then again last summer; a year ago, Clarence Leung wrote for CJR that police routinely assaulted reporters at the protests, and that 2019 was shaping up to be the worst year for Hong Kong media since the territory was returned to China, in 1997. In February this year, police arrested Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media mogul, on charges including “illegal assembly”; last month, officials charged two reporters, Ma Kai-chung and Wong Ka-ho, with “rioting” after they covered the occupation of a legislative building.

Still, the new law marks a clear escalation of these trends, and could be a grim turning point for journalism in Hong Kong. Yesterday, Charles Ho, a Chinese government adviser who also owns a media company in Hong Kong, told the Financial Times that foreign reporters could be expelled from the territory should they “cross the line” in their coverage of the independence movement. (“If you promote Hong Kong independence of course they will kick you out,” Ho said. “Don’t do any fake news, that’s the most important.”) Stevenson, of the New York Times, shared the interview on Twitter. Ho’s warning, she wrote, “doesn’t mean it will happen. But [the] fact that it’s acceptable to talk about curbs on free speech says a lot about how things are changing.”

Below, more on China, Hong Kong, and international press freedom:

  • A reckoning for big tech: On Monday, Facebook, Twitter, and Google all said they would halt compliance with government requests for data on users in Hong Kong while they assess the implications of the new law. (TikTok, a video app which is owned by a Chinese company but is not available in mainland China, said it would remove its app from use in Hong Kong completely.) Authorities in Hong Kong have threatened that tech companies’ staffers could be imprisoned should data requests go unfulfilled. Paul Mozur writes, for the Times, that tech giants are on “the front line in a global fight between the United States and China over censorship, surveillance and the future of the internet.”
  • A growth area: Sara Fischer reports, for Axios, that outlets in the US are increasingly looking to invest in coverage of China, its economy, and its relationship with the US, despite mounting restrictions such as the Hong Kong security law. In May, Politico launched a new China newsletter that the site says has established itself as a top-performing product. And The Information is launching a Chinese-language tech newsletter that will be anchored by Yunan Zhang, a reporter based in Hong Kong.
  • Stifling dissent: On Monday, police in Beijing arrested Xu Zhangrun, a law professor who has sharply criticized the Chinese government, on charges that he solicited prostitutes. In a series of essays that he started in 2018, Xu condemned Chinese President Xi Jinping’s moves to consolidate power.
  • Meanwhile, in Russia: Yesterday, officials in Russia arrested Ivan Safronov, a former journalist who was advising the country’s space agency, on treason charges; he stands accused of leaking classified intelligence to another country. Throughout the day, journalists held single-person demonstrations in Moscow to express solidarity with Safronov. At least eight of them—including Elena Chernenko and Kristina Dyuryagina, of Kommersant, and Olga Churakova, of Proekt—were arrested. Meduza has more.
  • Meanwhile, in Poland: Voters in Poland will elect a new president on Sunday. In recent days, the incumbent, Andrzej Duda, who is running for reelection, has waged public attacks against German media companies, including Axel Springer, and accused them of trying to interfere in the election. On Monday, Duda and his opponent, Rafał Trzaskowski, appeared on separate TV networks after they failed to reach agreement on a presidential debate. Jan Cienski has more for Politico.


Other notable stories:

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COVID-19 Could Lead to Brain Damage, Scientists Warn

VICE News - 13 hours 59 min ago

Today, researchers at University College London (UCL) warned that COVID-19 can lead to various types of brain damage.

A study conducted at UCL found 43 cases where people who had contracted coronavirus had suffered strokes, nerve damage, temporary brain dysfunction or other serious effects on the brain. The study chimes with reports from April of people in their thirties and forties suffering strokes more commonly associated with people in their mid-seventies.

UCL's Michael Zandi, who co-led the study, said, "Whether we will see an epidemic on a large scale of brain damage linked to the pandemic – perhaps similar to the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s, after the 1918 influenza pandemic – remains to be seen."

READ: In Photos: Melbourne's Iron-Fisted Housing Estate Lockdown

Ross Paterson from London's Research Centre for Machine Learning, who also co-led the study, added, "Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause. Doctors need to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."

The news comes as the World Health Organisation admits there is "evidence emerging" that coronavirus could be transmitted through air. After months of maintaining that the virus is mostly spread by droplets – released in sneezes and coughs – falling to the floor, at a briefing on Tuesday the WHO's COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said the potential of airborne transmission "cannot be ruled out". However, she did add that more evidence needs to be "gathered and interpreted".

This acknowledgment follows an open letter written by 239 scientists from 32 countries, urging the WHO to update its information on how the virus can be transmitted.

Facebook Just Failed Its First Ever Civil Rights Audit

VICE News - 14 hours 6 min ago

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Facebook’s repeated failures to address the rampant hate speech and misinformation on its platform have left the 2020 presidential election wide open to interference by President Donald Trump, according to a scathing new report.

A 100-page civil rights audit published Wednesday morning lays bare Facebook’s failings, and the auditors conclude that Facebook’s failure “to grasp the urgency” of the situation will have “direct and consequential implications“ on the U.S. presidential elections in November.

Two years ago, Facebook bowed to pressure from activist groups around the world and agreed to an audit of how the company deals with civil rights issues such as hate speech, election interference, and misinformation.

Now the report is ready, and the findings are not good.

The authors highlight a two-tiered system in which Trump’s Facebook comments about the security of mail-in ballots and his threats to protesters are left unmoderated even though they violate the company’s own policies on hate speech and misinformation.

“Facebook has made policy and enforcement choices that leave our election exposed to interference by the President and others who seek to use misinformation to sow confusion and suppress voting,” the report says.

The social media giant has also repeatedly failed to adequately address the concerns raised by rights groups about hate speech and misinformation targeting minorities and religious groups, the audit found. And despite its many public promises to do better, it has repeatedly failed to actually do better.

The audit was conducted by lawyers and civil rights experts Laura Murphy and Megan Cacace, and their 100-page report describes a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” at Facebook, on everything from bias in the company’s algorithms to its content moderation.

“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real-world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the report states.

Facebook has faced criticism from civil rights groups for years for the company’s inability to deal with hate speech and misinformation targeting minorities and religious groups. But the audit is the first time the scale of the problem facing CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been laid bare for everyone to see.

In recent months, Zuckerberg has championed free speech on his network rather than focusing on protecting minority groups. His support of free expression was most clearly seen in his decision not to take down or flag incendiary comments from Trump, who threatened Black Lives Matter protesters in a Facebook post

Facebook said at the time it left the post untouched because it didn’t violate its Violence and Incitement policies, which allow leaders to post about government use of force if the message is intended as a warning.

But rather than creating a level playing field, the result of Zuckerberg’s policies is a two-tier system where ordinary users are treated differently to politicians, a situation that could have dire effects on the outcome of the November election, the auditors warned.

“When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices,” the report says. “Facebook has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression. With less than five months before a presidential election, it confounds the auditors as to why Facebook has failed to grasp the urgency.”

The auditors also warn that the structure of the platform is radicalizing users, by amplifying extreme viewpoints that affirmed and entrenched people’s pre-existing beliefs.

“Facebook should do everything in its power to prevent its tools and algorithms from driving people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism, and that the company must recognize that failure to do so can have dangerous (and life-threatening) real-world consequences.”

One of the areas the auditor highlighted as a major concern was anti-Muslim hate speech, pointing out that Facebook directed users to increasingly dangerous posts promoting white nationalism.

“Facebook is enabling violence and genocide against Muslims,” Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates said of the report’s findings on the group’s website.

“We don’t have time for more empty promises and futile data collection exercises. We need action. Facebook must, finally, take responsibility for the hate it has unleashed on the world.”

READ: Facebook censored an account copying Trump's words for inciting violence

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post that Facebook would not be implementing all of the auditors’ recommendations.

While we won’t make every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice. We have started to do that — and we are making new commitments today.” Sandberg did not specify what those new commitments were.

But the auditors point out that Facebook has a long history of making big promises about addressing hate speech and misinformation, but has repeatedly failed to follow through with concrete changes.

“With each success, the auditors became more hopeful that Facebook would develop a more coherent and positive plan of action that demonstrated, in word and deed, the company’s commitment to civil rights. Unfortunately, in our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal,” the report says.

READ: Facebook’s ad problem just turned Into a full-blown crisis

That was the case on Tuesday, when Zuckerberg and Sandberg and other Facebook executives met with representatives of a coalition of civil rights groups who have organized the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which has resulted in more than 1,000 companies pulling their ads from Facebook for the month of July.

In the meeting, which took place on Zoom and lasted about an hour, campaigners outlined a list of 10 improvements they wanted Facebook to make. While the company did agree to hire a top executive with a civil rights background, the activists complained that the company was simply rolling out “its powerful PR machine and trying to spin the news.

“It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team is not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform,” the campaign said in a statement after the meeting.

Cover: In this Oct. 23, 2019 file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Trump’s Sister Thought His ‘Blatant Racism’ Would Stop Him From Becoming President, Book Says

VICE News - July 7, 2020 - 12:07pm

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, has a lot to say about her brother in private, according to a new book by the president’s niece, Mary Trump.

And it’s scathing.

“He’s a clown,” Maryanne is quoted saying, according to a copy of the book reviewed by VICE News. Maryanne dismisses his then-burgeoning presidential campaign in 2015 as preposterous, saying: “This will never happen.”

And that’s just for starters. Maryanne is depicted as reacting with outrage and anger at Donald’s antics on the campaign trail in private conversations with Mary. One passage notes how, as a candidate, Donald Trump began to reference his brother Fred Jr.’s struggles with alcoholism “to burnish his anti-addiction bona fides,” the book says.

“He’s using your father’s memory for political purposes,” Maryanne is quoted as telling Mary. “And that’s a sin.”

Mary Trump’s book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” takes direct aim at her uncle and the psychological origins of his “bizarre and self-defeating behavior.”

Her book traces the roots of his “fatal flaws” and “pathologies” through his family history. She focuses on Donald Trump’s damaging relationship with his parents, including “my grandfather’s sociopathy and my grandmother’s illnesses, both physical and psychological.”

Mary Trump bases her analysis on her insider position as a family member as well as her training as a clinical psychologist — and she hammers her uncle as utterly unqualified for the presidency and the challenges he now faces.

In several passages she depicts Maryanne as sharing in her negative assessments.

“We talked about how his reputation as a faded reality star and failed businessman would doom his run,” Mary writes about one private conversation with her aunt. “‘Does anybody even believe the bullshit that he’s a self-made man? What has he even accomplished on his own?’ I asked.”

“‘Well,’ Maryanne said, as dry as the Sahara, ‘he has five bankruptcies.’”

The book recounts Maryanne and Mary agreeing that the “blatant racism” displayed by Donald Trump in the infamous speech announcing his presidential campaign “would be a deal-breaker.” That was in 2015, when Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and said Mexico’s “not sending their best.”

But according to the book, when Trump’s campaign failed to crater, Maryanne reacted with outrage.

“White evangelicals started endorsing him,” Mary Trump writes. “Maryanne, a devout Catholic ever since her conversion five decades earlier, was incensed. ‘What the fuck is wrong with them?’ she said. ‘The only time Donald went to church was when the cameras were there. He has no principles. None!”

Mary Trump’s book is currently scheduled to be released on July 14, but is still subject to a legal dispute in the state of New York in which Donald Trump’s brother Robert Trump is suing to stop publication.

Last week an appellate court judge overturned a temporary restraining order against the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, saying the publishing company isn't bound by the author's non-disclosure agreement.

Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during the Salute to America event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, July 4, 2020. (Photo: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Is Racism a Mental Illness?

VICE News - July 7, 2020 - 11:00am

On The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992, Jane Elliott, the educator known for teaching students about prejudice by biasing them against blue or brown eyes, came to an incisive conclusion about racism.

"What we're dealing with here is mental illness," she said. Members of the audience started clapping. "Racism is a mental illness. If you judge other people by the color of their skin, by the amount of a chemical in their skin, you have a mental problem. You are not dealing well with reality.”

This grainy television clip has been recirculating on social media due to the explosion of online advocacy from the current Black Lives Matter protests. Google searches for “racism is a mental illness” have spiked to a level unseen over the last 10 years, and on Twitter, many have declaratively shared the sentiment. The belief that someone isn't your equal because of the way they look must mean that person's brain isn't working correctly, these people are saying; they are ill.

But the comparison of racism to mental illness is a fraught one. Disability and mental health advocates push back strongly against the association, saying that racism is a choice, while mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are not. Calling racism a mental illness perpetuates the stigma around mental illnesses, and continues the practice of using mental health language in a derogatory way. (Think calling situations or people you don't like "crazy" or "insane.") The impulse to attribute racist acts and hate crimes to mental illness also conflates mental illness and violence, even though most mentally ill people do not engage in violent acts and are at most risk of harming themselves, not to others.

The push to define racism as a mental illness is decades old, though, and originally came from mental health providers. In 1969, a group of prominent Black psychiatrists petitioned the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to add extreme bigotry to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the handbook of mental disorders, now in its 5th edition. Their petition was rejected.

The APA's reason for rejection reveals something about the underlying desire for racism to be designated as a sickness. For something to be considered a mental illness, it must deviate from typical thinking or behavior, and cause disruption and distress to a person's life. The APA said that racism was, in contrast, so widespread that it was a cultural issue, not a psychopathology. Racism is too common, in other words, to be an illness.

Asking whether extreme racism is a mental illness often goes along with trying to understand extremely racist acts. How is anyone to make sense of white police officers tackling a 23-year-old Elijah McClain to the ground, putting him in a carotid hold, as he cried, vomited, said that he couldn't breathe, and pleaded to go to his home nearby? Or two white men in New Jersey, part of the All Lives Matter counter-movement to Black Lives Matter, re-enacting George Floyd's death with one pinning the other to the ground under his knee as Black Lives Matter protesters marched by? Or the nooses hung in trees and in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR, at the Talladega Superspeedway?

By not calling racism a mental illness, does that mean we accept these acts of racism as normal human behavior? If racism is not a sickness, why is it so hard to get extremely racist people to change their minds? Doesn't their refusal mean that their beliefs are not opinions, but delusions?

These are complex questions. Racism exists on a spectrum, from extreme racist beliefs and hate crimes to the prejudices all white people have and need to reckon with. Delusions involving race can also be a symptom of other psychotic disorders; their placement in the DSM is not up for debate.

When asking whether racism should be considered a mental illness, it's worth asking another question: Would framing racism as such help us fight racism? One of the reasons we have diagnostic categories for mental illness is so that we can try to treat those illnesses. If racism was thought of as a mental illness, would it help efforts to make the world a less racist place, or make them harder?

In 1965, psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint went to Jackson, Mississippi to provide mental health treatment to civil rights workers and desegregate hospitals. While there, he said, he experienced the extreme racism that he would later try to have added to the DSM. "It was ever-present and it was a kind of state of terror," he said.

Even when talking to other doctors, trying to explain why hospitals should be desegregated, he encountered prejudice and bigotry. The white doctors would resist, saying they believed it was best if Black people remained segregated in the healthcare system and had separate facilities.

"I felt it was like a mental disturbance, because you couldn’t reason with people over it," Poussaint said. "I began to appreciate how deep it went, in terms of denying the humanity of Black people."

To him, this was reminiscent of a delusion. "No matter what you tell a person who is delusional—that their belief system makes no sense and is irrational—they still feel that Black people are inferior no matter what you show them," he said. "That's a delusion. That's a fixed belief system."

Poussaint has always made a distinction between everyday racism and extreme racism, the latter of which he thinks should be classified as a mental disorder. “Extreme racism is when someone gets genocidal and wants to kill. That’s beyond being normal,” he said. “Some of the people who object to it being called a mental disorder say, ‘Well, it's just learned behavior.' It's a learned behavior to want to exterminate people because of their skin color? Not to my way of thinking.”

He thinks cases like 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, are in this category.

Psychiatrist Carl Bell, who died in 2019, also viewed racism as a mental illness, but more akin to a personality disorder. He thought people with narcissistic personality disorder might be more predisposed to racism than others. In 2004, he wrote that people with paranoid disorders or had trauma inflicted upon them by other groups could also have racist thoughts or behaviors that are explained by those psychological disruptions. “These are all legitimate scientific questions that we as psychiatrists should be willing to test and answer,” he wrote.

"They still feel that Black people are inferior no matter what you show them. That's a delusion."

If racism is a mental illness, it pushes the problem onto white people, Poussaint said. It acknowledges there’s something wrong in the way they’re thinking and feeling, and relieves Black people of the feeling that if they could act differently, then white people would stop being racist against them.

“Early in my career, even in college, I felt that if I was a perfect person, I could cure white people of their racism, and that's not where it's at,” Poussaint said. “It's not rational. You can’t undo it by being a good person and being intelligent and dressing properly. That's such a psychological burden on black people. It's part of the notion that racism is curable in that way. You can drive yourself nuts doing that.”

Although the APA never added racism to the DSM, people have continued giving racism clinical-sounding names, like prejudice personality, intolerant personality disorder, and pathological bias. And Poussaint has continued to advocate for thinking about racism as a mental illness since then, despite the APA's position.

“Right now, there is a normalcy to it," Poussaint said. "It's a disorder among many, many people indoctrinated with the culture of insanity of slavery and Jim Crow." He thinks classifying it as a mental illness would help to fix that. "Doing so says it's a disturbance that interferes with your well-being and is an impairment.”

Trying to understand racism as a mental illness goes back to the 1930s, when people tried to grapple with the extreme prejudices and behaviors of the Nazis, said James Thomas, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi and co-author of the book Are Racists Crazy? But a medical model of racism couldn't fully explain people's behaviors.

When covering the trials of the Nazis, Hannah Arendt wrote in The New Yorker about Adolf Eichmann, one of the top officials responsible for the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Arendt was unsettled to find that "half a dozen psychiatrists had certified Eichmann as ‘normal,’” she wrote. ‘“More normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him,’ one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another had found that Eichmann’s whole psychological outlook, including his relationship with his wife and children, his mother and father, his brothers and sisters and friends, was ‘not only normal but most desirable.’”

Sander Gilman, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University and the other co-author of Are Racists Crazy?, said that the urge to deem racism a mental illness comes from a wish to place it outside the scope of typical human behavior, when it is not.

“It’s a beautiful argument," he said. "I wish it were true, because what it says is that normal people like you and me should never kill people in Auschwitz. The reality is normal people regularly killed people in Auschwitz. They had so dehumanized the people they were killing that they weren’t human beings anymore. That was not mental illness, that was evil, because people could make choices. When we start to talk about ‘normal’ activity, that includes bad acts."

In other words, normal is not a synonym for “good" or "just." “I wish it were,” he said. "But it's just not."

Gilman said that people who have serious mental illness sometimes incorporate racist tropes into their delusions because delusions can mirror or be similar to the societies that people live in. If a person with schizophrenia disorder is treated successfully, it can help get rid of paranoid delusions, including racist ones. To Gilman, that means that schizophrenia was the underlying condition, not racism.

The attempt to medicalize racism, Thomas said, can distract from the fact that racism is a systemic issue, not just an individual one. “It reflects a shift in thinking about racism as something that is interior to the self, compared to how we probably should think about racism as something that is structural and embedded.”

He drew an analogy to police reform in a 2016 Washington Post article. There are proposals to try and improve individual officers' prejudices through implicit bias training, for example. But this focusing on “treating” individuals ignores the larger, systemic issues that allow the police to act in racist ways overall, like “the increasing militarization of police departments, lack of oversight by law enforcement senior officials, and an approach to policing that often rewards unprovoked harassment rather than building community trust."

He worries that focusing too much on the individual can ignore the context in which that person exists, which has a huge impact. When Lindsey Graham defended the choice to fly the confederate flag in South Carolina, saying "It works here," critics said that it perpetuated the extreme beliefs of white supremacists, like Roof. Graham waved this off. “It’s him,” he said, referring to Roof. “Not the flag.”

In July 2011, Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway by detonating a car bomb that killed eight and then shooting 69 others. When he stood for an insanity trial, psychiatrists disagreed about whether or not he had mental illness-related delusions. In a manifesto, he had written that he believed himself to be a “Knight Templar” whose mission was to cleanse Norway of immigrants. But he didn't have hallucinations or impaired cognition—symptoms of schizophrenia and related disorders. The Norwegian court decided that since his extremist beliefs were shared by other right-wing groups in Norway, they were not delusions, and they didn't let him plead insanity.

This may be one way of understanding extreme racism, as both a psychological aberration, but not an official illness—as an “extreme overvalued belief.” This term is starting to be applied by some clinicians and forensic psychiatrists to extremist beliefs, like Breivik's, that are distinct from psychotic delusions or obsessions, and held by conspiracy theorists or religious cults.

According to the DSM-5, delusions are “fixed, false” beliefs, which are not shared with others. An overvalued idea is different because it is shared by others in someone's culture or subculture. Unlike obsessions, another form of delusional-seeming thoughts, people don’t resist or fight them off. They embrace them.

These rigidly held, non-delusional beliefs "are the motive behind most acts of terrorism and mass shootings,” wrote Washington University in St. Louis forensic psychiatrist Tahir Rahman in a 2018 paper. They are "often relished, amplified, and defended by the possessor of the belief," Rahman and his colleagues wrote in a paper from this year. "Over time, the belief grows more dominant, more refined, and more resistant to challenge."

Rahman compared it to acquiring a taste for food over the course of one's life. "How do you get to liking rare steak versus well done steak or medium steak?" he said. "You don't just wake up one morning and decide. These beliefs and behaviors are shaped slowly through time and through your encounters with the environment."

Such beliefs can take root in anyone, not just people with mental illnesses.

“Overvalued ideas” were first described by German neurologist Carl Wernicke in 1892. But one significant change since then is the access to online information that can easily expose a person to extremist information that agrees with their belief. It’s much easier now for fringe ideas to find company online, wrote Joe Pierre, a psychiatrist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

Extreme overvalued ideas might be partially explained by cognitive distortions like “all-or-none thinking, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, magnification and minimization, and personalization,” Pierre wrote. Other cognitive biases like confirmation bias, where people only seek out information that confirms their beliefs, and the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people are overconfident in areas where they have the least expertise, can perpetuate and strengthen false, extreme beliefs.

Rahman called for more research on the non-delusional beliefs seen in cults, mass suicides, terrorism, and online radicalization, given that violence can often stem from them and that we don't yet know the best way to intervene. What is clear is that such beliefs can take root in anyone, not just people with mental illnesses.

"What on the surface appears to be a mental disorder from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder may actually be a shared belief which, which anyone can develop," Rahman said. "And that is the scary part to me."

The DSM has been criticized for being a collection of observed symptoms, and not effective and delineating and understanding the underlying disorders that cause those symptoms. What is the use of having such a manual, in which mental illnesses are distinguished from one another? It's so we can try to help the people with those illnesses, as crude as our diagnoses may be.

Calling racism a mental illness, and thereby treating it like one, is licensed social worker April Harter's approach. Her private practice is called the Racism Recovery Center. She said she’s seen the same psychological defenses crop up in people who are racist, and thinks that treating racism as narcissism and trauma can help to eradicate it.

“When you have individuals that struggle with narcissism and then they create laws and policies and educate and are in charge of school boards and they create these policies,” she said, “that's what institutional racism actually is.”

If people want to go to therapy for their racist attitudes, Thomas said, no one should stand in the way of them doing that. He thinks such therapy can help people think about what it means to be racist and live in a world where they benefit from privilege. “If we think that that is a policy intervention, that's where I have serious misgivings,” he said.

Danielle Jackson, a general psychiatry and behavioral health resident at Yale University specializing in structural racism and health equity, feels the opposite. “I’m of the camp of feeling very strongly that it should not be added to the DSM,” she said. “That is based on looking at the history of racism, and the effects of systemic racism that have been basically ingrained into the fabric of America since the beginning of the establishment of chattel slavery.”

If racism was officially designated as a mental illness, there could be other consequences too. "Could someone claim to be disabled from work because of racism and only be allowed to work in certain settings?" said Damon Tweedy, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University. "I don't think the system could contain a diagnosis of 'racism' in the way that its advocates would hope."

Jackson said that if racism was added to the DSM, she would be concerned that people would try to use their diagnosis as a legal defense when charged with hate crimes. Already, because of racism, mental illness is more likely to be given as an explanation for violence by white people than people of color. This might mean we need to be extra careful about allowing mental illness as a defense.

In 2015, researchers asked white Americans about two mass shootings: the Virginia Tech shooting, where the gunman was a South Korean immigrant, and Columbine, where the shooters were both white Americans. When asked about Columbine, the participants were more likely to attribute the shooting to mental illness. In contrast, when asked about Virginia Tech, people thought that the shooting was related to the shooter’s identity.

A formalized connection between racism and mental illness when convenient is easily exploited, as famous cases of celebrities show.

In 2006, the actor Michael Richards called hecklers “n------” while performing at a West Hollywood comedy club. His publicist said in a statement that Richards would seek “psychiatric help.” In June 2013, an NFL football player Riley Cooper, was caught on video saying “I will jump that fence and fight every n----- in here, bro!” Cooper's statement promised he would seek help from “a variety of professionals."

When Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, an Obama administration advisor—leading ABC to cancel the reboot of her television show—Jimmy Kimmel also referred to Barr's mental health, writing in a tweet: "What [Roseanne] said is indefensible, but angrily attacking a woman who is obviously not well does no good for anyone. Please take a breath and remember that mental health issues are real. The Roseanne I know could probably use some compassion and help right now."

“I think that making racism a medical diagnosis would do nothing but provide a crutch to someone who had perpetrated a crime,” Jackson said. “So that people like the former officers who murdered George Floyd or the neighborhood vigilantes that murdered Ahmaud Arbery would then be able to look for something like that as part of their defense. And that to me is sickening.”

Extreme racist beliefs, while confusing, upsetting, and wrong, can't be understood only as mental illness. These beliefs come from a hodgepodge of societal influences, cultural reassurances, cognitive biases, and a strong motivational desire to keep things at the status quo.

There is one area, however, in which there is no debate on the relationship between racism and mental health—the detrimental health effects of racism on its victims. In a recent essay in Vogue, psychologist Samantha Rennalls wrote about how in light of the current protests, she has both been hopeful and also tired, reminded of the depth of the injustice she’s faced on a daily basis. "Racial trauma," she wrote, "takes its toll on the Black body and soul."

If calling racism a mental illness was helpful, Jackson said, she would feel differently. Instead she thinks it’s actively harmful, and gets in the way of the anti-racism work on a societal level that needs to be done—the work that will actually benefit the people who suffer from racism.

“I don’t think [calling racism a mental illness] gives you access to any more tools to becoming an anti-racist,” she said. “The work of being a racist, embracing anti-racism, and embracing social justice and equity for everyone in this country is hard individual work that folks have to do. But you also have to be committed to learning about the system in order to learn how to help do the system.”

Even Jane Elliott might agree. Despite her stance on racism as a mental illness, she was an advocate for early-intervention education on race, and believed that racism was far from being "normal"—that it was, instead, taught to us throughout our lives.

On the same Oprah segment that's recently gone viral, moments before her claim about mental illness, Elliott said, “I heard somebody in the break room say that racism is inbred. No, it is not. Racism is not part of the human condition. Racism is a learned response you have to be taught to be a racist you are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it.”

Follow Shayla Love on Twitter .

China's Great Firewall of Censorship Is Already Going Up Around Hong Kong

VICE News - July 7, 2020 - 9:50am

TikTok is pulling out.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Zoom have all said they will stop complying with government orders to hand over data — a move that will likely see them blocked.

And on Tuesday the government in Hong Kong was granted sweeping powers to censor, block, and erase online content while secretly tracking your digital footprints.

It's been less than a week since Beijing’s draconian new national security law came into effect, but already Hong Kong’s online world has been altered dramatically.

“We are already behind the de facto firewall,” said Charles Mok, a lawmaker representing the technology sector, tweeted.

For ordinary citizens, the new rules have rendered them silent. Social media accounts and WhatsApp groups are being erased, with many fearing that Beijing will use what they say online against them.

And this is exactly what Beijing wanted.

“The damage has already been done in terms of self-censorship,” one of the co-founders of GreatFire.org, an organization that tracks China's online censorship, told VICE News, using the pseudonym Charlie Smith. “Beijing's actions in Hong Kong have successfully created a climate of fear. You don't need a billion-dollar censorship apparatus when nothing is being said.”

Tech giants face a choice

On Tuesday, TikTok, the Chinese video app that U.S. President Donald Trump is considering banning, said it would remove its apps from app stores later this week “in light of recent events.”

The impact of TikTok’s withdrawal, which has only a small presence in Hong Kong, will be limited, but it follows Facebook’s decision to temporarily pause processing government requests for user data, a move it announced Monday alongside other U.S. tech giants like Twitter, Google, and Microsoft.

Apple says it is “assessing” the situation, noting that it doesn’t get requests directly from the Hong Kong government.

The companies have made these decisions in the wake of the national security law that came into force late last Tuesday, just hours after it had first been made public.

“The Hong Kong government could have ensured careful, independent control and oversight of police powers touching upon national security,” Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now, wrote in a statement. “Instead, they have granted police and government authorities wide powers in Hong Kong to censor online speech, shut down platforms, seize electronic records, and order communications surveillance — absent safeguards required by international human rights law and disregarding the legal standards which Hong Kong was otherwise known for.”

Remove, block, and seize

In a 116-page document, the Chinese government laid out the ways in which it would erode Hong Kong’s free internet.

The new law gives police sweeping power and implementation rules revealed late on Monday night show that police can order social media platforms, publishers and internet service providers to remove content they decide is endangering national security or is likely to cause such an offense to occur.

They can also block entire platforms without any judicial oversight or approval.

The new rules also allow police to seize electronic devices without a warrant in “exceptional circumstances” — which have not been defined.

Any company that does not comply completely with these orders will face fines of up to HK$100,000 ($12,903). But more worrying for the tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, who all have offices in Hong Kong, employees could face jail terms of up to six months.

“This new rule is effectively paving ways for stricter cyber controls.”

The new implementation rules sound the death knell to the city’s virtual community,” Joshua Wong, a high-profile pro-democracy activist, and student leader told VICE News over email. “Platforms, publishers, and internet service providers would be ordered to take down any messages that are accused of endangering national security. With fines and prison sentences, this new rule is effectively paving ways for stricter cyber controls.”

China has spent decades and billions of dollars building up its complex and highly advanced censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall, which keeps its citizens in the dark about controversial topics like the Tiananmen Square massacre.

For now in Hong Kong, the police are the ones who will oversee the new censorship rules, and they won’t have the resources to track every comment posted on social media, or the advanced automated systems in place in mainland China to monitor every single user.

But, because there is no way of knowing who is being tracked or what content will be punished, individuals will stop posting anything that could be deemed critical of the government in Beijing.

“People are becoming more cautious and vigilant about online expression. Most of the WhatsApp groups I'm in have switched to Signal, and that's exactly how the CCP wants the system to work,” Kong Tsung Gan, an activist living in the city, told VICE News. “The way the CCP works is that, since its rule is by definition arbitrary and it can do whatever it wants, it creates uncertainty among its subjects, and many choose to err on the side of caution. That's what the CCP's brought to Hong Kong with the national security law.”

Cover: Demonstrators in Hong Kong hold placards and a banner while chanting slogans demanding the end of one party rule in China on July 2, 2020. (Photo by Geovien So / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

The fight for COVID-19 data, and what the press can do with it

Columbia Journalism Review - July 7, 2020 - 7:11am

On Sunday, Richard A. Oppel Jr., Robert Gebeloff, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Will Wright, and Mitch Smith, of the New York Times, published the most comprehensive analysis we’ve yet seen of the racial disparities shaping the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The reporters analyzed 640,000 COVID cases across nearly 1,000 counties—counties that, taken together, comprise just over half of the total population of the US—through the end of May. Their findings were horrifying: across the map, from rural towns to big cities to the suburbs, Black and Latino people have been three times as likely as white people to contract COVID-19, and nearly twice as likely to be killed by it. In some counties, especially in Arizona, Native Americans have faced a much higher likelihood of infection. Asian people, meanwhile, have been 1.3 times as likely as white people to catch COVID.

We now have these figures only because the Times sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their release. Eventually, the CDC handed over data on 1.45 million cases, though more than half of the cases lacked adequate accompanying data on race, ethnicity, and/or location—apparently due to discrepancies in the way state and local officials first reported the data to the CDC—and so the Times left them out of its analysis. In other words, the best information we currently have about a problem of urgent national concern is incomplete, and wouldn’t be public at all were it not for a major newspaper’s legal and reportorial muscle.

ICYMI: The mystery of Tucker Carlson

That last depressing fact reflects a longer-term problem: since the early days of the pandemic, officials across the US, often citing privacy considerations, have withheld granular data that would illuminate various facets of the virus’s spread. As with the Times, many outlets—including the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer, in North Carolina; the Arizona Republic and four local TV stations, in Arizona; and the Bay Area News Group, in California—have sued local officials for data related to the pandemic, including, prominently, details of outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons. After the Miami Herald sued the state of Florida for information on COVID deaths in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, officials pressured the paper’s law firm to drop the case; eventually, the Herald, in concert with different lawyers and other news organizations, won out. Florida won early plaudits for putting detailed COVID data online, but as the Herald’s Ana Claudia Chacin and Mary Ellen Klas wrote last month, the state’s reporting has been incomplete and inconsistent. In May, Rebekah Jones, a state official responsible for maintaining the online data, alleged that she was fired for refusing to manipulate it; Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, accused Jones of “insubordination,” and said that she faces “cyber stalking” charges. In Georgia, officials wrongly reported declining case rates three times in as many weeks. Various states and the CDC were accused of massaging testing data to make themselves look more aware of viral spread than they actually were. The list goes on.

In the absence of consistent, reliable official statistics, journalists and researchers have worked tirelessly to try and fill the gap; writers at The Atlantic, for example, founded the COVID Tracking Project to build a more unified national picture of viral spread and surveillance. (In March, Emily Sohn profiled the project for CJR.) Others have gotten creative. Last week, NPR, working with academics at Harvard and elsewhere, calculated how many COVID tests the US, and each individual state, would need to run in order to mitigate current outbreaks, and how many they’d need to run to start suppressing viral transmission altogether—a more ambitious aim under which life could start return to “some semblance of normalcy.” According to their figures, the country as a whole would need to run 1 million daily tests to achieve mitigation, and 4.3 million daily tests to achieve suppression. (Yesterday, 518,000 tests were run nationally.) Texas, to pick a state at random, would need to run 117,000 daily tests for mitigation and 431,000 for suppression. As of last week, it was falling far short of both metrics.

Even the data we can access is messy, and there are legitimate scientific disagreements about how best to interpret it—for instance, Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, questioned the usefulness of NPR and Harvard’s calculations, and advocated a greater focus on the percentage of people testing positive, instead. But there are relatively simple ways in which the media can use the available data to keep our scrutiny as sharp as possible. One of those, as Nuzzo suggests, would be to focus more consistently on the percent-positive rate, which cuts through administration bluster about rising test counts. Another would be to take the figures from the NPR database and ask federal and state leaders—repeatedly, if needed—what concrete steps they’re taking to hit at least the daily rate that would be needed for mitigation; the scientific-usefulness debate aside, more testing definitely leads to more data, which should enable more informed news coverage. As I’ve written before, we would do well to conceive of testing as a freedom of information issue, as well as a scientific one. And we would do well to make officials answer to specific performance benchmarks, rather than generalized outrage. If those in charge say that more testing isn’t the best approach, we should at least try and make them explain why; if they say that more testing would help, we should hold them to hard targets.

And, as the Times and many other outlets have done already, we should keep pressuring the federal government and its state counterparts—be it legally or through the moral authority of our coverage—to release key COVID data, around racial disparities and so much more, that they are collecting but keeping private. As Andre M. Perry, of the Brookings Institution, told the Times for its recent data analysis story, “You need all this information so that public health officials can make adequate decisions. If they’re not getting this information, then municipalities and neighborhoods and families are essentially operating in the dark.” The same goes for the press.

Below, more on transparency and the pandemic:

  • PPP $$$: Yesterday, the federal government published data—that it originally said would remain confidential—naming businesses that benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program it initiated in the wake of the coronavirus. CNN’s Kerry Flynn tallied the media companies that showed up in the data: they include Forbes, Crain, the Daily Caller, Fortune, Washingtonian, Media Matters for America, Newsmax, Digiday, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, TV Guide, Los Angeles Magazine, New England Newspapers, TheSkimm, The Information, and Salon. The New York Observer, which used to be run by Jared Kushner and is still linked to his family, got a loan, as did businesses owned by members of Congress, and the Ayn Rand Institute. (The irony of that one was not lost on Twitter.)
  • Uncertainty for foreign students: Also yesterday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement published new guidelines stipulating that foreign college students may have to leave the US should their school move classes entirely online in the fall. (Other options include transferring to a school that’s still offering in-person tuition; NPR has more details.) The impact on journalism students, who typically do a lot of reporting work outside of the classroom, could be especially pronounced—and that’s before one factors in time differences and internet connectivity (H/t: Miriam Abaya).
  • A cover-up?: For the last five weeks, the British government has failed to release daily data on the number of individuals receiving COVID tests, having previously made that figure public. Yesterday, officials confirmed that they will not resume publishing that data. The government will still publish daily information on total tests administered, which officials say is a more accurate metric given that some people—hospital and nursing home staff, for example—get tested regularly. Opposition figures nonetheless accused the government of a cover-up. The Guardian has more.
  • Bad business news: Also in the UK, Reach, a publisher of national and local newspapers, intends to cut 550 jobs, or 12 percent of its workforce, The Guardian’s Jim Waterson reports. The company says that it has lost 27 percent of its revenue due to the pandemic. (As ever, for more on the pandemic’s impact on the news business in the US, check out CJR and the Tow Center’s Journalism Crisis Project, and subscribe to its weekly newsletter, written by Lauren Harris.)
  • Erm… good business news: Since the pandemic began, online sex-toy sales have spiked, and publishers that run advertisements for them are increasingly steering traffic to third-party sellers, Digiday’s Kayleigh Barber reports. BuzzFeed, which is one such publisher, “is even considering leaning further into this area by launching a new sex and love vertical to create a solidified destination for its audience to find sex toy product recommendations all in one place,” Barber writes.


Other notable stories:

  • In an introductory note to CJR’s new magazine on election coverage, Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher, writes that the context of the pandemic and the nationwide reckoning with racism grants reporters “an opportunity, unprecedented in the middle of a contested campaign, to reset how we work”; to “set aside superficial trivia and focus on systemic and institutional failures.” Also for the magazine, Stephania Taladrid profiles Univision. Daniel Morcate, the network’s chief newsroom editor, told Taladrid that balancing the pandemic and the election is likely to prove “our biggest challenge.”
  • Last week, Ken Doctor wrote, for Nieman Lab, that an unnamed nonprofit group might make a bid for McClatchy, the newspaper chain that filed for bankruptcy in February. (I explored the prospect here.) Yesterday, Doctor reported that the nonprofit was the Knight Foundation, and that it ultimately did not bid. Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund that is McClatchy’s biggest investor, is favorite to take over, though another hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, is also in contention. McClatchy is set to name a winner tomorrow.
  • Adam Rawnsley, of the Daily Beast, uncovered a network of fake “experts” on the Middle East who have collectively planted nearly 100 opinion pieces in nearly 50 outlets, including Newsmax, RealClear Markets, and the Washington Examiner. “The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon,” Rawnsley writes.
  • On Sunday, Fox News used an image of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, the Epstein associate who was arrested last week, from which Trump had been cropped out. (Melania Knauss, Trump’s then-future wife, was left in the frame.) Yesterday, Fox called that an “error,” and apologized. In other Fox News news, the network will now capitalize the adjectives “Black,” “White,” and “Brown” as they pertain to race and ethnicity.
  • Stuff, the largest newspaper group in New Zealand, is joining the global boycott of Facebook that has seen major advertisers pull away from the platform in protest of its lax record on hate speech. Stuff—which already stopped advertising on the platform following the Christchurch mosque shooting last year—will now “experiment” with ending all activity on Facebook and Instagram. The Guardian’s Eleanor Ainge Roy has more.
  • In 2018, Svetlana Prokopyeva, a freelance journalist in Russia, attributed blame to the state after an anarchist blew himself up on secret-police property. (No one else was killed.) Yesterday, a military court convicted Prokopyeva of “justifying terrorism,” and ordered a fine and the confiscation of her computer and phone. The Times has more.
  • And Dana Canedy, a former Times reporter who currently administers the Pulitzer Prizes, has been appointed publisher of Simon & Schuster’s namesake imprint. Canedy told Elizabeth A. Harris, of the Times, that the company first approached her in 2018. “I wouldn’t be taking this job if I thought [they] just wanted a Black publisher,” she said.

ICYMI: Spies, Lies, and Stonewalling: What It’s Like to Report on Facebook

Trump Is ‘Looking At’ Banning TikTok

VICE News - July 7, 2020 - 5:53am

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Trump is coming for your TikToks.

According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the administration is “looking at” the possibility of banning a range of Chinese apps, including the hugely popular video-sharing app.

TikTok, which was downloaded 315 million times in the first three months of the year, has long been a source of national security concern for U.S. politicians, and now the Trump administration says it’s seriously considering banning the app.

“We are taking this very seriously and we are certainly looking at it. With respect to Chinese apps on people's cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right,” Pompeo told Fox News on Monday night, in response to a question about banning TikTok and other apps. “I don't want to get out in front of the President, but it's something we're looking at.”

Speaking about Tiktok in particular, Pompeo said people should only download it “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based startup ByteDance, which responded to Pompeo’s comments on Tuesday morning by saying it has never shared any data with the Chinese government.

“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S.," a TikTok spokesperson told VICE News in response to Pompeo's comments. “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

TikTok has tried to distance itself from its parent company in recent months, appointing former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as CEO, in a bid to rebuild trust with regulators.

Tiktok says that all American users’ data is stored in servers in the U.S. with backups in Singapore, meaning that it is not subject to Chinese law. TikTok is not available in China, but ByteDance operates a separate app, Douyin, specifically for the Chinese market.

Last year the company ran into trouble when it locked the account of Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old user from New Jersey, who posted a makeup tutorial that contained stinging criticism of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

TikTok said the account was banned on account of a different video that violated its policies, adding that the removal of the viral video about Uighurs was removed due to a “human moderation error.”

TikTok has also been drawn into the wider U.S.-China tech war that has seen companies like Huawei and ZTE sanctioned over concerns that Beijing is using their equipment to spy on users around the world.

Last year, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a joint letter to acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, requesting the intelligence community conduct a security assessment of TikTok, which, they said, was one of a number of apps that “support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

But the U.S. is not the only country targeting TikTok. Last week India banned the app along with 58 other Chinese apps, as tensions between Delhi and Beijing grew over clashes along the Himalayan border.

A report last week suggested the ban in India, which is TikTok’s largest market, could cost ByteDance as much as $6 billion.

Cover: TikTok removed from Google Play store, App Store after India bans 59 Chinese apps on June 29, 2020 in Kolkata, India. (Photo by Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via AP)

Republicans Want to Kill the $600 Weekly Bonus for Unemployed Workers

VICE News - July 6, 2020 - 9:36am

WASHINGTON — When Congress gets back from its extended Fourth of July break, it will be careening towards an economic cliff — and Republicans don’t seem eager to hit the brakes.

Senate Republicans have refused to work seriously on the next round of legislation to deal with the ongoing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, insisting on waiting until they return on July 20 before negotiating the next COVID spending package.

That leaves Congress just days to negotiate another potentially massive spending package before some major programs run out. That includes the $600 per week in additional unemployment insurance that has helped keep millions of unemployed people out of poverty during the pandemic. It also leaves in limbo bailouts to state and local governments who have had gaping holes ripped in their budgets by the ongoing recession.

Many Republicans oppose the package in its current form because it pays out more money to some people than they were making in their jobs.

But some have signaled they’re onboard with a few aspects of Democrats’ HEROES Act, a massive $3 trillion proposal for the next round of coronavirus response that the House passed weeks ago. Republicans agree the federal government should boost funds for medical research, are open to some form of support for struggling state and local governments, and some have floated more direct payments to Americans to weather the economic crisis. But they also want liability protection to make it harder for people to sue businesses and individuals if they contract coronavirus.

“We have a lot of important features that all come to an end in July,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the White House’s point man on coronavirus negotiations, said during House testimony last Tuesday.

Lawmakers in both parties are operating on the assumption that they’ll pass something — it’d be a political and economic disaster for all involved if they don’t. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that he planned to wrap up the legislation before Congress heads out again on its annual August recess. But what Republicans are willing to actually pass remains a mystery.

Will Republicans end the $600-a-week unemployment benefit?

Senate Republicans have made it clear they have no plans to back a full renewal of the $600 per month across-the-board boost in unemployment, arguing that it’s slowing economic recovery by disincentivizing people from returning to work.

“Unemployment is extremely important and we need to make sure for those who are not able to recover their jobs, unemployment is adequate. That is a different issue from whether we ought to be able to pay people a bonus not to go back to work,” McConnell said Tuesday. “So I think that was a mistake. And we’re hearing it all over the country, that it has made it harder actually to get people back to work. But to have the base protections of unemployment insurance is extremely important and should be continued.”

McConnell didn’t make clear whether he backed some alternate or smaller federal boost to unemployment, or just wanted state unemployment insurance programs to handle it themselves. It remains unclear at this point what if any unemployment benefit expansion Republicans would be willing to accept — or whether the GOP conference can get on the same page on an actual plan to solve the issue rather than just junk the program.

The real-world consequences of Republicans refusing to continue the expanded unemployment could be severe. While the unemployment rate dropped to 11.1% as of mid-June, down from a high of 14.7% in mid-April, it’s still sky-high by normal standards, and could tick higher as states are forced to lock down their economies to respond to spiking coronavirus cases.

Fully 30 million people have been receiving at least some unemployment insurance since the crisis began, and a Columbia University study found the original pandemic unemployment assistance funds passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act in late March helped keep around 13 million people out of poverty as of April.

Zach Parolin, the study’s lead author, estimated that if those funds aren’t extended, depending on the exact economic conditions between 15 and 30 million more Americans will fall into poverty by the end of the year.

“If Congress does not extend these benefits, it’s safe to say that poverty rates will increase in the second half of the year.”

“If Congress does not extend these benefits, it’s safe to say that poverty rates will increase in the second half of the year, that individuals who lose their jobs in the second half of the year will struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table, and there’s a high possibility that entire families would go months with little to no support from the federal government,” he warned.

A study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that five out of six people who receive the money stand to make more on unemployment, a major sticking point for Republicans who think the money is dissuading people from returning to work. But the GOP has yet to coalesce around an alternate plan — and it’s unclear they’ll be willing and able to do so in the rushed return in late July before the program expires at the end of the month.

States need cash badly

Funding for state and local governments is another crucial piece of the next package. Most government budgets began on July 1 and will need to be adjusted dramatically as states and cities deal with gaping holes in their estimated funding, and without a major assist from the federal government, that means massive looming layoffs in a sector of the economy that’s already started to feel the damage from budget gaps.

Roughly 1.5 million state and local employees have already been furloughed or laid off, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, double the number during the entirety of the Great Recession of 2008-2010. That number will spike dramatically if states and cities are forced to close the gaps in their budget created by coronavirus-created revenue shortfalls by firing people and cutting services. Unlike the federal government, they have to balance their budgets.

“Employees of state and local government, many of them, especially in health care sections risking their lives to save other people's lives. And now they may lose their jobs,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Friday. “In the HEROES Act are the resources to keep state and local government running so you don't have to fire people so that they can continue services.”

A study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, found that most state and local governments will see revenue drops of 10% to 20% from the previous year due to the ongoing recession — an estimated $600 billion total shortfall over previous estimates over the next two and a half years. Most state and local government officials will revisit in the late summer and fall what they’ll have to do to fix these budget shortfalls. Without federal support, they’ll have to choose between draconian cuts and tax increases.

“Congress really needs to act quickly before states and local governments build in spending cuts that are going to lengthen the recession,” warned Elizabeth McNichol, the study’s lead author.

House Democrats’ bill had about $900 billion in state and local funds. But Republicans have raged against giving states that much would let Democrats in states that had budget crises even before the recession hit off the hook.

McConnell and other Republicans originally signaled they wouldn’t give any help to state and local governments. They’ve walked that back some but have continued to express a stingy attitude towards states. In late May, McConnell said there would be a “plug” of funding for state and local governments, but that he wouldn’t allow funding that would help states fix their “preexisting” budget problems.

How much Congress coughs up will matter a lot. In the last recession, the federal government covered about a quarter of state and local governments’ budget shortfalls, forcing governments to slash employment and funding for both K-12 and higher education. Some states still haven’t fully bounced back to pre-recession levels of education spending, and K-12 class sizes have grown and public university costs have risen by 20% to 30% in many states as a result.

Plenty of other issues remain unresolved as well. The Post Office desperately needs funding to keep operating. Current federal moratoriums on evictions are set to expire, which could cause a massive homelessness crisis. Democrats want expanded food stamp assistance to help keep people from going hungry. The House bill also included $4 billion to states to help them expand mail voting and other voting options so they can run smooth elections in November — a potential looming disaster that has already been foreshadowed by chaotic primaries in states like Wisconsin and Georgia.

But the expanded unemployment insurance and funds for state and local governments are the most crucial elements of the bill. And both remain in limbo as Congress takes its annual July holiday break.

Cover: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-KY speaks to the media after a Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on June 9, 2020. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

China Is Warning About a Possible Bubonic Plague Outbreak Because That's How 2020 Is Going

VICE News - July 6, 2020 - 7:30am

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The world is in the grip of an unprecedented global pandemic that is causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of infections, and an untold economic catastrophe. So the last thing we need to hear right now is that in a remote corner of China, another plague has emerged.

Authorities in China warned Sunday of a “plague epidemic” after a herdsman was diagnosed with bubonic plague, the cause of the Black Death, which killed 50 million people worldwide in the Middle Ages.

The alert came from the city of Bayannur, located 550 miles northwest of Beijing in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia.

On Saturday, a hospital alerted municipal authorities of the patient's case, and by Sunday, local authorities had taken action, issuing a citywide Level 3 warning for plague prevention, the second-lowest in a four-level system.

“At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city,” the local health authority said, according to state-run newspaper China Daily. “The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly.”

The authorities also warned people against hunting, eating, or transporting potentially infected animals and to report any dead or diseased rodents.

Bayannur’s authorities particularly highlighted the threat from marmots, a type of large ground squirrel that is eaten in some parts of China and neighboring Mongolia. Marmots live in rural areas and are often a carrier of the disease.

Bubonic plague, which is transmitted by fleas that live off infected rodents, as well as direct contact with infected tissue, is one of the plague's two main forms. It causes painful, swollen lymph nodes, as well as fever, chills, and coughing. Bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics if caught early, but if untreated it is fatal in up to 60% of cases. Pneumonic plague, which infects the lungs, is a more severe form and is fatal in 90% of untreated cases.

Bayannur’s health officials said the herdsman in question was in a stable condition and was undergoing treatment.

While the plague has been effectively wiped out in large parts of the world thanks to the advent of antibiotics, it still persists.

The Bayannur case is Mongolia’s third known case of the plague in recent weeks. On Monday authorities lifted restrictions in Khovd Province after two cases of bubonic plague linked to the consumption of marmot meat were reported a week ago.

Last May, a couple in neighboring Mongolia died from bubonic plague after eating the raw kidney of a marmot, which is a traditional remedy thought to bring good health, and in November, Beijing announced that two people in Inner Mongolia caught the pneumonic plague.

Cover: A marmot rests in his enclosure at the Moscow Zoo, Russia. Nina Zotina / Sputnik via AP

‘Divisive’ isn’t the best word to describe Trump

Columbia Journalism Review - July 6, 2020 - 7:02am

“Dark and divisive.” Over the weekend, both the New York Times and the Washington Post used those words to describe President Trump’s Friday evening speech at Mount Rushmore. The Times’s top story on the event used “divisive” or “division” six times, if you include the headline, a photo caption, and a quote from a spokesperson for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Headlines in many other outlets focused on divisiveness, too, regarding the president’s Rushmore speech (the Associated Press: “Trump digs deeper into nation’s divisions”) and a second address in Washington, DC, on Saturday (CNN: “Trump doubles down on divisive messaging”). Vanity Fair proclaimed, below a headline that also used the words dark and divisive, “So much for national unity!” 

Trump’s Independence Day speeches certainly were dark. He conjured lunatic images of rabid left-wing mobs rampaging through US cities, wantonly canceling the totems of American history and their present-day defenders. He did not dwell on the deadly pandemic ripping through the country; he mentioned it only as an opportunity to blame China, brag about his administration’s response, and state, falsely, that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are “totally harmless.” There are many words that could be used to describe his rhetoric—and over the weekend, as the speeches drove ample coverage, many words were used. Major outlets kept coming back, however, to “divisive.” Was this really the best we could do?

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Throughout the Trump era, strong reporting has been let down by weak writing—“racially charged”; “partisan brawl”; and, yes, “divisive.” Shorthand can be undermining when it factually and morally blurs sharp, often uncomfortable truths about racism, abuse of power, and the growing asymmetry of political “sides” that reporters were taught to treat equally. (Trump’s “divisive” is not analogous to Obama’s “divisive.”) Last week, after the president retweeted (then deleted) a video of a supporter shouting “White power,” Greg Sargent, a columnist at the Post, argued that Trump-boosters like to use euphemisms such as “stoking division” and “throwing a match on gasoline” to maintain plausible deniability around their true goal: “to engineer violent civil conflict, by signaling to white Americans that they are under siege in a race war that they’re losing.” 

Such euphemisms, Sargent wrote, imply that Trump “is a passive bystander to societal conflicts.” The mainstream press knows this not to be true—yet many reporters and editors too often find refuge in soft language. (It’s not just members of the press: see also Mark Zuckerberg.) Two weeks ago, when Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, appeared on the Longform podcast, the host, Max Linsky, asked him what he really thinks of Trump. “I think he’s an incredibly divisive figure,” Baquet replied. Then he paused. “I think I’ll stop,” he said, “other than to say he’s an incredibly divisive figure.” 

When the mainstream press gestures toward the immorality of Trump’s “divisiveness,” the implication often seems to be that he is an unwelcome aberration from America’s otherwise noble history. (It’s surely not an accident that “divisive” was everywhere over the July 4th holiday weekend.) At best, that’s the product of wishful thinking; as Todd Gitlin, a sociologist at Columbia Journalism School, told Voice of America over the weekend, the idea of American unity is a myth. (“Pick a moment in history when we have always not been deeply divided,” he said.) At worst, that tendency is an abdication of journalism’s responsibility, at this moment in particular, to illuminate the persistent race- and wealth-based disparities that splintered America’s past and define its present. 

In February 2016, months before Trump was elected, Wesley Morris, of the Times, reflected on this and similar ideas in a piece, “It’s in America’s DNA to Be ‘Divisive.’” Morris wrote that “divisive” used to carry a neutral, even positive connotation—Americans like to argue, after all—but became a word of admonishment. “This incarnation of the word doesn’t invite debate. It preemptively squelches it,” Morris wrote. “‘Divisive’ here tries to take what’s divisive off the table, in order to keep a version of the peace.” That analysis has even greater resonance today. Taking Trump off the table won’t restore a halcyon conception of unity. So let’s take the euphemisms off the table, instead.

Below, more on Trump, history, and the July 4th weekend:

  • Mind meld: Jonathan Swan, of Axios, compared the language Trump used in his Rushmore speech with Tucker Carlson’s recent monologues on Fox News; in many places, Trump’s statements about monuments and cancel culture closely repeated those of Carlson. Alex Thompson, of Politico, reports that Republican circles are abuzz with speculation that Carlson might himself run for president in 2024, as the keeper of the Trump flame.
  • A July 4th hoax: On Saturday, self-proclaimed militias and other far-right groups traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to shut down an antifa flag-burning event—complete with antifa face paint and miniature flags for kids to burn—that they’d seen advertised on social media. The event was a hoax. The episode, Shawn Boburg and Dalton Bennett report for the Post, “is a stark illustration of how shadowy figures on social media have stoked fears about the protests against racial injustice and excessive police force.”
  • Columbus comes down: On Saturday, protesters in Baltimore pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus and threw it in the city’s harbor. (The city still has two other Columbus monuments.) Lester Davis, a spokesperson for Bernard C. Young, Baltimore’s mayor, told the Baltimore Sun that the toppling of the statue was part of a “re-examination taking place nationally and globally,” and that Young will continue to support the protests in the city. “That’s a full stop.”
  • History has its eyes on Hamilton: On Friday, Disney released a filmed performance of the musical Hamilton on its streaming service, Disney+. When Hamilton debuted on Broadway, in 2015, it was roundly praised for centering actors of color—but as Ed Morales, a journalist and academic, wrote for CNN yesterday, Disney’s release has landed “in a different landscape.” Over the weekend, journalists online debated the show’s representation of race in light of recent events. “To reassess Hamilton now,” Morales writes, “is to note a crucial incompatibility with our current moment: Its hero and its message are essentially ambivalent while today’s politics around America’s racial sins requires taking a strong stance.”


Some news from the home front:
Today, CJR is out with our new magazine, “Reckoning: Covering an election amid a pandemic and an uprising.” Features will roll out online over the next two weeks. You can get started with Adam Piore’s profile of MSNBC, Simon van Zuylen-Wood’s dissection of David Axelrod and the pundit class, and Jack Herrera’s analysis of how longstanding calls to “Defund the Police” got coopted as a campaign story. Last week, Herrera talked with Kyle Pope, CJR’s editor and publisher, on our podcast, The Kicker.


Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, the family of Vanessa Guillén, an Army staffer who went missing in April, confirmed that Guillén’s remains were found near Fort Hood, Texas, where she had been stationed. Last week, CJR’s Alexandria Neason asked why coverage of Guillén did not come with the same urgency as that given to other recent deaths. The case, Neason wrote, “touches on many of the themes now in the news: a life endangered in the custody of officials; a woman of color gone from the world; denial and obstruction by police.”
  • For the Times, Ginia Bellafante reports on calls for greater diversity at WNYC, whose bosses recently installed Audrey Cooper—the former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, who is white and does not have a public radio background—as editor in chief. WNYC staff, who had told management that they wanted a person of color to be appointed, responded to Cooper’s hiring with “great consternation,” Bellafante writes.
  • Also for the Times, Soledad O’Brien, a former CNN anchor, writes that this is a moment of empowerment for journalists of color, who, she observes, “are sidestepping management and going straight to the public” to share their experiences of racism in the media industry. “Absent a hashtag but buoyed by this public awakening over Black Lives Matter,” O’Brien writes, “we have collectively inaugurated our own #MeToo movement.”
  • The Times’s Mark Leibovich profiles Symone Sanders, who was Bernie Sanders’s press secretary in 2016 (they’re not related), is a senior adviser to Joe Biden now, and was a pundit on CNN in between. The CNN gig “made her a quasi-public figure at an early stage of her career,” Leibovich writes. “This was a stark departure from the quaint old notion that campaign staff members should stay in the background.”
  • Ethiopian Airlines is suing Henok A. Degfu, a Minnesota-based journalist who runs ZeHabesha, a newspaper serving the Ethiopian diaspora, for libel. The airline claims that Degfu accused its management of deliberately importing COVID-19 into Ethiopia, and of operating prisons at its headquarters. Ibrahim Hirsi has more for the Sahan Journal.
  • In Kansas, the Facebook page of the Anderson County Review, a newspaper owned by Dane Hicks, a local Republican official, posted a cartoon comparing a mask-wearing order imposed by Laura Kelly, the state’s Democratic governor, to the Holocaust. Hicks initially defended the cartoon as legitimate speech. Yesterday, he apologized.
  • And in other Godwin’s Law news, the Islander News, a weekly paper in Key Biscayne, Florida, defended its decision to run a cartoon of Trump with a swastika on his jacket. The depiction left many locals outraged. Michael Cavna has more for the Post.

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Scientists Say Coronavirus Is Airborne and Bars Should Stay Closed

VICE News - July 6, 2020 - 6:48am

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Over 200 scientists in more than 30 countries say the coronavirus is airborne and that the World Health Organization is not doing nearly enough to address the issue.

In a letter entitled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19” the scientists lay out an argument many of them have been making for months: that coronavirus is not just spread through large droplets and direct contact with infected people, but also though microscopic particles that linger in the air indoors and infect those nearby when they inhale them into their lungs.

It means that crowded or poorly ventilated indoor settings such as bars, restaurants, casinos, schools, and offices are especially dangerous and would account for a number of “super spreading” incidents.

The letter is due to be published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal and is authored by Lidia Morawska, an expert in aerosol transmission at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, and Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland. It has been endorsed by 239 scientists from 32 countries.

Scientists across the globe have tried for months to raise the alarm about airborne transmission, but public health agencies like the WHO have failed to take notice, forcing scientists to take the highly unusual step of publishing this letter.

The WHO guidance says that COVID-19 is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that fall quickly to the ground once expelled by infected patients through coughing and sneezing.

The WHO’s advice on stopping the spread of coronavirus has so far focused on social distancing measures and regular hand-washing, but it has stopped short of saying that face coverings, like masks and face shields, should be mandatory in any situation.

The airborne transmission word seems to be loaded,” Milton told CNN on Sunday. “I guess we are hoping that WHO will come around and be more willing to acknowledge the important roles of aerosols, whether they want to call it airborne transmission or not.”

Milton added that he is most worried about locations where people are crowded together in poorly ventilated buildings speaking loudly, which increases the amount of particles spread by infected people.

“I am very much concerned about the general public and schools and ventilation in school buildings and in dorms on college campuses and in bars and in churches and where people sing and where people congregate,” he said.

Evidence from the U.S. appears to back up the claims in the letter. In recent weeks, as states reopened offices, bars, and restaurants, there has been a surge of cases across almost all corners of the country, with at least 32 states still reporting rising numbers of infections.

Despite muted July 4th celebrations last weekend, there were almost 50,000 new cases reported on Sunday, with California reporting a record 11,700 cases in a single 24-hour period.

READ: 17 developers are testing coronavirus vaccines on humans. Here’s what you need to know about them.

If the scientists are right, governments and health authorities will need to significantly alter what measures they put in place to try to contain the virus.

To prevent airborne transmission, masks will need to be worn indoors even when people are socially distancing. Medical workers will need to wear N95 masks to filter out the smallest particles being expelled by infected patients. And buildings like schools and offices will need to upgrade their ventilation systems in order to filter out any coronavirus particles.

It’s unclear if the WHO will change its advice on how coronavirus is transmitted, but spokesperson Andrei Muchnik said it was aware of the letter and “reviewing its contents with our technical experts.” He added the matter would likely be addressed at the WHO’s daily press briefing later on Monday.

This is not the first time the organization has come under fire for its failure to provide the public with clear and timely advice.

“WHO’s credibility is being undermined through a steady drip-drip of confusing messages, including asymptomatic spread, the use of masks, and now airborne transmission,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post.

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Cover: Drinks are served at The Terrace Bar, Alexandra Palace, London, as it reopens following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England on Saturday July 4, 2020. Adam Davy/PA Wire URN:54441437 (Press Association via AP Images)

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