Dark Horse’s The Shadows Uses Gorgeously Grim Imagery to Tell a Refugee’s Story

A glimpse of The Shadows.

A glimpse of The Shadows.
Image: Dark Horse

Previously available only in French, graphic novel The Shadows—from creators Zabus and Hippolyte—is getting an English release courtesy of Dark Horse and translator Matt Madden. It’s a fictional but timely tale of refugees searching for asylum, rendered in gorgeously grim, spooky drawings. We’ve got a sneak peek to share today.

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Here’s a quick description, followed by two excerpts from The Shadows. “To apply for asylum, Refugee 214 must tell his story. With him in the room are a man from his new country, and the shadows of four loved ones who did not survive the journey. 214 reveals how he and his younger sister fled their homes and set off toward the border; how they met and suffered with friends, and lost them; and how the plight of the refugee is an experience that erases differences between individuals, even as it threatens to erase the individuals themselves. The only one left to tell the tale, 214 swallows his fears and relates what he and the shadows saw and did, in the hope that his life and the lives of the others won’t have been in vain. Creators Zabus & Hippolyte present an intimate and heartrending look at one fictional refugee’s story, while encompassing the larger plight of displaced people.”

Illustration for article titled Dark Horse's The Shadows Uses Gorgeously Grim Imagery to Tell a Refugee's Story

Image: Dark Horse

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Image: Dark Horse

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Image: Dark Horse

Here’s the second segment:

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The Shadows will release on July 28, and you can pre-order a copy here.


For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

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Melinda Gates Called Divorce Lawyers in 2019 After NYTimes Revealed Bill’s Ties to Jeffrey Epstein: WSJ

 In this Feb. 1, 2019 file photo, Bill and Melinda Gates smile at each other during an interview in Kirkland, Wash.

In this Feb. 1, 2019 file photo, Bill and Melinda Gates smile at each other during an interview in Kirkland, Wash.
Photo: Elaine Thompson (AP)

Melinda Gates started talking with divorce lawyers in October of 2019 after the New York Times first revealed Bill Gates had met with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein on multiple occasions, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. The report sheds new light on the timeline of the wealthy couple’s disintegrating marriage, something Bill and Melinda announced only last week with a joint statement about their pending divorce.

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The New York Times first reported in a story dated October 12, 2019 that Bill Gates had met with Epstein, even including a photo of Epstein and Gates standing next to each other at Epstein’s apartment in 2011. The 2011 meeting was three years after Epstein pleaded guilty to two state charges in Florida: one count of “solicitation of prostitution” and one count of “solicitation of prostitution with a minor under the age of 18.”

Speculation ran rampant last week that the Bill and Melinda were splitting up over Bill’s ties to Epstein, but this is the first time a news report has hinted at the possibility so directly, though the Journal’s sources remain unnamed.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Gates consulted with divorce lawyers roughly two years before she filed for divorce from Mr. Gates, saying their marriage was “irretrievably broken,” according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[…]

The couple hasn’t said what prompted the split. One source of concern for Ms. Gates was her husband’s dealings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, according to the people and a former employee of their charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Ms. Gates’s concerns about the relationship dated as far back as 2013, the former employee said.

The Times report in 2019 revealed that Bill had visited Epstein’s Manhattan apartment at least three times, staying “late into the night” on at least one occasion. When the meetings were revealed in 2019, Gates said he was only meeting with Epstein about philanthropy work. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an enormous nonprofit, though it’s not clear why it would need help from a shady pedophile like Epstein.

Bill still maintains he was only meeting with Epstein for innocent reasons, according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to the documents reviewed by the Journal, Ms. Gates and her advisers held a number of calls in October 2019 when the New York Times reported that Mr. Gates had met with Mr. Epstein on numerous occasions. Mr. Gates once stayed late into the night at Mr. Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse, the Times reported.

Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, said in 2019 that the software mogul and Mr. Epstein had met multiple times to discuss philanthropy. “ Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so,” Ms. Arnold said at the time.

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The Journal’s new report notes that Epstein died in jail in August of 2019. And while it was ruled a suicide, there are plenty of theories that wealthy and powerful people may have conspired to kill Epstein, prompting the macabre meme, “Epstein didn’t kill himself.”

Melinda herself actually met Epstein on one occasion back in 2013, according to the Daily Beast, and that’s apparently when she knew something was not right, though the Beast report gives plenty of wiggle room about what Bill may have known.

“I can’t make the claim that so many are claiming,” the person told The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, referring to people in Epstein’s orbit who’ve said they had no suspicions of Epstein’s abuse. “If you ask Bill Gates, he’ll say, ‘Oh I had absolutely no idea he wasn’t up to anything of the highest moral character.’ But I seriously doubted Epstein’s moral character.”

“The people around him,” the person added, referring to Epstein, “had a varying spectrum of what they knew and what they didn’t know and how they rationalized it.”

This person wasn’t surprised that Melinda Gates was put off by Epstein, saying “a lot of people were uncomfortable with Epstein, completely independent of his” sexual misconduct. “He just was an obnoxious guy. He almost made a point of having bad manners, not paying attention at dinner… I could see how anybody, even without suspicions, would not want to be around him.”

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What did Bill know and when did he know it? That still seems very much up in the air at this point. But we now know, according to this report, that Melinda was quick to get divorce lawyers on the phone right around the time Bill’s ties to Epstein became known. Whatever Bill actually knew about Epstein, it appears Melinda was clearly uncomfortable with the entire situation.

US Will Support Lifting Patent Restrictions on Covid-19 Vaccines

Empty vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Empty vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Photo: Michael Ciaglo (Getty Images)

After weeks of back-and-forth discussions within the Biden administration, the U.S. is now preparing to back the temporary waiving of patent rights over covid-19 vaccines—a policy that advocates say is needed to speed up the production and acquisition of vaccines for developing countries. As part of its support, the US is expected to work with the World Trade Organization to negotiate the language of these waivers.

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Since last October, more than 50 countries and several human rights organizations like Amnesty International have been pleading with the WTO to enact a waiver of its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) that would effectively suspend the protection of intellectual property for covid-19 treatments during the pandemic, including vaccines. This TRIPS waiver would then allow these countries to produce or purchase vaccines at a much lower cost. But the pharmaceutical industry, supported by the U.S. and other wealthy countries (as well as a certain powerful divorcee), has fiercely opposed the move and the WTO has so far declined to grant such a waiver.

Following the latest refusal by the WTO in March 2021, though, a wellspring of political and grassroots support for the waivers has since emerged. Leaders in the U.S., such as Senator Bernie Senators, have called for the federal government to change its mind before the next general meeting by the WTO this month, while polls have shown that the U.S. general public is supportive of these waivers as well. The issue has also gained more attention in the midst of renewed outbreaks throughout the world, particularly India, which is now experiencing millions of cases a week along with too many deaths to be counted accurately.

Recent reporting had indicated that the Biden administration was possibly close to changing its mind. But comments this week from Anthony Fauci, the long-time public health official and Biden’s current chief medical advisor, suggested otherwise. On Wednesday afternoon, Ambassador Katherine Tai, the current United States Trade Representative, finally answered the burning question.

“The US supports the waiver of IP protections on covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in WTO negotiations to make that happen,” Tai wrote on Twitter Wednesday, along with providing a formal statement.

It’s still possible that the WTO may not decide to lift the patent restrictions, if unlikely, given the prominence of the U.S. as a trading partner. Earlier today, WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated that countries should quickly work out the best way to grant these waivers, following a closed-door meeting of ambassadors from developed and developing nations.

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While public health experts and advocates have argued that waiving these patent rights is critical to helping poorer nations secure vaccines faster, they also acknowledge that it will have to be the first step of many.

At the very least, countries expected to produce these vaccines will need an ample supply of raw materials to scale up their manufacturing, along with technical advice, since some of the vaccines are dependent on relatively new technologies. This process also won’t bring immediate relief to the most vulnerable nations currently, since it will take time before mass production is possible.

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That said, at least some experts involved in vaccine-making have said that production in modern factories could be ready to go in four to six months. And given that the current timetable for vaccinating the world against covid-19 is somewhere between 2023 to 2024, waiving these patents should make for a major improvement.

Child Sexual Abuse Site With 400,000 Users Shut Down by a Multinational Task Force

Illustration for article titled Child Sexual Abuse Site With 400,000 Users Shut Down by a Multinational Task Force

Photo: Jan Hennop (Getty Images)

An international task force has shut down a large-scale dark web child sexual abuse platform, along with several similarly aligned dark web chat sites. According to an announcement from Germany’s Central Office for Combating Internet Crime (ZIT), “Boystown” had 400,000 registered users and was “one of Europe’s most prolific child sexual abuse platforms on the dark web.” Four suspects, all German nationals, have been identified in connection with the site.

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The task force, led by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), included Europol, as well as law enforcement agencies from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States (the FBI and ICE).

Investigators report that the site ran since at least June 2019. It was “internationally oriented,” with channels in different languages, and mainly used to exchange images and videos of abuse of boys.

Two suspected founders and admins have reportedly been arrested in Germany in mid-April, and the New York Times reports that a third is awaiting extradition in Paraguay. Police also arrested a 64-year-old man who is believed to be one of the site’s most active members, with over 3,500 posts. The New York Times points out the Germany has recently doubled its maximum sentence for spreading child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to 10 years, while the maximum sentence for abusing a child is 15.

In an announcement, Europol grimly reflected that the site showed how quickly offenders are able to scatter and regroup to evade law enforcement. “The case illustrates what Europol is seeing in child sexual abuse offending: online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them,” the write. “Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organise and administer them.”

In 2017, Europol, working with German law enforcement agents, shut down a CSAM site with 87,000 users. Last year, Dutch, U.S., and German officials along with Europol shut down a site that had been live since 2012 and hosted 2,000 images and videos of child sexual abuse. In March 2021, Europol announced that it worked with Belgian authorities to hunt down 90 suspects associated with nine million images found in a house raid.

Europol plans to use data to identify victims, and the press release promises that “more arrests and rescues are to be expected globally.”

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Broadband Providers Revolt Against New York Law That Forces Them to Offer $15 and $20 Plans

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A coalition of broadband associations representing providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile sued New York on Friday over a law passed earlier this month that requires them to offer affordable internet for low-income families at rates of $15 and $20 per month beginning in mid-June.

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In the lawsuit, which was first reported by Axios, the coalition argues that New York has no authority to regulate broadband prices because broadband services fall under the purview of the federal government. The suit asks the court to invalidate the New York law, rule that its enforcement would be illegal, and prevent the state from regulating broadband rates.

The coalition includes the New York State Telecommunications Association, CTIA, ACA Connects, USTelecom, NTCA, and SBCA.

Specifically, the coalition claims that the New York law is in conflict with a 2018 decision by the Federal Communications Commission that affirms that regulating broadband like a common-carrier, whose rates can be regulated, is contrary to the public’s interest. The same FCC decision changed broadband’s classification from a common carrier service to an information service. The New York law also violates the Communication Act’s prohibition against forcing information services to comply with common-carrier regulation, the group states.

In addition, although the coalition acknowledges that there is “a need to close the ‘digital divide’” and ensure broadband is available to all Americans, including low-income households, it states that broadband providers already offer low-cost plans for these groups. They also participate in federal programs that provide subsidies to help low-income households access broadband, such as Lifeline and the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, the latter of which will go into effect on May 12.

New York affirms that the new law will affect seven million New Yorkers and 2.7 million households. Members of the public that qualify for the new $15 and $20 monthly rates—for high speed broadband and higher speed broadband, respectively—include households who are eligible or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, receive supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits, Medicaid benefits, and the senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, among others, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

In a statement, CTIA, a nonprofit that represents the wireless communications industry which is part of the coalition that filed the lawsuit, said that the New York law is overruled by federal law in the matter.

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“While well-intended, this bill is preempted by federal law and ignores the $50 monthly broadband discount recently enacted by Congress, as well as the many unprecedented commitments, donations and accommodations that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers since the pandemic began,” CTIA said. “We urge state policymakers to coordinate with their Federal counterparts, and with the broadband industry, to better serve the needs of New Yorkers.”

In a statement on Friday, Cuomo, who is currently plagued by sexual harassment allegations and revelations that his office worked to hide nursing home deaths from covid-19, said he anticipated this response from the companies. He accused the providers of putting profit ahead of “creating a more fair and just society” and affirmed he welcomed the fight.

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“Let me be abundantly clear — providing internet in the Empire State is not a god given right,” the governor said.

Postal Service Cops Are Monitoring Social Media, ‘Sensitive’ Internal Document Says

Illustration for article titled Postal Service Cops Are Monitoring Social Media, 'Sensitive' Internal Document Says

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds (Getty Images)

Add another pushpin to the string wall of America’s shadowy force of postal service cops. Yahoo News reports that the USPS’s security arm, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), monitored social media for potential threats of domestic violence. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo obtained by Yahoo News, the USPIS collected “inflammatory” Parler and Telegram posts ahead of planned March 20 protests and shared them with other agencies.

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The previously unknown operation is called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). It’s unclear whether this is an ongoing program or was established for the sole purpose of collecting right-wing social media posts. The investigation seems to include posts from Facebook and other social media platforms, but the full breadth of the investigation is not clear from the document. The QAnon-promoted protests, against vaccines and covid-19 safety measures, were set for March 20, a date some believed would mark Donald Trump’s surprise return to the White House.

The two-page document, which is labeled “law enforcement sensitive” and was distributed by a DHC intelligence “fusion center,” reads in part:

Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021…Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.

Neither the USPIS nor the DHS immediately responded to our requests for comment.

You’ll recall that USPIS agents were the armed guys who arrested Steve Bannon on his yacht last year, which piqued our curiosity. (This receded while Postmaster General Louis DeJoy dismantled the rest of the place, cut back hours and proposed reviewing postal workers’ pension payments.) As for what that had to do with the postal service, Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said at the time: “the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to identifying and investigating anyone who exploits others for their own benefits.”

Mail tie-ins seem to be sort of loose. In a 2019 year-end report, the USPIS said that it employed 1,289 inspectors charged with enforcing “roughly 200 federal laws, covering crimes that include fraudulent use of the U.S. Mail and the postal system.” This surprisingly thrilling tie-in means that they hunt down prolific mail thieves, mail marketers, dark web-sourced mailed drugs, drug delivery bribes, and even on a $7 billion fraud scheme. But it also has a long-running unit for investigating child exploitation material, which, it seems, may or may not be detected through the process of flowing through mail. In its 2019 year-end report, for example, USPIS said that it was handed an investigation into a hard drive (which had at one point been mailed) containing child sexual abuse material, but the investigation was passed along from a Rhode Island internet child abuse task force, not seized en route or at a delivery point.

And, as the Washington Post has noted, the postal service’s investigatory powers granted since 1775 make it the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. The USPIS’s report suggests that it collaborates with virtually every federal investigatory body, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the FBI, the DEA, and more.

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The USPIS told Yahoo News that the iCOP program’s mission represents that of the overall USPIS mission to assess “threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information.” But it added that the USPIS “collaborates” with federal, state, and local law enforcement to protect employees and also “customers.”

By the “customers” metric, it seems that, like the mail, USPIS knows no jurisdiction. In its mission statement, the USPIS says that it works to keep up the reputation of the USPS, or “provide the investigative and security resources that ensure America’s confidence in the U.S. Mail.”

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UPDATE 4/21/2021 7:20 p.m. ET: The USPIS declined to respond to Gizmodo’s request for information on USPIS’s relationship with DHS and the scope of its operations. It shared a general statement about USPIS operations, cited by Yahoo News: “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure.”

FTC Says Racist Algorithms Could Get You In a Lot of Trouble

Illustration for article titled FTC Says Racist Algorithms Could Get You In a Lot of Trouble

Photo: Bridget Bennett (Getty Images)

Tentatively excellent news! The FTC has declared that it is serious about racist algorithms, and it will hold businesses legally accountable for using them. In a friendly-reminder type announcement today, it said that businesses selling and/or using racist algorithms could feel the full force of their legal might.

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“Fortunately, while the sophisticated technology may be new, the FTC’s attention to automated decision making is not,” FTC staff attorney Elisa Jillson wrote in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the agency “has decades of experience” enforcing laws that racist algorithms violate. They write that selling and/or using racially biased algorithms could qualify as unfair or deceptive practices under the FTC Act. They also remind businesses that racial discrimination (by algorithm or human) could violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

The effects of algorithmic racial bias and automated white favoritism spill out far beyond the types of products Facebook serves us. Racist algorithms have been shown to disproportionately deny Black people recommendations for specialized healthcare programs. They have priced out higher interest rates on mortgages for Black and Latinx people than whites with the same credit scores. They have drastically exaggerated Black defendants’ risk of recidivism, which can impact sentencing and bail decisions. They have encouraged police to target locations and arrest records which perpetuate further disproportionate arrests in Black communities. The list goes on.

Government use of racist algorithms makes the “selling” part especially important. The FTC can’t try the cops, but it might be able to go after a company that misrepresented its tool as race-neutral.

Given the endless churn of stories about the racist results of facial recognition, it could seem that the FTC is equipping itself to practically annihilate the technology. In an email to Gizmodo, an FTC spokesperson said that a seller could be guilty of “deceptive” practices if it “misleads consumers (whether they are businesses or individuals) about (for example) what an algorithm can do, the data it is built from, or the results it can deliver, the FTC may challenge that as a deceptive practice.”

That’s a big deal! Most algorithms that sort through personal data do deliver discriminatory results, and companies tend not to admit it. But this is complicated by the fact that it’s often hard to prove the results because companies also tend to avoid letting us look under the hood, forcing investigative journalists and researchers to piece together clues after the damage is done. (See most of the links above.)

That caginess would likely stall an FTC complaint against an “unfair” practice. The commission would have to perform the time-consuming chore of exposing proof that the algorithm itself directly harms consumers. (In the spokesperson’s example: “compromises consumers’ ability to get credit, housing, jobs”.)

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In other words, no one knows the extent of racist algorithms’ damage, and the FTC urges businesses to hold themselves accountable or the FTC “will do it for you,” read: the FTC will come for you, even if you’re a small potatoes Honda dealership.

Businesses will still lie, they know, so the announcement also reminds us that the FTC filed a complaint against Facebook alleging, among other things, that the company knowingly deceived users about facial recognition. This resulted in a settlement of $5 billion, which the FTC had celebrated as “history-making” but Democrats complained was wildly insufficient to make Facebook feel any pain.

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On a more hopeful note, the FTC could spread some of the regulatory responsibility around. The spokesperson noted that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also enforces the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, too, could pursue discrimination cases.

Here’s hoping they follow through and drive a hard bargain. People are getting sick and locked up.

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Utility That Funded a Racist Ad Campaign Tweets How It Remains ‘Committed’ to Antiracism

Activists gather for a demonstration at city hall in Los Angeles on March 27, 2021.

Activists gather for a demonstration at city hall in Los Angeles on March 27, 2021.
Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP (Getty Images)

Last week, FirstEnergy, a powerful Midwest utility, tweeted a message of unity in the wake of increasing attacks on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

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“FirstEnergy condemns the rise in violence across our country and stands in support of the Asian-American community,” read a statement with the accompanying hashtag #StopAsianHate. “We remain committed to standing against discrimination, injustice, and acts of violence against any race or ethnicity or any other targeted groups long after the headlines fade.”

It’s a nice corporate message, the type that has become almost routine in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. But what FirstEnergy didn’t mention in its tweet is that less than two years ago, it funded an incredibly racist ad campaign that claimed the Chinese government was trying to steal American jobs and personal information and infiltrate our energy grid.

The ad was part of a larger saga in Ohio that eventually embroiled State House Speaker Larry Householder in a $60 million bribery scheme to bail out FirstEnergy’s failing coal and nuclear plants in the state. FirstEnergy, federal authorities found, funded all efforts to eliminate Householder’s political opponents, elect sympathetic candidates, and pass legislation to save the struggling plants.

In 2019, opponents to the FirstEnergy bailout were rallying an effort to repeal the legislation, and began canvassing Ohioans to sign a petition to get the issue on the 2020 ballot. In response, the utility ran a campaign to scare the public off. The ads themselves say they were sponsored by a group called Ohioans for Energy Security, but there were some very clear links from the ads to the utility. Court documents later confirmed that FirstEnergy financed the campaign.

The ads are, in brief, completely bonkers and xenophobic. The front group chose to tell Ohioans that petition collectors were sent by the Chinese government, and that petitions were attempts to “control Ohio’s power.” (In case it’s not clear, that is patently false.)

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“They took our manufacturing jobs. They shuttered our factories,” one spot opens. “Now, they’re coming for your energy jobs. The Chinese government is quietly invading our American electric grid.”

Much of the minute-long spot is stock clips from the Chinese parliamentary body—with the Communist Party’s hammer and sickle prominently displayed—and shots of lines of soldiers, overlaid over a sinister marching beat.

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Though the group trying to get petitions received dark money and didn’t declare its donors, there’s currently no evidence it was afront for the Chinese government. (A similar campaign jumpstarted last year has ties to a Texas utility and the oil, gas, and wind industries.) Ohioans for Energy Security claimed that their descent into Sinophobia was justified because one of the opponents of the bill had gotten funding from a bank owned by the Chinese government—conveniently ignoring the fact that FirstEnergy itself got funding from that same bank.

The Ohioans for Energy Security front group’s website is still live; a slide on its homepage shows a closeup of gold stars on a red fabric background, ostensibly a nod to the Chinese flag. “CHINA IS QUIETLY INVADING OUR ENERGY GRID AND COMING FOR OUR OHIO JOBS,” text on the banner screams. It even attributes the petition to the Chinese government, imploring Ohioans to not “give the Chinese government your personal information, email, cell phone, address or sign their petition;” they sent mailers mimicking the site’s design all over Ohio. The opposition group said that the aggressive campaign was why they couldn’t put together enough signatures on the petition to get the issue on the 2020 ballot.

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“Of course some people are being told [to] go home from where you came from,” Kaz Sato of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League told a local news station in 2019, when the ads were making the rounds on local television. “We are all Americans and we should work for the future. If you attack each other, that’s not going to work.”

According to Dave Anderson of the Energy and Policy Institute, who first drew the line between FirstEnergy’s #StopAsianHate tweet and the racist campaign, the utility has never publicly apologized to the AAPI community. A spokesperson for FirstEnergy told the Ohio Capital Journal that the company is under “new leadership” since 2019, which is “fully committed to diversity and inclusion and condemning violence and discrimination against Asian Americans.”

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That FirstEnergy thought it would be kosher to send out a tweet saying they “remain committed” to antiracism less than two years after it funded that ad campaign is truly something. The image of China as a political bogeyman is all over American politics, which has the effect of mushing together real criticisms of policy and governance with various degrees of scaremongering. But hateful campaigns like FirstEnergy’s and racist rhetoric have real life consequences. Data shows that Trump’s tweets about coronavirus coming from China led to a rise in anti-Asian sentiment online.

The U.S.-China energy relationship—and what China represents to the world as it scrambles to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement—is a complex one, and with good reason. As two of the world’s biggest emitters, what these countries do matter, and a good working relationship is going to be crucial to keeping our emissions down moving forward. And this is not to say that China is not deserving of scrutiny as a political actor (far from it). But just because Joe Biden doesn’t refer to covid-19 as the “kung flu” like the previous president doesn’t mean that his “tough on China” stance can’t also encourage xenophobia and racism.

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FirstEnergy is a powerful utility, which spends millions each year on federal lobbying in DC; they knew what they were doing when they created those ad campaigns, and should be held accountable. But as long as we’re keeping China as a bogeyman to use when it’s convenient for our political arguments, it’s a slippery slope to campaigns like FirstEnergy’s—and no amount of corporate apologies will be enough to right the ship.

Social Media Accounts Should Require Proof of ID According to Australian Govt Proposal

Illustration for article titled Social Media Accounts Should Require Proof of ID According to Australian Govt Proposal

Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP (Getty Images)

Australia’s federal government is considering a proposal to require internet users to submit several forms of identification before they’re allowed to obtain or even just maintain social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, according to shocking reports from several news outlets in Australia.

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The extraordinary proposal seeks to ban all anonymous commenting on the internet in Australia and is being made under the guise of helping victims of domestic violence.

The recommendations come from a 471-page study released on Thursday by the Australia House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, which heard testimony from representatives of Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook.

From the Australian government study:

  • In order to open or maintain an existing social media account, customers should be required by law to identify themselves to a platform using 100 points of identification, in the same way as a person must provide identification for a mobile phone account, or to buy a mobile SIM card.
  • Social media platforms must provide those identifying details when requested by the eSafety Commissioner, law enforcement or as directed by a court.

The term “100-points of identification” refers to an Australia-specific program originally introduced to cut down on bank fraud. Different forms of ID are assigned points, and the points must equal or exceed 100 points for someone to open a bank account. For example, birth certificates and passports are worth 70 points each, while domestic driver’s licenses are worth 40 points, and credit cards are worth 25 points. A birth certificate and a credit card would only equal 95 points, requiring one more form of ID to get beyond 100.

While no Australian politician has yet been quoted in national media about the proposal, the chairman of the committee released a statement about the 88 recommendations being put forward, including calls to provide domestic abuse survivors with more financial security and launching a national campaign to educate the public on different forms of coercion in relationships.

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“The Committee’s recommendations are wide ranging, but our clear message is that we need a more coordinated and comprehensive national approach to ending all forms of family, domestic and sexual violence,” Liberal Party MP Andrew Wallace said in a statement published online. “It is perpetrators that are responsible for their use of violence, but everyone has a role in bringing about change and stopping violence before it starts.”

The bizarre proposal to require ID to receive or just maintain a Facebook account still leaves plenty of questions about how it would be implemented. The report also suggests that law enforcement agencies in Australia be permitted access to encrypted data, something that would require companies like Apple and Signal to build backdoors for their technologies.

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From the report:

  • The Government should consider regulating to enable law enforcement agencies to access a platform’s end-to-end encrypted data, by warrant, in matters involving a threat to the physical or mental wellbeing of an individual or in cases of national security. 

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The proposals come at a time of tremendous turmoil in the Australian government and its ruling Liberal Party under Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Multiple scandals ripple through the capitol city of Canberra, most involving sexual assault and the harassment of women.

Christian Porter, the now-former Attorney General of Australia, was accused of committing rape in 1988 when he was 17 years old against a 16 year old girl, an allegation he strongly denies. The woman who made the accusation killed herself last year but the allegations were only made public recently. Porter, who has sued the national broadcaster ABC News for defamation, has been demoted from his position of Attorney General but remains a member of the government.

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Another scandal involves a conservative staffer named Brittany Higgins who says she was raped in Parliament after hours by a fellow staffer two years ago. The incident was swept under the rug and has become a national scandal regarding who in the government knew about the rape and why the staffer wasn’t given more support before exiting politics entirely. Other women have come forward with their own stories about sexual assault in the wake of Higgins’ report.

Yet another scandal involves an infamous online troll for the Liberal Party named Andrew Laming who has been harassing people online for years but has received renewed attention after one of his constituents said she became suicidal from all the online abuse. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to denounce Laming and expel him from the Liberal Party.

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One thing that’s notable about Laming’s online harassment? He did it all under his own name on platforms like Facebook without any kind of ID requirement.

In 2020, Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Skipped Out on Medical Treatment Due to Cost

Illustration for article titled In 2020, Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Skipped Out on Medical Treatment Due to Cost

Photo: STRINGER / AFP (Getty Images)

A new survey released this week suggests that more than 46 million American adults avoided getting the medical care they needed because they couldn’t afford it in 2020. Sadly, the results reflect a long-running problem in the U.S.

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The survey was conducted by Gallup and West Health earlier this February. A nationally representative group of 3,753 people over the age of 18 were asked: “If you needed access to quality healthcare today, would you be able to afford it?” They were also asked if they or a family member, in the past 12 months, had a health problem that they avoided getting treatment for because of the cost.

Overall, 18%—just under one in five—responded that they couldn’t afford good healthcare today. 18% also said they or a family member had skipped seeing a doctor over financial difficulties last year. Unsurprisingly, that last problem was even worse for people with less money, with 35% of those with an annual household income under $24,000 saying they skipped care, while only 7% of people making over $180,000 said the same.

There were also clear differences in the ability to afford health care between different demographics. Black and Hispanic Americans (29% and 21% respectively) were more likely than white Americans (16%) to say they couldn’t afford good health care today. Age also seemed to play a role, with younger people being less likely to say they could afford their health care than older Americans. At age 65, Americans become eligible for Medicare, the country’s largest source of publicly funded health coverage. White Americans over 65 were the least likely to report cost-related problems with their health care, with 8% saying they couldn’t afford it today.

None of this is really new. While the Affordable Care Act did provide some important reforms in health coverage, the out-of-pocket costs of insurance and medical treatment in general continue to rise, and lots of people continue to suffer for it. In 2019, a survey by Gallup and West Health estimated that 34 million Americans knew someone who died without being able to afford health care. That same year, another Gallup survey found that 25% of families avoided getting treatment for a serious health condition due to cost.

Some financial relief has made its way to Americans during the pandemic, particularly for the millions of people who suddenly became unemployed. And the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act comes with provisions that will make coverage more affordable for people with private insurance or who recently lost their jobs. But these changes are only temporary, and it’s expected that the costs of insurance will continue to rise, if modestly, in 2021.

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Advocates for universal health care have called for more sweeping and permanent fixes to our health care system, like lowering the age eligibility of Medicare from 65. Many proposals to make health care more affordable also enjoy plenty of popular support, according to the same Gallup poll. Over 80% of people in the poll supported setting caps on out-of-pocket costs from Medicare, for instance, while 60% supported making Medicare eligible for everyone.