• Facebook’s AI Seems to Have a Racism Problem

    Richard Drew/AP

    Have you ever fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole (of course, you have) and watched the latest Lil Nas X video, then took a look at the most recent instance of police abuse of Black folks caught on camera? And then did you say to yourself, “Seems like it’s time to watch primates hanging out with Jane Goodall”?

    Of course, you didn’t! Those associations are blatantly wrong and offensive (not to mention ridiculous). But for more than a year, after Facebook users watched a video showing encounters between Black men and white civilians and cops, they received an automated prompt asking if they wanted to “keep seeing videos about Primates.” On Friday, the social media giant apologized for the decisions its AI apparently made.

    Here’s what the New York Times reported:

    The video, dated June 27, 2020, was by The Daily Mail and featured clips of Black men in altercations with white civilians and police officers. It had no connection to monkeys or primates.

    Darci Groves, a former content design manager at Facebook, said a friend had recently sent her a screenshot of the prompt. She then posted it to a product feedback forum for current and former Facebook employees. In response, a product manager for Facebook Watch, the company’s video service, called it “unacceptable” and said the company was “looking into the root cause.”

    Ms. Groves said the prompt was “horrifying and egregious.”

    Last Thursday, Groves posted the screenshot on Twitter and called on the company to “escalate” fixing the “egregious” error. Facebook apologized for what they described as an “unacceptable error” and said they were investigating how to “prevent this from happening again.” But the company’s artificial intelligence fail and its belated act of contrition fits into a familiar pattern among tech companies when they have to deal with embarrassing flaws in their technologies. First, they say they will fix them and then they apologize, without fully reckoning with the inherent biases, racism, and sexism infused in the algorithms in the first place. 

    Tech companies like Google and Amazon have historically had problems with the insidious ways biases have seeped into the algorithms. As the Times pointed out, Google Photo came under scrutiny in 2015 and apologized after photos of Black people were labeled as “gorillas.” As an attempt to address the outrageous problem, Google simply removed labels for gorillas, chimps, and monkeys. Before last year’s nationwide protests over George Floyd’s killing, Amazon profited off its facial recognition software and sold it to police departments—even as research has shown not only that facial recognition programs falsely identify people of color compared to white people, but that its use by police could lead to unjust arrests that disproportionately affect Black people. Amazon halted the distribution of facial recognition software to police departments last June. Computer engineers have wrestled with the historical use of coding terms that evoke racism such as “master” and “slave,” while some have pushed for more neutral language.  

    That’s all to say, the tech world, which has its own diversity problems in the workplace, is also riddled with biases inside the algorithms its engineers create. This is not the first time Facebook has struggled with combatting these biases on its platforms: The New York Times reported that the social media company and Instagram failed to curtail racist abuse faced by three Black English soccer players after they missed penalty kicks in a shootout in the Euro 2020 finals. Bukayo Sayo, one of the soccer players involved, blasted the social media companies’ tepid responses to combating racist abuse.

    “To the social media platforms @instagram @twitter @facebook I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me Marcus and Jadon have received this week,” Saka wrote in an Instagram post. “I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive and that is a sad reality that your powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

  • A Texas Judge Temporarily Halted Abortion Ban Enforcement. That Won’t Stop the GOP in Other States.

    Abortion rights supporters gather to protest Texas SB 8 in front of Edinburg City Hall on Sept. 1 in Edinburg, Texas. Joel Martinez/The Monitor/AP

    Just two days after a conservative Supreme Court majority allowed the most restrictive law banning abortions to go into effect, a Texas county judge on Friday temporarily halted an anti-abortion group’s attempt to sue workers and providers at Planned Parenthood clinics for providing services. Even so, the brief reprieve for pro-abortion supporters will not stop the onslaught of copycat laws Republican state lawmakers are considering in the coming year. 

    The Washington Post reported on Friday that GOP officials “in at least seven states, including Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and South Dakota, have suggested they may review or amend their states’ laws to mirror Texas’s legislation.” The blatant efforts from state Republicans to replicate the Texas law—which prohibits all abortions after six weeks including in cases of rape or incest—would effectively open up a terrifying landscape for women seeking abortions in a nation where they still hold the constitutional right to have one under Roe v. Wade. That restrictive reality isn’t entirely new in some states. As my colleague Becca Andrews recently noted, a post-Roe world has already put a strain on many southern providers.

    “This is uncharted ground,” says Robin Marty, director of operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center and author of the Handbook for a Post-Roe America. Now, the clinic is preparing for an influx of patients from eastern Texas and from Louisiana, where clinics have experienced interrupted services due to the hurricane. Marty tells Mother Jones that at least two of the three clinics in Louisiana are not open this week. “That’s how it is right now. We in Alabama are getting Louisiana patients calling currently and that’s before we have to deal with the overflow of Texas patients.”

    But clinics in nearby states aren’t just shoring up to withstand more strain on an already strained system at the intake level. They are also wrestling with a reality in which physicians who provide abortion care are targeted and criminalized for their work.

    Last week, the Supreme Court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the Texas law, which allows private citizens to sue providers who offer abortion services after six weeks of pregnancy and others who may assist a pregnant woman in receiving such services. In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the Court’s decision “stunning” and the Texas restrictions a “flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny.” The temporary restraining order against Texas Right to Life lasts until September 17. But the decision sets up a prolonged legal battle that will reveal how enforcement of the Texas law will work.

    “The Court finds that SB 8 creates a probable, irreparable, and imminent injury in the interim for which plaintiffs and their physicians, staff, and patients throughout Texas have no adequate remedy at law if plaintiffs, their physicians, and staff are subjected to private enforcement lawsuits against them under SB 8,” Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble wrote on Friday.

    Meanwhile, on the Sunday talk shows, congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle set up starkly different interpretations on how the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision will play out. First up, US Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas, warned that the law could result in “awful consequences.” Neighbors are now incentivized to be “bounty hunters” while the restrictions make it “deadlier, more dangerous” for women seeking abortions.  

    On ABC’s This Week, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, where the Supreme Court just last year struck down a restrictive state abortion law, dismissed what he called the Democrats’ fixation on the Texas law as a distraction to “gin up their base.” 

    “If it is as terrible as people say it is, it’ll be destroyed by the Supreme Court,” Cassidy said, “but to act like this is an assault upon Roe v. Wade is again something that the President’s doing I think to distract from his other issues.” For instance, he says, Biden’s approach to Afghanistan. 

    On CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Amy Klobuchar blasted the Supreme Court for its decision on the Texas law, noting the justices “basically greenlighted a law that is blatantly against Roe v. Wade.” She saw the moment as yet another reason to abolish the filibuster, this time to support a House bill that would make the constitutional right to have an abortion the law of the land. 

  • Pete and Chasten Buttigieg Just Posted a Photo of Their New Family

    Matt Rourke/AP

    Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, announced on Saturday morning that they are new parents. “We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family,” the former presidential candidate posted to his Twitter and Instagram feeds, alongside a black-and white-photo of the couple holding the newborns.

    The couple announced they were on the path to becoming parents last month on Twitter. Chasten Buttigieg, 32, told the Washington Post for a July profile that they had been struggling with the process of adoption for about a year, and were close enough to becoming parents on a few occasions to start picking out names and start shopping for baby gear. “It’s a really weird cycle of anger and frustration and hope,” Chasten told the paper. “You think it’s finally happening and you get so excited, and then it’s gone.”

    Now, it seems, the couple’s dream has come true.

  • Pentagon Orders Airlines to Help Evacuate People Fleeing Afghanistan

    Families evacuated from Kabul ride a bus after arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport on August 21.Jose Luis Magana/AP

    The US government is ordering six commercial airlines to help evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced Sunday, about a week after the Taliban seized control over much of the country ahead of the US military’s planned withdrawal on August 31.

    Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin enlisted the airlines through the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a nearly 70-year-old program that has only been activated twice—during the 1990-91 Gulf War and during the 2002-03 Iraq invasion. “We’re going to try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out,” Austin said in an ABC interview on Sunday, emphasizing that the same efforts were being made for America’s Afghan allies, who face extreme threat from the Taliban.

    Eighteen civilian aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas, Delta, Omni, Hawaiian, and United will assist dozens of US military cargo transports involved in the emergency evacuations, according to a statement from the Pentagon. Instead of flying into or out of the Kabul airport, where the security situation is deteriorating, commercial airline pilots and crews will help bring thousands of people to Europe or the United States from US bases in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

    Over the past week, after Afghanistan’s Western-trained security forces collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, chaos and desperation have gripped the airport in the capital city of Kabul. Last Monday, thousands of people rushing the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in a last-ditch attempt to get out of the country. Videos posted to social media showed Afghans clinging to a departing US Air Force plane, while others fell from the wheel well of a jet as it took off from the tarmac.

    As of Saturday, the US military had evacuated about 17,000 people from Kabul, including 2,500 Americans, according to a Pentagon statement. That’s just a fraction of the 10,000 to 15,000 Americans that the Biden administration estimated were still in Afghanistan about a week ago.

    On Sunday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced that the US military and its allies had evacuated an additional 7,900 people over the prior day, as violence escalates outside the Kabul airport and the US military evaluates new threats from the Islamic State.

    President Joe Biden, facing widespread criticism for America’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan after decades of war there, has said the US government hopes to evacuate at least 50,000 Afghan allies and their families from the country. “I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, or that it will be without risk of loss, but as commander in chief I can assure you I will mobilize every resource necessary,” he said during a speech on Friday.

  • Tropical Storm Henri Bears Down on New England, Me

    John Minchillo/AP

    I’m writing to you from southern New England, where Tropical Storm Henri is due to make landfall in the next several hours. We’ve prepared the best we can: cleared the storm drains of debris, charged all our devices, picked up some emergency supplies, the whole bit.

    Forecasts here are calling for an intense, soaking rain—6 or more inches in some areas—and winds that could reach as high as 75 mph. That’s bad enough, but when you add on top of that the 4 to 5 inches of rain that flooded basements and stranded motorists on Thursday, you can see why folks here are primed for swampy conditions, downed trees, and blackouts. Especially blackouts.

    As it turns out, the region’s biggest power utility, Eversource, hasn’t inspired much confidence over the years, despite prep porn tweets like this one:

    On Saturday, the company said that 50 to 69 percent of its 1.25 million customers in Connecticut could lose power. Not only that, but the effort to get things back online could take between 8 and 21 days.

    Losing power sucks. Losing power ahead of a super-humid heat wave sucks extra hard. Losing power for up to three weeks because your famously unprepared utility company is potentially unprepared again? Stares out window at coming storm, resists blowing the shit out of emergency whistle.

    That’s right: Eversource doesn’t exactly have a great track record. In fact, earlier this year, state regulators proposed the maximum fine possible—$30 million—for the company’s failure to prepare for and respond to Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020. (Eversource and another fined utility, United Illuminating, have appealed the decision.)

    So…I guess we’ll see how it goes? Here’s hoping I don’t end up looking like this dude come tomorrow.

  • Gig Companies’ Ballot Measure Was Just Ruled Unconstitutional in California

    Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

    On Friday, Alameda County judge Frank Roesch ruled Proposition 22—a California statewide ballot measure that exempted companies like Uber and Lyft from classifying gig drivers as employees—unconstitutional.

    “The entirety of Prop 22 is unenforceable,” he wrote.

    Nothing will change immediately. Gig companies have said they will appeal the ruling. As it is appealed, the ruling will likely be stayed. As an Uber spokesperson told the New York Times, “We will appeal, and we expect to win. Meanwhile, Prop. 22 remains in effect.”

    For now, a fleet of DoorDash drivers will not be able to require the enforcement of labor law to become employees.

    Still, it’s a major blow for gig companies that poured more than $200 million into Prop 22, which passed with 59 percent of the vote last November. It sets up a big legal battle in California courts.

    Prop 22 sidestepped previous labor law to create a new model of employment. Or, at least that’s how gig companies pitched it. In places like the New York Times opinion pages, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said workers “deserve better” than traditional employment. “There has to be a ‘third way’ for gig workers,” he opined. But this “third way” was, labor interests said, just a rollback of workers’ rights.

    While Prop 22 has new benefits to gig drivers, it also locked them into an independent contractor model and out of a slew of even more benefits linked to employment. Instead of overtime pay, workers’ comp, health insurance, or paid sick leave, drivers got a…”health stipend” and a (debated version of) guaranteed minimum wage. The costs were quickly passed onto riders who have complained about price increases. And don’t forget, even with all of this, the gig companies aren’t really even making a profit.

    That’s why leaders found Prop 22 especially dangerous—with one report warning Prop 22 “would create a permanent underclass of workers.” It offered gig companies a way to get around the laws they’ve already been breaking by misclassifying workers, all while pretending to be fixing a problem they made themselves. It enshrined the “platform” excuse.

    The ruling, though, was less on that central question—are drivers employees under labor law?—than the many undemocratic provisions added to stop the legislature from ever undoing Uber’s “third way.”

    Included in Prop 22 was an additional stoppage for worker organizing. It required any changes to Prop 22 to be voted on the legislature and passed with a seven-eighths majority. (Seven-eighths!) This, Roesch said, violated California’s constitution because it “limits the power of a future legislature” to decide an “app-based driver” should be given worker’s compensation. And also disallows collective bargaining for drivers that “appears only to protect the economic interests of the network companies in having a divided, ununionized workforce.”

    The ruling could still be overturned. But, for now, this a huge win for labor—especially as Massachusetts looks to pass a similar measure and as drivers across the country, in other blue states, organize.

    “Companies like Uber and Lyft spent $225 million in an effort to take away rights from workers in a way that violates California’s Constitution. For two years, drivers have been saying that democracy cannot be bought,” said the SEIU in a statement. “And today’s decision shows they were right.”

    Here’s the ruling, first reported (or at least I saw posted) by law professor Veena Dubal; the document was posted in full by Kate Conger at the New York Times.

  • Biden Says Chaos in Kabul Justifies His Decision to Withdraw From Afghanistan

    A screen displaying U.S. President Joe Biden delivering remarks on Afghanistan from the White House in Washington, D.C. Liu Jie/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

    President Joe Biden said Monday that it would have been pointless and a betrayal of his promises to Americans to have left US troops in Afghanistan any longer, in a speech that came a day after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

    “I cannot and will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country’s civil war,” Biden said in White House speech Monday, August 16, 2021. “This is not in our national security interest.”

    Even as he acknowledged the distress of US veterans who served in Afghanistan, Biden said relatively little about the plight Afghans now face under a brutally repressive regime. Instead, Biden repeatedly faulted Afghanistan’s former government and its troops for failing to fight the Taliban. He blamed the Afghans, questioning their “will” to fight.

    “How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?” Biden asked.

    “There is no chance that…one more year, five more years, or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would have made any difference,” he said. “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.”

    Biden’s speech was largely a response to calls for US troops to remain in Afghanistan. He noted that he inherited from previous President Donald Trump’s an agreement from last year with the Taliban to pull US troops out by May—and faced a choice between honoring that deal or escalating the war again. He emphasized that a drawdown of forces would always be “hard and messy,” characterizing the havoc, and the inability of many Afghans to evacuate, as inevitable.

    This framing ignored arguments that US could have withdrawn more slowly or managed the exit at least well enough to not have Afghans hanging off US planes as they attempt to flee. Human rights group say they were shocked the administration  had not done more to protect and evacuateAfghans who helped US forces or could easily be predicted to face reprisal from the Taliban.

    Biden did acknowledge that his administration was surprised by the speed of the Taliban advance. He also said that prior to its ouster, the prior Afghan government had discouraged the US from organizing a larger exodus of Afghan civilians because they feared triggering a “crisis of confidence.”

    Biden cited the chaos in Kabul as vindication of his approach. “The events we’re seeing now,” Biden said, “are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan, known in history as the graveyard of empires”

  • Trump Slams Biden for Doing What Trump Bragged About

    Brian Cahn/ZUMA

    As uncertainty consumes Afghanistan, Donald Trump is blaming Joe Biden for doing what Trump said he did.

    “He ran out of Afghanistan instead of following the plan our Administration left for him,” the former president wrote in a statement Saturday. Then, barely 25 hours later, another statement from Trump: “Never would have happened if I were President!”

    While we’ll never know exactly what a Trump administration-led withdrawal from Afghanistan will look like, we can make some educated guesses based on his words from barely a month ago. “I started the process, all the troops are coming home,” he told supporters at a rally in Wellington, Ohio in late June. “What are we going to say? We’ll stay for another 21 years, then we’ll stay for another 50. The whole thing is ridiculous.” And few months before that, in April of this year, Trump was clear about where he stood: “We can and should get out earlier…Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1st.” Trump’s former National Security Advisor even agrees, saying the former president “would’ve done essentially the same thing” as Biden.

    So let me get this straight, the only president to be impeached twice is blaming Biden for a mess that Trump took credit for in front of supporters?

    The rest of the Republican party seems to realize this too, seeing as the RNC wiped clean their webpage laying out Trump’s negotiations and work with the Taliban during his presidency.

  • Biden Says He’ll Deploy 5,000 Troops to Afghanistan for “Orderly and Safe Drawdown”

    Afghan soldiers prepare for landing on board a UH-60 during a resupply flight for an outpost in the Shah Wali Kot district north of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty

    After committing to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden backpedaled slightly on Saturday, saying in a statement that he would deploy 5,000 additional troops to the country in response to the “risk from the Taliban advance.”

    In his statement, Biden noted that despite the troop deployment, he still intended to end the American presence in the country. “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” he said. He called the effort part of an “orderly and safe drawdown.”

    Biden’s announcement comes after the Taliban took over swaths of the country after the U.S.’s withdrawal in the country. The group now controls about half of the country’s provincial capitals, and Axios reports that the Biden administration is preparing for a fall of Kabul. The U.S., U.K., Germany, and other countries have said that they would evacuate much of their diplomatic staff in the country as the Taliban gains more territory. 

    Biden announced the troop deployment amid a list of four other items related to the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, which include directing Secretary of State Tony Blinken to “support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement,” and conveying to Taliban representatives in Doha that “any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”

    “Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the- art military equipment, and maintained their air force as a part of the longest war in U.S. history,” Biden said in his statement. “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.”

  • Hundreds Killed in a 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake in Haiti, Says Civil Protection Agency

    Sacred Heart church is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti on Saturday. AP Photo/Delot Jean

    On  Saturday morning, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, days before a tropical storm is expected to hit the country. At least 227 are dead and thousands are injured, the country’s civil protection agency says. The earthquake’s epicenter was 78 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port Au-Prince said the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Prime Minister Ariel Henry said that all government resources possible would be directed at helping victims, and announced a one-month state of emergency. Jerry Chandler, Haiti’s director of civil protection, told the AP that search and rescue teams will be deployed to the affected areas.

    President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed on the earthquake this morning, according to ABC News. Biden authorized an immediate U.S. response and tasked USAID Director Samantha Power with coordinating the efforts.

    People stand outside the residence of the Catholic bishop after it was damaged by an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

    AP Photo/Delot Jean

    Haiti was previously hit by a 5.9 earthquake in 2018 that killed over a dozen people and in 2010, endured a 7.1 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000. Some experts believe that while the impact of the earthquake will be tragic, it won’t be quite as bad as 2010, despite having a slightly higher magnitude, because the epicenter is further from Port-au-Prince. 

    Tropical Storm Grace is expected to reach Haiti between late Monday night and early on Tuesday.

    This post has been updated to reflect further reporting by local agencies of the number of people killed in the earthquake.

  • “Bar Rescue” Host and Laura Ingraham Discuss Cutting Unemployment Aid to Make Workers “Hungry” Like an “Obedient Dog”

    Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

    Jon Taffer, the host of the reality show Bar Rescue, has got a plan to stop the ongoing crisis of people not wanting to work crap jobs for low pay in the restaurant and service industry—turn workers into “hungry dog[s].”

    Speaking to Laura Ingraham on Fox News, Taffer—a Nightclub Hall of Fame inductee!—jumped off the idea of slashing unemployment benefits (part of a package of aid in response to COVID-19 that brought about a record drop in poverty) as an incentive to, as Ingraham noted, make people “hungry.”

    Ingraham backtracked and said not “physical hunger,” without clarifying what else she could mean.

    But then Taffer forged ahead with this:

    I have a friend in the military who trains military dogs, Laura. And they only feed a military dog at night. Because a hungry dog is an obedient dog. Well, if we’re not causing people to be hungry to work then we’re providing them with all the meals they need sitting at home. I’m completely with you Laura. These benefits make absolutely no sense to us.

    The Bar Rescue host later apologized.

    I want to sincerely apologize for using a terrible analogy in reference to the unemployment situation,” Taffer said a day after the interview on Twitter. “My comment was an unfortunate attempt to express a desire for our lives to return to normal. I recognize this has been a challenging year for everyone, and I am eager for the hospitality industry to come back stronger than ever.”

    Taffer himself benefited from government assistance during the pandemic, receiving roughly $61,000 dollars worth of Paycheck Protection Program loans.

    Some businesses in the US including restaurants have had trouble finding enough employees to be fully staffed after laying off workers during the initial heights of the pandemic in 2020. But restaurant workers have said that they believe there’s only a wage shortage, not a labor shortage. Many businesses that pay living wages say that they’re not having trouble finding employees to meet their staffing needs.

  • Biden Administration Promises to Help School Districts That Defy DeSantis’ Mask Mandate Ban

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    The Biden Administration is offering a helping hand to school districts that are fed up with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ handling of COVID-19.

    In a Friday letter to DeSantis and Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona offered financial assistance to schools in the state implementing their own mask mandates to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

    On July 30, DeSantis announced an executive order banning school districts from imposing mask mandates for students. As punishment for defiance, DeSantis said that he would strip pay for teachers and administrators in Florida schools instituting masked mandates. Then, he backpedaled. DeSantis admitted that he could take away teacher salaries. Instead, the governor warned of “consequences.” And he began to call for financial penalties for defying his order.

    Cardona wrote in response that he was “deeply concerned about Florida’s July 30 Executive Order prohibiting school districts from adopting universal masking policies,” a policy that breaks from Center for Disease Control recommendations.

    Some schools in the state had moved forward with mask mandates despite DeSantis’s threats. Cardona wrote that the Department of Education, “stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.”

    “We are eager to partner with [Florida’s Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” Cardona continued. “If FL DOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”

    In a statement to Politico on Friday evening, DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw criticized the White House for the move, saying that it shouldn’t be spending money “on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for.”

    Earlier on Friday Florida’s Board of Education had met to consider sanctioning leaders in Alachua and Broward counties over their mask mandates. Within the past several weeks, three educators in Broward county died from coronavirus complications.

    The state had received on $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan for schools. Ninety percent of which was set aside for school districts. 

    Florida has hit all time coronavirus case and hospitalization records in the past weeks. Deaths from the virus steadily climbed back, too. The state is averaging upwards of 160 deaths per day. Some hospitals have started “stacking patients in hallways” to accommodate the surging amount of people who need care.

  • We’re Not Going to the Moon Anytime Soon, But Joe Biden Won’t Kill Trump’s Dream

    JNeil Armstrong/Nasa/Atlas Archive/UPPA via ZUMA Press

    There are some troubling policies and practices from the Trump years that President Joe Biden has chosen to carry forward, even as he’s aggressively worked to undo others. In at least one case, though, there’s an unrealistic and expensive Trump-era goal that Biden is pushing forward with, even in opposition to his own experts: A 2024 human landing on the moon.

    That’s according to a new piece published Friday by Marina Koren in The Atlantic. Koren convincingly argues that the proposed lunar landing in late 2024—which the Trump administration saw, at least partially, as a political feather for Trump’s cap, along with the creation of Space Force—is clearly behind schedule. Delays in the development in the modern redesign of the spacesuit, along with budget overruns coupled with budget shortfalls, may make the 2024 “no longer a realistic target,” Steve Jurcyzk, the acting NASA administrator in February, told Ars Technica. As such, Koren argues, the Biden administration “could slough off the 2024 goal easily enough.”

    Instead, the administration is pushing forward with the 2024 goal, even if “it’s a stretch” and “a challenge,” according to current Administrator Bill Nelson.

    Koren points out that Biden has plenty to deal with—the pandemic, infrastructure, climate change—and noted in an earlier piece that 2018 polling found the public preferred that NASA’s main focus be climate research. In 2019 just 8 percent of Americans said a moon landing should be the agency’s top priority, with a majority supporting climate research and national security-related missions.

    Perhaps the answer has more to do with national security than national pride. On the same day that Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva to discuss election meddling, human rights, and ransomware, the Chinese government was showing off its success in getting its new space station operational. Former Vice President Mike Pence said in 2019 that there was a new “space race” afoot akin to the 1960s, “and the stakes are even higher.”

    Even still, NASA’s internal investigator said this week that the 2024 landing is “not feasible.” Koren reported that a NASA spokesperson said that the budget and timeline for the mission are being evaluated and that the agency “will provide an update later this year.” Safety is a priority, the spokesperson said, “and NASA will put humans on the moon when it is safe to do so.”

  • A Small Group of Moderate Democrats Threaten to Derail Their Party’s Legacy

    Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

    A group of nine House Democrats hailing from the caucus’ more moderate wing is threatening to block a $3.5 trillion spending package until their chamber first passes the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. The move jeopardizes the White House’s ambitious economic agenda and runs counter to the desires of both the president and congressional leadership.

    The lawmakers announced their pledge in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday, which was first reported by the New York Times. “The country is clamoring for infrastructure investment and commonsense, bipartisan solutions,” it reads. “We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.” Nearly all of the nine signatories, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), are members of the business-friendly Blue Dog Coalition.

    The centrist lawmakers’ demands run counter to the order of operations Pelosi proposed when the White House announced the bipartisan infrastructure deal in June. The House, Pelosi said, would not take up that package until it passed the reconciliation bill, a measure that could pass the Senate with just Democratic votes and has become the center for the party’s wider ambitions such as climate change legislation and child care. She reiterated that plan during a call with fellow Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday. “I’m not freelancing,” Pelosi said, according to Politico. “This is the consensus of the caucus.”

    The strategy appeased progressive House members, who had threatened their own rebellion if Democrats did not put their full weight behind a party-line spending bill, one that stands as the party’s last chance to make good on their ambitions before the 2022 midterms. But it also preserved much of the White House’s $4 trillion economic vision that aimed to invest not only in jobs and infrastructure but also social programs such as child care and education. To pass both together, in order words, is to ensure Biden’s legacy.

    The letter makes formal a brewing tension that has upended House Democrats’ familiar intraparty dynamics. After the party regained control of the House in the 2018 midterms, Pelosi found herself at odds with her caucus’s left-flank, helmed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and her fellow “Squad” members. Democrats had owed their newfound majority to moderate lawmakers who flipped House seats, and much of House Democrats’ agenda during those two years hewed close to the center.

    But that was before Biden, who won the Democratic primary with a centrist pitch, faced a once-in-a-generation pandemic and absorbed the popular line items of progressives’ wish lists into his platform as the party’s nominee. The White House formalized those ideas into a pair of economic proposals, the American Jobs and Families Plans. The line items with bipartisan appeal found their way into the infrastructure deal. The rest were sorted into the $3.5 trillion economic package—which also includes tax hikes on the rich.

    The sorts of programs and revenue raisers in the budget bill are typically anathemas to the business-friendly Democrats who signed Friday’s letter. The letter, notably, makes no promises that the signers will vote for the $3.5 trillion budget package, even if their demands to take up the infrastructure bill are met.

    As I reported earlier this week, despite his image as a centrist dealmaker, it’s actually been the more moderate members of his party who have proven to be a thorn in Biden’s side this year. “On matters of style, Biden sees himself in the moderates,” I wrote, “preferring across-the-aisle dealmaking to partisan warfare. But he’s unwilling to put that style ahead of substance in pursuit of his legacy—a legacy that, for now, is more closely aligned with his party’s left flank.”

    Pelosi has led her caucus with an iron fist, bending the ideologically sprawling coalition into submission in service of proving Democrats can get things done. She’s done so by cutting deals—and by cutting down vocal outliers on an as-needed basis. “That’s like, five people,” she said scoffing at the Squad’s influence in 2019. Whether Pelosi will reprise that dismissiveness for her caucus’s right flank is yet to be seen.

  • FDA Approves Booster Vaccines for Immunocompromised as Delta Rages Across the Country

    Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)/AP

    The US Food and Drug Administration authorized a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people, such as solid organ transplant recipients, the agency announced Thursday.

    “The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, said in a statement. “After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines.” The New York Times reported that an estimated 3 percent of Americans would fall under this designation for a variety of reasons.

    Woodcock said non-immunocompromised people who are full vaccinated “are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose” at this time, but that the FDA is “actively engaged in a science-based, rigorous process with our federal partners to consider whether an additional dose may be needed in the future.”

    The news comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19 makes its march through communities across the country, and hospitals in places such as Texas and Florida reach or exceed covid-related hospitalization rates not seen since last fall. The Florida Hospital Association reported earlier this week that 68 percent of hospitals there expect to reach a “critical staffing shortage,” the Palm Beach Post reported Friday, with pre-pandemic medical staff shortages having been exacerbated by the pandemic. That, combined with the recent surge in cases, has “dozens” of hospitals there stopping elective surgeries, the paper reported.

    Since the start of the pandemic last year, over 619,000 Americans have died from the disease. As the Delta variant spreads throughout the country, the US is now averaging an additional 616 deaths per day as of August 12, a 92 percent increase from two weeks ago. Cases have also rose precipitously, averaging 125,894 per day, a 76 percent increase. And while increases in cases are more worrisome in areas of the country with lower vaccination rates, as Delta rages areas of the country that were successfully on getting their populations vaccinated are also becoming hotspots for infection.

  • It Sure Looks Like Marjorie Taylor Greene Is About to Get Permanently Banned From Twitter

    Zach D Roberts/ZUMA

    Twitter has suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for one week after the first-term representative from Georgia falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were “failing” and ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus, violating the company’s rules on spreading COVID misinformation. 

    This marks Greene’s fourth strike from the platform since she arrived in Congress, an impressive feat built upon a record interwoven with conspiracy theories, racism, and misinformation. According to Twitter’s policy on medical information, Greene’s next violation would get her permanently suspended from the platform. Judging from her seeming inability to refrain from spreading misinformation and her history of being generally awful both online and off, a permanent ban seems like a safe bet.

    If that happens, and boy does it seem like it will, Greene will be stripped of yet another significant perch from which she’s spread her brand of hate and falsehoods. In February, the House voted to remove her committee assignments after debate over her social media posts supporting hateful conspiracy theories and the execution of prominent Democrats. Greene’s summer tour with Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman under investigation for having sex with a minor and paying prostitutes, has also run into problems with multiple venues canceling their appearances in response to complaints.

    So, with the Delta variant ravaging communities across the country and medical disinformation still kneecapping efforts to boost vaccination rates, let’s look forward to something that seems all but inevitable: The coming ban of one of the loudest misinformed mouthpieces out there.

  • Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne Gets Sued for Pushing Election Lies

    Patrick Byrne speaks at a Washington rally of Trump supporters the night of January 5, 2021.Bryan Smith/Zuma

    Dominion, the voting equipment vendor at the heart of some of the most sensational and debunked conspiracies holding that the 2020 was stolen from former President Donald Trump, filed a trio of defamation lawsuits Tuesday targeting two conservative media outlets and Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. 

    The suits bring the total number of suits filed by Dominion Voting Systems against prominent propagators of such conspiracies to seven, according to the Wall Street Journal: It had already sued Fox News, former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

    Byrne has established himself as one of driving forces of misinformation and disinformation about the 2020 election, pouring his money into the effort. The America Project, his nonprofit, reportedly provided $3.25 million to the organization behind the “audit” in Maricopa County, Arizona, and has produced a book and a movie, The Deep Rig, laying out his case. Dominion’s lawyers also allege that Byrne provided a private jet to a team that traveled to Michigan to produce a widely debunked and error-ridden report on alleged election rigging in that state.

    The suit against Byrne alleges that he decided months before the 2020 election that it would be stolen and, after the election, “manufactured and promoted fake evidence to convince the world…of a massive international conspiracy among China, Venezuelan and Spanish companies, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prominent Republicans, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Dominion.”

    When it comes to Byrne’s motivations, Dominion’s lawsuit focuses on how he could gain financially by attacking their company. Byrne has reportedly invested more than $200 million in blockchain technology, including, Dominion’s lawyers allege, with companies looking to profit from promoting its use in smartphone voting.

    The company’s suits seek $1.6 billion in damages from all three parties, plus additional money to pay for security and “expenses incurred combatting the disinformation campaign.”

    “Between the imminent release of the Maricopa Audit, and Mike Lindell’s current activities in South Dakota, Dominion Voting is about to have a very difficult week,” Byrne told Mother Jones in response to a request for comment on the lawsuit. “They are simply doing this as a distraction.”

    The suits were filed the same day that Lindell—whose company MyPillow Inc. has counter-sued Dominion—planned to launch his so-called “Cyber Symposium.” The online event was organized by Lindell and other conspiracists who say they can prove Trump’s election victory was stolen as part of the kind of sprawling international conspiracy that Byrne has helped propagate. The event was apparently delayed due to technical glitches. Lindell blamed them on an “attack” from unnamed forces.

    This post has been updated to include comment from Patrick Byrne.

  • The Senate Finally Passed an Infrastructure Bill. Here Comes the Hard Part.

    Chuck Schumer

    Rod Lamkey/CNP/ZUMA

    The Senate passed an infrastructure bill on Tuesday morning that would invest $1 trillion to rebuild the country’s aging utilities and transportation systems. The bill was backed by every Senate Democrat, and gained support from 19 Republicans. The passage ends months of rocky negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and delivers a victory to President Joe Biden, who campaigned on restoring the art of bipartisan dealmaking to the Oval Office.

    But the road to enacting Biden’s economic vision is far from over. The bill’s passage in the Senate merely sends it over to the House, kicking off what promises to be a long, tempestuous process that will test Democrats’ narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress—and ultimately determine just how ambitious Biden’s promised economic transformation will be.

    The bill sets aside money to repair roads and bridges, replace remaining lead pipes, reinvigorate mass transit, and boost electric vehicles. It also would invest in new public works projects, such as a network of electric car charging stations and a massive expansion of the nation’s broadband access. The slate of projected work is expected to create millions of new jobs over the next decade. The legislation marks the largest investment in public works in nearly a decade, but it still falls far short of the $4 trillion economic vision the White House proposed earlier this year. The eventual bipartisan deal proved particularly disappointing to progressive lawmakers, who already viewed the White House’s initial proposals as a down payment on the massive investments they deem necessary to remedy the nation’s crises.

    Congress’ left flank bit their typically unreserved tongues early in the first weeks of the bipartisan talks, an effort to “give a little space” to negotiations because “we understand there are some Senate Democrats who need to see that,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told me in June. But as months wore on, patience wore thin. Anxiety reached a pitch last month as early details of the bipartisan senators’ framework trickled out. Key Democratic priorities would be significantly downsized in the Senate’s deal—and progressive priorities would be all but absent.

    Such cuts were necessary to attract support from both sides of the Senate’s evenly divided aisles, but could cause problems in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) oversees her own narrow majority. When the deal was first announced, Pelosi promised that her chamber would only put the infrastructure proposal to a vote if it is accompanied by a budget reconciliation bill—legislation that only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate and can therefore pass with only Democratic votes. It would thus serve as the vehicle for whatever eligible pieces of her party’s agenda that had fallen to the cutting room floor.

    And that’s where the turbulent next phase begins. Much of the attention over the following weeks will turn to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which offers Democrats their best hope for salvaging what they can of the ambitious agenda Biden put forth earlier this year. “Progressives don’t give a fuck about the bipartisan deal,” one aide to a progressive House member tells me, emphasizing that the left flank will be agitating for more spending for key social investments—such as major investments in environmental justice and home care for the disabled and elderly.

    The White House is highly attuned to its fragile majority, and has taken care to assuage concerns from all facets of the House’s ideologically diverse caucus—including progressives, who have become increasingly vocal in their threats to tank deals they deem insufficient. “While there may be a couple of senators that are saying that they’re going to vote ‘no’ if certain things don’t happen, that is also true of any number of members in the House,” Jayapal told reporters last Tuesday.

    But centrist lawmakers have their own complaints. Rep. Josh Gotteheimer, the leader of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, told the New York Times that Pelosi “should bring this once-in-a-century bipartisan legislation to the floor for a stand-alone vote as quickly as possible.” Moderate Democrats are less enthusiastic about the massive spending the left is thirsting for in its Democrats-only bill, and the failure to deliver a timely bipartisan package will be its own source of anger for that faction as the midterms loom. Gotteheimer and five of his fellow House moderates formalized that opinion in a new letter that demands the speaker hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill “as soon as the Senate completes its work.” At least two centrist House lawmakers have said they won’t vote for any Democrat-only reconciliation bill at all. 

    It is finally, at long last, Infrastructure Week, and the Senate has defeated the odds to drag a massive, bipartisan investment over the finish line. But there’s no guarantee that this process has a happy ending. If not, Biden’s and Democrats’ legacies are on the line.