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  • 5:16 pm

What this “Nazi salute” prom photo says about the adults in the room

What this “Nazi salute” prom photo says about the adults in the room
[Photo: via Twitter]

It was junior prom at Baraboo High School in Wisconsin last spring. The photographer hired for the event asked the boys to throw up a Nazi salute for some of the shots. Most of them did, enthusiastically. The resulting pictures are now making their way around Twitter today, with a considerable amount of shock value.

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The original tweet, from Vice journalist Jules Suzdaltsev, appeared yesterday, asking for more information about the photo from students of Baraboo High School. And so began a thread that reveals a lot about the prevelance of racism, and the rise of white nationalist thinking, in some areas of country in the age of Trump.

This tweet is from one of the few kids in the photo who has spoken publicly about it.

Baraboo High School students tell of a school where racist hazing is common in the hallways, and about a school administration that hasn’t done much to stop it. Several students added to the thread with stories like this:

The high school’s superintendent, Lori Mueller, told CBS News that she saw the Sieg Heil photo on Monday when it was posted on social media. In a statement, after the standard boilerplate about how the photo “doesn’t reflect the school’s values,” Mueller added: “The District will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”

To make the story even stranger, the photographer, Peter Gust—who asked the boys to make the Nazi salute—is easily findable via his website and on his LinkedIn page. Gust removed the prom photo from the site, and added the following odd message:

“It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks; knowingly and willingly to be jerks! The internet can be a wonderful tool but for some there is an overwhelming urge to destroy. The destruction may not be physical but instead it can be bullying that is intellectual or emotional. To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize. To those who have harmed them, we as society often ignore them I have chosen not to do that. YOU ARE JERKS! Grow up! Be kind, Be gentle, Be civil!”

I reached out to Gust to get a clearer understanding of his version of events, but he didn’t respond.

Some of the bigotry demonstrated in the photo can be chalked up to normal teenage angst and poor judgement. But that’s not the whole explanation. The tweets from other Baraboo students reveal a pattern of behavior, and a permissive attitude from the adults in the room. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, and who still visits often, I’ve seen that the bigotry and racism that’s always been there is now closer to the surface than any time in my memory. The boys of Baraboo may be growing up in a culture where the normal system of sanctions against bigoted behavior have softened—or vanished completely.

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  • 3:40 pm

Snapchat’s head of content Nick Bell is out

Snapchat’s head of content Nick Bell is out
[Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]

Snap’s woes continued on Monday with the news that head of content Nick Bell is leaving the company. Bell, an articulate Brit, was a high-profile and long-tenured exec, overseeing its media and entertainment divisions, specifically its deals with content partners to develop original content for Snapchat. 

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Under his leadership, Snapchat transformed from a messaging-only app into a popular entertainment destination for young audiences, who hungrily snacked on Snapchat’s ephemeral, short-form videos. But the Discover platform, which he helped build, was never as successful as Stories and failed to gain significant traction both among users and the companies that created content for it. Many of those companies were traditional media entities that struggled to translate their content to Snapchat’s vertical, short, quick-cut format.  

Bell’s departure comes just weeks after the company announced a new slate of 12 original “serialized” shows called Snap Originals. The play is an attempt to create content that drives audiences to their service, something that everyone from Amazon to Snap rival Facebook is also doing (Instagram launched IGTV, its short-form video feature, earlier this year). Last month Bell took a swipe at IGTV, saying, “I don’t think they’re really trying to push forward the kind of quality bar of mobile video in the same way that we are. And you know, I’ve not seen anything on there to date which, as I said, is really compelling, that’s going to keep me coming back.” 

Snap’s struggles can be traced to Instagram’s moves into its turf, particularly since Snap’s 2017 IPO. Snapchat has struggled to grow and keep apace with Instagram, whose popularity has been aided by the adoption of its own Stories platform–which execs have candidly said it copied from Snapchat. During the third quarter of this year, Snapchat lost 2 million daily active users. Its stock hit a record low in late October when it closed at $5.99. On Monday it was trading down 2%, at $6.60.

Bell adds to the number of senior executive departures of late, including its CFO and VPs of product and engineering, and most notably, chief strategy officer Imran Khan, another longtime executive who announced in September that he’d be leaving the company. Khan was replaced by Jared Grusd, who will now also oversee Snapchat’s content team. 

In a memo to Snapchat’s staff, Bell wrote on Monday: “After nearly five years and a once in a lifetime ride, I have let Evan [Spiegel, Snap’s cofounder and CEO] know that I am leaving Snap to take some time off to recharge before deciding on my next adventure.” 

Spiegel, in a statement, said, “We are so grateful for Nick and everything he has built at Snap. It has been an incredible journey that began with our vision for what content could be on mobile. Today, more people are watching more premium content on Snap than ever before, and we couldn’t be more excited about the momentum we are seeing with Snap Originals. We will miss Nick and we wish him all the best.” 

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  • 2:25 pm

Stan Lee, the arch superhero of comic books, is dead at 95

Stan Lee, the arch superhero of comic books, is dead at 95
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

The man born Stanley Lieber published his first comic book under the pseudonym Stan Lee in 1941–Captain America Comics #3–and he never looked back. He went on to create some of the most memorable, beloved, pivotal characters in all of comics–among them, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and The Avengers–and help shepherd the industry into cultural dominance. And now, 77 years later, he has died at age 95.

According to TMZ, the shadow-casting superhero of comics was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, following a rocky year full of illnesses and possible abuse, and ultimately passed away at the hospital. He leaves behind the wildly successful Marvel empire he co-created, including its eponymous Cinematic Universe, which has a packed slate of projects in development. Though the company will most surely continue to thrive without him, his monumental contribution will never be forgotten. Excelsior, indeed.

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  • 12:18 pm

Brooklyn students walk out of school over Zuckerberg-backed learning system

Brooklyn students walk out of school over Zuckerberg-backed learning system
[Photo: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash]

Almost 100 students walked out of class at Brooklyn’s Secondary School for Journalism to protest the school’s use of Summit Learning.

The controversial educational system is backed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization started by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Students said the program, designed to deliver individualized learning, kept them tied to computer screens for hours each day, the New York Post reports.

Wi-Fi issues and system crashes also made the system–built with assistance from Facebook engineers–frustrating to use, and parents expressed concern about how student data would be used. The school is eliminating the program for 11th and 12th grade, according to the report.

It’s not the only school to back away from using Summit Learning: Other schools have ended use of the program amid concerns about curriculum content and data use, EdSurge reported last year.

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  • 7:19 am

Zuck pressured Facebook exec to hide his support of Trump–then fired him, says report

Zuck pressured Facebook exec to hide his support of Trump–then fired him, says report
[Photo: Flickr user Alessio Jacona]

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that sources close to Palmer Luckey, the cofounder of virtual reality startup Oculus that Facebook bought in 2016, was fired from the company for his political support of President Trump. In September 2016 it came to light that Luckey donated $10,000 to an anti-Hilary Clinton meme factory. Six months later, Luckey was fired from Facebook–with Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denying that Luckey’s departure had anything to do with politics. But that wasn’t true, according to sources who spoke to the Journal:

Mr. Luckey, it turns out, was put on leave, then fired, according to people familiar with the matter. More recently, he has told people the reason was his support for Donald Trump and the furor that his political beliefs sparked within Facebook and Silicon Valley, some of those people say.

Internal Facebook emails suggest the matter was discussed at the highest levels of the company. In the fall of 2016, as unhappiness over the donation simmered, Facebook executives including Mr. Zuckerberg pressured Mr. Luckey to publicly voice support for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, despite Mr. Luckey’s yearslong support of Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the conversations and internal emails viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

After his dismissal, Luckey hired an employment lawyer who argued that Facebook violated California law by pressuring Luckey to voice support for Gary Johnson and for punishing an employee for his political activity. Luckey and Facebook eventually negotiated a $100 million settlement for his dismissal. Prior to the Journal’s report, the only public comments Luckey made about the nature of his firing were said to CNBC earlier this year, with Luckey stating, “It wasn’t my choice to leave.”

A Facebook spokesperson told the Journal, “We can say unequivocally that Palmer’s departure was not due to his political views. We’re grateful for Palmer’s contributions to Oculus, and we’re glad he continues to actively support the VR industry.” As for Luckey, he would only tell the Journal that the episode was in the past and said, “I believe the team that remains at Oculus is still the best in the VR industry, and I am rooting for them to succeed.”

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Your Netflix subscription could get cheaper

Your Netflix subscription could get cheaper
[Photo: Thibault Penin/Unsplash]

That’s because the company says it will begin testing lower-priced subscription plans in some markets, reports Bloomberg. The test is being done to see if lowering monthly subscription costs will help the company boost the number of subscribers. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings confirmed the tests in an interview on Friday.

However, Hastings didn’t reveal when or where the test would be conducted. In the U.S. Netflix currently offers three monthly subscription tiers. The basic plan costs $7.99 a month and only supports one screen and only streams non-HD content. The standard plan costs $10.99 a month and supports HD streaming and viewing content on two screens at the same time. The premium plan costs $13.99 a month and supports Ultra HD streaming and viewing content on four screens at the same time.

Bloomberg says Netflix isn’t planning to lower the price of its cheapest tier. Instead, the test will introduce a fourth tier that will offer different features and cost less.

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Twitter is considering an “edit” button–but for typos only

Twitter is considering an “edit” button–but for typos only
[Photo: ROBIN WORRALL/Unsplash]

An edit button is something many Twitter users have been clamoring for for some time. The need for such is obvious if you’ve ever published a tweet and minutes later discovered a typo in it. If so, your only option is to delete the tweet and repost it as fresh. Of course, any likes or retweets your typo-laden original tweet got will be lost.

But an edit button on Twitter can be a dangerous thing. For example, people could use it to troll the crap out of others. Say someone posted a tweet saying “I love Trump” and several Republican Senators then retweeted that tweet. The person who originally posted the tweet could then change it to “I hate Trump” and thus make the people who retweeted the original tweet look like they aren’t fans of the president. That’s a concern Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey brought up while speaking at an event in New Delhi, India, recently, reports TNW:

You have to pay attention to what are the use cases for the edit button. A lot of people want the edit button because they want to quickly fix a mistake they made. Like a misspelling or tweeting the wrong URL. That’s a lot more achievable than allowing people to edit any tweet all the way back in time.

Dorsey went on to say:

We have been considering this for a while and we have to do in the right way. We can’t just rush it out. We can’t make something which is distracting or takes anything away from the public record.

So the good news is an edit button may be coming to Twitter sometime in the future, but it will be limited in its scope.

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China’s Singles’ Day brings in a record-breaking $30 billion

China’s Singles’ Day brings in a record-breaking $30 billion
[Photo: freestocks.org/Unsplash]

Singles’ Day is (also known as “Double 11” because it takes place on November 11, or 11/11 every year) is a Chinese holiday that began in 1993 and celebrates the pride in being alone, or single. The shopping holiday took place on Sunday and smashed its previous record of $25 billion in sales in 2017. 2018’s Singles’ Day saw Alibaba, which dominates the holiday in China, take in a record haul of 213.5 billion yuan ($30.7 billion) in just one 24-hour period, reports Reuters.

However, not all was good. This year’s Singles’ Day saw sales growth plummet from a 39% year-over-year increase in 2017 to just a 27% YOY increase this year. That’s the lowest growth rate in 10 years. Then again, the shopping holiday wasn’t all bad, with Alibaba saying it processed $1 billion in sales this year in just one minute and 25 seconds.

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How to watch the People’s Choice Awards and red carpet without a TV

How to watch the People’s Choice Awards and red carpet without a TV
[Image: courtesy of E! Entertainment]

Now that Americans have cast their ballots in the midterms, it’s time to turn our attention to another popularity contest. The 2018 People’s Choice Awards, in which fans vote on their favorite pop-culture treasures, is happening tonight. The voting part already ended, but the awards ceremony takes place at Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, California.

The awards, now part of NBCUniversal’s E! network after years on CBS, celebrate a number of categories including music, TV, movies, and the stars themselves. It also has some wackier categories like most binge-worthy show. You can check out the full (very long) list of finalists here. There’s no actual host this year, but E! promises a star-studded performance lineup, including an opening performance by Nicki Minaj.

Red Carpet coverage is set to begin today (Sunday, November 11) at 7 p.m., with the ceremony beginning at 9 p.m. ET. If you’re a cord cutter looking to live-stream the action, you’ll need access to one of the five NBCUniversal-owned channels that will air the event. They include Bravo, E!, Syfy, Universo, and USA Network.

These streaming services offer NBCUniversal channels and some are offering free promotions, so you can try them out and cancel if you’re not into it:

  • FuboTV: This low-cost service has a free trial going and offers NBCU channels in some areas. Find it here.
  • YouTube TV: The Google-owned live-TV service offers NBCU channels. You can find a full list here.
  • Hulu with Live TV: Hulu’s live TV service offers NBCU channels. Find it here.
  • Sling TV: This one from Dish Network offers NBCU channels. Find it here.
  • Bravo or USA online: You can stream live TV directly from these networks’ websites, but you’l need access to login credentials from a cable or satellite TV company, which is annoying. Find them here and here.
  • Behind-the-Scenes live streams: E! says it will air special behind-the-scenes coverage from the Barker Hanger on its YouTube and Twitter channels.
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19 things you can do to help California wildfire victims right now

19 things you can do to help California wildfire victims right now
[Photo: Andrea Booher/Wikimedia Commons]

Huge swaths of California are currently on fire. The Hill and Woolsey fires have cut through thousands of acres (over 83,000 at last count) of Los Angeles and Ventura County, while the Camp Fire in Northern California has become the third deadliest and most destructive fire in state history. All told, these climate change-fueled disasters have killed at least 23 people, destroyed thousands of homes, displaced hundreds of thousands of residents across the state, and decimated the entire town of Paradise.

If you are reading this, you probably want to help. Here’s how you can:

Donate Goods or Services

  • Give an evacuee or a firefighter a free place to stay through Airbnb. Find out more here.
  • If you’re in California, donate non-perishable food items to the Salvation Army Ventura Corps, which is providing food and shelter to victims and first responders.
  • Caring Choices in Butte County is currently looking for medical volunteers.
  • Other volunteer opportunities related to the fires are posted on California Volunteers, including financial and other donations.

Donate Money

Help Animals

[NASA.gov]
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This incredibly simple privacy app helps protect your phone from snoops with one click

This incredibly simple privacy app helps protect your phone from snoops with one click
[Photo: Flickr user Book Catalog]

In the United States and many other countries, there are no legal protections to stop internet service providers–landline or mobile–from tracking where you go online. (A 2017 act of Congress enshrined that right to snoop in the U.S.) They can use the info to market to you directly, or sell the data to other marketing companies. New laws, spearheaded by efforts in the EU and California, may someday prevent that–emphasis on may someday.

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Meanwhile, you can throw a wrench in the schemes of ISPs, or snoopy governments or hackers, with a new, incredibly simple, and free app that encrypts the identity of the servers your mobile apps access. That partially obscures not only your web surfing, but also whether Spotify, Instagram, Fox News, MLB, or any other apps are pinging their respective servers.

How it works, and what’s in a name

Just click one switch to turn on the app in Android or iOS. [Image: Courtesy Cloudflare]
The new app, from Cloudflare, is called 1.1.1.1–the name of the internet server it uses. Cloudflare’s main business is as a content delivery network that optimizes the speed of websites using it, as well as shielding them from cyberattacks.

But Cloudflare also operates what’s called a DNS service. This is the lookup service that translates a text web address like “google.com” to the four-part numerical IP address that internet routers use. In this case 172.217.7.196 (actually one of a bunch that Google uses).

Forgoing the default DNS server that your ISP provides and using an alternate one like Cloudflare’s (or others) makes it a lot harder for your ISP to log all the sites you go to. (They have to dig a lot deeper into your web traffic to get the info.)


Related: Here’s How To Plug One Of The Biggest Privacy Holes In The Internet


A cool feature of Cloudflare’s service, at the IP address 1.1.1.1, is that it supports encryption. So an ISP, government, or hacker also can’t read the requests you send to Cloudflare’s server by trying to intercept the traffic.

Cloudflare introduced the 1.1.1.1 service on April 1, based on the dad-joke humor that 4/1 sounds kinda like “four ones.” (I described how it works in more detail, including set up on PCs and Macs, back then.) Now it’s launching the mobile app on 11/11.

The app not only saves the process of manually configuring the Android or iOS operating systems to use 1.1.1.1 as their default DNS server, it also forms an encrypted connection between the DNS server and every app on the phone. Previously, each individual app had to support this form of encryption, called DNS over HTTPS. (Firefox for Android is the only one that I know of, though there may be others.)

Should you use 1.1.1.1?

If you don’t consider yourself super techy, you probably should use this app. It’s an incredibly simple way to add privacy to your smartphone: Just install, and click one switch. Cloudflare’s DNS service is also really fast, so it could speed up your browsing, especially to sites and web services that run on Cloudflare’s network.

During installation, the 1.1.1.1 app asks you to install a VPN service on your iOS (left) or Android (right) phone. [Image: Courtesy Cloudflare]
If the following two paragraphs look like techy gobbledygook, you fall into that first group who should use the app. And you can skip to the how-to part.

If you’re more security-minded and use a VPN (virtual private network) encryption app on your mobile, Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 app will actually downgrade your security. That’s because Cloudflare uses a VPN connection to send these encrypted DNS requests. And since your phone can run only one of these apps at once, it actually prevents you from using your original VPN app–which you may have gotten from your employer or set up on your own.

Cloudflare’s VPN connection is inferior, because it encrypts only the DNS requests, not the rest of your traffic. I happen to use a VPN app called Tunnel Bear (which Cloudflare likes so much, it almost bought the company, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince told me). So I will not be running 1.1.1.1 on my phone. But you can still configure your mobile operating system to use the 1.1.1.1 DNS service (or other alternate DNS services like Google’s at 8.8.8.8) to see if it speeds up your surfing.

How to set up 1.1.1.1

This part’s super easy. Find the app in the iOS or Android app stores and follow the installation instructions. At one point, the dialog will ask your permission to install a VPN service. Go ahead and say “Yes” (assuming you don’t already have a VPN, in which case Cloudflare’s app is not for you).

After the install, you’ll see the 1.1.1.1 app’s main screen, featuring a single toggle switch. Click to turn it on. That’s it.

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Google and YouTube team up with StoryCorps to tell veterans’ stories

Google and YouTube team up with StoryCorps to tell veterans’ stories
[Animation: courtesy of Google]

Google is teaming up with the *ahem* veteran storytellers at StoryCorps to help mark Veterans Day with a new oral history project. Google’s new animated Veterans Day Google Doodle features five veterans’ stories–one from each branch of the U.S. military. The stories come from a partnership with StoryCorps and, like most of the tales gathered by StoryCorps, they are gems about friendship, loss, hardship, hope, and love.

In addition to the new Doodle, Google is launching a story-collecting initiative called Veterans Voices. Would-be Studs Terkels are invited to interview a veteran in their life and upload the video to either the StoryCorps app or YouTube along with the hashtag #VeteransVoices. While YouTube allows for visual storytelling, veterans’ tales collected via the StoryCorps app will be submitted for permanent inclusion in the Library of Congress.

Google isn’t just helping veterans preserve their history for future generations. It is also helping them find new work, meaning, and success in their civilian lives. To celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week, Google is helping veteran-owned and veteran-led businesses by promoting them on Google Maps and making it easier for users to know who they are supporting.

The search giant also made it easier for service members to find civilian jobs by simply entering their military occupational speciality code directly into Google Search to see jobs that require similar skills. To further help veterans in their job searches, Google.org gave a $2.5 million grant to the USO (United Service Organizations) to provide training and career guidance for transitioning military personnel, military spouses, and veterans to earn a Google IT Support Professional Certificate.

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Enough is enough. It’s time to boycott White House press briefings

Enough is enough. It’s time to boycott White House press briefings
[Photo: Flickr user James Lee]

News flash!

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There’s a good chance that you didn’t see any of those important stories this week about how the government is using (or misusing) our taxpayer dollars and undermining key protections—because you were distracted by President Donald Trump calling Jim Acosta a “rude, terrible person” and deriding April Ryan as a “loser.” Those kerfuffles generated front-page headlines (including, I admit, a story that I wrote yesterday) and led news broadcasts around the world. Search “Jim Acosta” on Nexis and you get more than 1,200 hits over the last two days. Here’s the Google trends chart for the CNN reporter’s name over the last week:

Don’t get me wrong. The president should be lambasted for his treatment of the press as the “enemy of the people,” and Acosta shouldn’t have had his credentials pulled. And I don’t expect sometimes-complicated regulatory debates over government policy to make the network news or inspire viral Instagram memes. And I’m the first one to admit that I’ve chased my share of celebrity scandals and juicy news nuggets in my 20-plus years in journalism.

But it’s time to step back, take a breath, and reassess what we’re doing—to stop chasing every little tweet and comment and fuss, just because it comes from the president. The fable of the boiling frog has been repeated many times in the Trump era, but it may be a metaphor in need of a revamp, because it’s no longer adequately conveying the gravity of the situation. At this point, the frog isn’t paying attention to the water that’s slowly getting hotter around him because he’s also distracted by the monkey sitting on the rim of the pot making faces at him and occasionally doing somersaults.

It’s time to wake up and get out of the damn pot. And we can start, as reporters, at a very simple level by boycotting the damn White House press briefings, even for just a day (as recommended by the New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer and the Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore), and covering the myriad agencies in government whose policies and regulations are notoriously undercovered.

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The ACLU just sued President Trump over new asylum restrictions

The ACLU just sued President Trump over new asylum restrictions
[Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House/Flickr]

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights sued President Trump and other officials Friday, saying new restrictions on how people can seek asylum violate federal law.

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“The government’s blatant disregard for the rights of asylum seekers cannot stand,” said Melissa Crow, a Southern Poverty Law Center senior supervising attorney, in a statement.

The new policy says migrants can only seek asylum if they “present themselves for inspection” at an official port of entry. Those who enter the country “unlawfully through the southern border” won’t be eligible to do so, Trump said in a “presidential proclamation” released Friday.

The civil-liberties groups say federal law explicitly says immigrants don’t have to pass through a port of entry to claim asylum. Most asylum seekers who enter the country and are then apprehended show up for court hearings as instructed, the groups say, citing Department of Justice data.

Waiting for processing at official border crossings, where asylum processing can drag on for days or weeks, can be highly dangerous, they argue.

“The region of Mexico near the border with the United States is a particularly violent area with limited law enforcement capacity,” according to the complaint in the lawsuit. “Asylum seekers turned back from a port of entry have been raped, beaten, and kidnapped and held for ransom by cartel members waiting outside.”

They also argue that Department of Justice and Homeland Security officials didn’t follow proper procedures in issuing new rules with minimal notice.

Trump, who made a so-called migrant caravan a central issue in the midterm elections, said in his proclamation that the presence of groups traveling through Mexico from Central America leaves no time for delay.

“The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders,” he said. “I therefore must take immediate action to protect the national interest, and to maintain the effectiveness of the asylum system for legitimate asylum seekers who demonstrate that they have fled persecution and warrant the many special benefits associated with asylum.”

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Report: ID thieves are exploiting USPS mail-scanning service, Secret Service warns

Report: ID thieves are exploiting USPS mail-scanning service, Secret Service warns
[Photo: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons]

The U.S. Postal Service’s Informed Delivery service is cool. The free service sends users an email every morning with photos of the mail they can expect in the day’s delivery. It’s a convenient option for anyone anxiously awaiting the arrival of their Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin (or just too lazy to trudge to the mailbox every day). More than 6 million people have signed up for Informed Delivery, but they may rethink the decision after a recent warning from the U.S. Secret Service.

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Tech watchdog Krebs on Security reports that the U.S. Secret Service sent an internal alert on November 6 warning that scammers are using the Informed Delivery feature “to identify and intercept mail, and to further their identity theft fraud schemes.” They also want to use the service to “surveil potential identity theft victims” on criminal forums, Krebs reports.

The alert was sent in the wake of a Michigan bust, where seven people were arrested for allegedly stealing credit cards from mailboxes and racking up $400,000 in charges after signing up as those victims at the USPS website. Krebs on Security had warned this was possible a year ago, bluntly calling Informed Delivery “a stalker’s dream.”

Reached for comment, a USPS spokesman sent the following statement:

“The fraud referred to is a matter of identity theft that has already been perpetuated by a criminal. Postal Service customer identities’ are not compromised by using the Informed Delivery feature. Unfortunately, in very few cases, an individual’s identity has already been compromised by a criminal who then has used it to set up an Informed Delivery account.”

He added that customers have two options to report a potentially fraudulent Informed Delivery account (or to block its address), either online at the USPS help desk or by calling technical support at 1-800-344-7779.


Related: Suspicious packages spotlight a vast postal surveillance system


In the meantime, Krebs also notes that there is a “new security wrinkle,” because the perennially cash-strapped USPS is reportedly trying to generate a little income by selling third-party advertising on the emails it sends to subscribers. Look for an alert from the Secret Service warning about this in about a year.

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These California wildfire maps let you track Woolsey fire and smoke forecasts in real time

These California wildfire maps let you track Woolsey fire and smoke forecasts in real time
[Animation: courtesy of Esri]

Three massive wildfires are tearing through California, stretching as far north as the Camp Fire in Paradise (about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco) and as far south as the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. A third fire, the Hill Fire, is torching parts of the Santa Rosa Valley, not far from the town where 12 people were killed in a shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill this week.

Evacuations are currently under way, with tens of thousands of people having already been forced to flee their homes, and hot and dry weather conditions are exacerbating the problem. Per USA Today, the three fires stretched a combined area of 33,000 acres as of Friday.

Using data from various government sources, spatial analytics company Esri has created two interactive maps to help people track the progression of the fires and stay up to date on traffic and smoke forecasts. I’ve linked to both of them and provided descriptions below.

  • Traffic map. This one shows current wildfires along with real-time traffic information. It also  shows thermal hotspots detected by satellites. Find it here.
  • Smoke forecast map. This one shows 48-hour smoke forecasts from the National Weather Service for areas affected by the fires. According to Esri, it should be updated soon with pins for the Camp Fire and the fires in Los Angeles, both of which just broke out yesterday. Find it here.
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15 midterm election races that are still too close to call

15 midterm election races that are still too close to call
[Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash]

While the news cycle makes it feel like it was 12 lifetimes ago, the polls closed on the midterm elections just three days ago. The elections were so recent, in fact, that the results are still trickling in for tight races in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona.

Here are the Senate and Governor races that are still undecided:

  • In the U.S. Senate contest in Florida, Republican Rick Scott, who is currently the state’s governor, and incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson are in a race so tight the race’s margin is currently just 0.2 percentage points, NPR reports.
  • The race to fill the Florida’s governor seat is tight with the difference between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron De Santis within a margin of less than 0.5 percentage points, according to NPR. De Santis has filed a lawsuit in the hopes of preventing a recount, which led Gillum to point out that counting votes is not partisan, it’s democracy.
  • Georgia’s governor race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams has yet to be decided. While Kemp claims victory, Abrams won’t concede until all votes have been counted–and potentially recounted. The election was plagued with allegations of voter fraud and vote suppression.
  • The Arizona Senate race is also up in the air. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is over Republican Martha McSally, according to Arizona’s ABC affiliate. The state is still working its way through some provisional and mail-in ballots, which could take several days.
  • The race to fill a Senate seat in Mississippi is in an automatic runoff between Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the position, and Democrat Mike Espy. That will take place on Nov. 27, per the Clarion-Ledger.

There are also at least 10 House seats still to be filled, including five in California. Here’s where they stand, according to CNN’s tally:

  • ME-2: Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin leads Democrat Jared Golden
  • UT-4: Democrat Ben McAdams leads Republican Rep. Mia Love
  • NM-2: Democrat Xochitl Torres Small leads Republican Yvette Herrell
  • NJ-3: Democrat Andrew Kim leads Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur
  • GA-7: Republican Rep. Rob Woodall leads Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux
  • CA-49: Democrat Mike Levin leads Republican Diane Harkey
  • CA-48: Democrat Harley Rouda leads Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
  • CA-45: Republican Rep. Mimi Walters leads Democrat Katie Porter
  • CA-39: Republican Young Kim leads Democrat Gil Cisneros
  • CA-10: Republican Rep. Jeff Denham leads Democrat Josh Harder

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Checking for fraud, AI rooted out one company’s sexist language

Checking for fraud, AI rooted out one company’s sexist language
[Photos: LYCS LYCS/Unsplash; Matthew Brodeur/Unsplash]

We hear a lot about AI’s potential to take away jobs, but in some cases, AI can do what humans simply cannot. Take the case of a fraud investigation that was tripped after a senior executive from an Australia-based retirement fund provider abruptly resigned and the company’s HR department found mentions of gambling in this person’s emails.

Advisory and investment firm KordaMentha using the e-discovery platformRelativity helped with the analysis of this executive’s emails and other data. Although there wasn’t any evidence of fraud, they did find evidence of sexist language. A deeper dive into the documents looked at how certain phrases were used in context. While the human team was reviewing, the third-party natural-language processing platforms analyzed that data with regards to sentiment, relationships, and entities.

“The analysis we conducted made it clear that the misogynistic language was happening throughout the organization,” said Craig Macaulay, executive director of KordaMentha’s forensic technology team, in a statement. What was more surprising is that the company recently conducted a survey on sexism in their workplace and they “passed with flying colors.”

For privacy reasons, KordaMentha declined to name the company or provide specific instances of the language in the emails. But KordaMentha said it triggered a second investigation of nearly 1.5 million documents. The additional analysis resulted in a handful of employees getting sacked, several others who got issued sanctions, and a plan to implement necessary organizational changes.

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Traveling to Chicago? Let these room service robots cater to your every whim

Traveling to Chicago? Let these room service robots cater to your every whim
[Photo: courtesy of Hotel EMC2]

Guests who order room service at the Hotel EMC2, an “art and science inspired” hotel in Chicago’s upscale Streeterville neighborhood, can as of last week have their items delivered by a pair of autonomous robots.

[Photo: courtesy of Hotel EMC2]
The 3-foot-tall devices, dubbed Leo and Cleo, need to be loaded by a human with food items such as pastries, fruit bowls, or a package with pimento toast and Chicago’s Old Style brand beers. They can also transport miscellaneous items like toiletries or towels. Then, the machines–from Bay Area robotics company Savioke–can navigate their way to guest rooms. Hotel guests, who can order the semi-automated deliveries using in-room Amazon Alexa units, can then pluck their orders from the glowing robots and send them on their way.

The hotel isn’t the only one to feature a robotic butler: The Aloft hotel near Apple’s Cupertino, California, has also rolled out similar bots from Savioke’s Relay line. Savioke has figured out how to let its robots talk to hotel elevators, meaning one less step that humans need to be involved with as the machines make their rounds.

Robot-powered room service is available at the EMC2 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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Here’s something that could absolutely only happen to Ryanair

Here’s something that could absolutely only happen to Ryanair
[Photo: Wouter Engler/Wikimedia Commons]

One of Ryanair’s airplanes just got impounded.

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“Impounded?” you ask. Yes, says I. Impounded. Just as your car can get towed if you don’t pay a few parking tickets, so too, it turns out, can planes.

French authorities intercepted a plane about to depart from the Bordeaux-Merignac airport, forced all the passengers off, and took the jet as collateral. The reason France took the plane is because Ryanair reportedly owes money. (See? The “parking ticket” metaphor holds up!)

Here’s the Associated Press’s explanation:

[T]he aviation authority said France had repeatedly tried to get Ryanair to pay back regional funds paid to the airline in 2008-2009. The European Commission later ruled those funds illegal, saying they gave Ryanair an unfair economic advantage.

In short, Ryanair received some money 10 years ago, which Europe decided later it shouldn’t have. Now, France is trying to get it back, and has resorted to the same tactics that small towns and cities use for individual drivers. I’m surprised France didn’t put a boot on the plane’s wheel.

And this situation is made even more perfect by the fact that it involves Ryanair. For those lucky enough to not know about the budget airline, it’s famous for selling extremely cheap tickets to European towns only a hundred kilometers away from where you actually want to go. But, of course, there’s a catch: Ryanair customers are asked to pay for every single thing on the flight–bags, carry-ons, water, etc. And the entire trip is punctuated with flight attendants hawking any sort of monetizeable item, like lottery tickets (?), for example. Flying Ryanair is like a mixture between traveling on a Greyhound Bus and shopping at the Salvation Army, but less fun.

With that, it kind of makes sense that Ryanair would be the airline to get impounded. We’ll see if this action from France will cause the company to cough up the money.

I reached out to Ryanair for comment and will update this post if I hear back.

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