Singapore’s Plan to Decriminalize Gay Sex Draws Mixed Feelings from the LGBTQ Community

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 06:17

Cheers erupted in private parties and gay bars across Singapore on Sunday evening as the country’s prime minister announced the repeal of a colonial-era law that criminalized sex between men.

But as people exchanged teary hugs, caution and uncertainty soon set in over the scrapping of the controversial law, which activists argue has formed the basis for discrimination against queer folks for decades in the city-state of 5.7 million residents.

While the repeal would effectively decriminalize gay sex, there were mixed feelings among LGBTQ people as Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reaffirmed in his annual National Day Rally speech the government’s stance on recognizing only heterosexual marriages. He also said authorities would amend the definition of marriage in the Constitution— effectively making it harder to pass laws that would extend marriage to same-sex couples in the future.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening,’” said Teo Yu Sheng, the founder of local queer merchandise brand Heckin’ Unicorn, who watched the speech on a livestream at his brother’s home. But Teo pointed out that Lee upheld all the other policies affecting the LGBTQ community, such as the lack of recognition for same-sex unions.

“So there’s a bit of confusion: Should I be happy, should I be celebrating?” Teo told VICE World News.

Still, there was plenty of joy surrounding the historic announcement.

Introduced in 1938 when Singapore was under British colonial rule, section 377A of the penal code carries a jail term of up to two years for “any act of gross indecency” between two men, be it in public and private spaces. In the last decade, the government had sought to placate critics by saying it wouldn’t enforce this law, but refused to drop it until now.

Benjamin Xue, the co-founder of queer youth community group Young OUT Here, called the repeal a “hard-won battle.”

“[I’m] super relieved and frankly super hopeful,” Xue told VICE World News after the prime minister’s repeal announcement.

While the details of the repeal remain to be ironed out in a parliamentary debate, Xue says that the announcement still holds great significance for the LGBTQ community in Singapore, which has long borne the brunt of section 377A.

The 1990s were a time of frequent raids on gay businesses, as well as “anti-gay operations” that saw plainclothes policemen arresting cruising queer men and charging them with different offenses—including section 377A. These operations occurred at varying frequencies, until as recently as 2010.

“A lot of people who have lived through it are still alive. Well, some of them are no longer with us,” said Xue, who expressed bittersweet feelings for the repeal. “I’ve lost friends over the years, friends who would never see a repeal coming. So I’m taking a more somber-slash-commemorative approach to this.”

“This announcement will hopefully be able to start reconciliation for many families. At the same time, a moment for healing for the community.”

As local media—especially Singapore’s government-aligned news outlets—amped up their coverage of section 377A over the past week, many in the LGBTQ community eagerly anticipated what the National Day Rally speech would hold for the local queer rights movement. But many came away from the speech with what they described as a “mixed feeling.”

While the repeal represents a small but significant step to improving queer rights in Singapore, the initial excitement of the LGBTQ community was soon dampened by the realization that same-sex marriages have just been shoved further out of reach.

On Sunday, Lee also announced that the government would amend the country’s constitution to protect the current heteronormative definition of marriage from being challenged in court—a move lauded by religious groups.

“Under the law, only marriages between one man and one woman are recognized in Singapore,” Lee said.

“Many national policies rely upon this definition of marriage—including public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, film classification,” he said. “The government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage, nor these policies.”

Under existing national policies, only heterosexual couples are eligible to apply for public housing; sex education in schools also explicitly promote heterosexual marriages, while public broadcasting regulations prohibit positive portrayals of queer characters.

In 2018, activists mounted a legal challenge against section 377A, arguing that it violated the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law. The challenge was dismissed by the court, which said that the repeal was a highly divisive issue that should be decided by the parliament.

Singapore’s Constitution currently doesn’t define who can get married, though marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman in other national laws. If exclusively heterosexual marriages are enshrined in the constitution, as Lee suggested, those calling for the recognition of same-sex marriages would no longer be able to appeal to the court for changes to the law in the same way that 377A critics have, since a constitutional amendment would require two-thirds majority support in the parliament.

“We express deep regret about the suggested changes to the Constitution on the protection of heterosexual marriages by the Prime Minister. This will continue to render [LGBTQ] persons unequal members of society,” said Jean Chong, the co-founder of Sayoni, a non-governmental organization that advocates for queer women, in a statement.

“Such discriminatory protections will continue to threaten the basic dignity of [LGBTQ] persons, sending a powerful message that their families are not valued and that their rights are contingent on the benefit and readiness of the majority.”

In the months leading up to Sunday’s speech, government officials have made public mentions of section 377A, citing changes in social attitudes toward homosexuality in the last decade. In March, law minister K Shanmugam said in parliament that the government was taking an incremental approach to change, involving engagement with different groups, balancing these different viewpoints to create consensus regarding section 377A. Among them are conservative and religious groups who support the anti-gay sex law as a “marker for many social and moral considerations” and a way to temper local LGBTQ activism.

“The government sees itself as a ‘fair, honest broker’ between different identity groups,” said Rayner Tan, a sociobehavioral researcher at the National University of Singapore. “On LGBTQ rights, the government takes a balancing act approach to mediate between those who support equal rights for LGBTQ people and conservative and religious groups that oppose it.

However, he added, this approach also makes it harder to for the government to truly address the interests of the LGBTQ community, especially when the repeal is combined with policies that continue to disregard queer identities.

Despite the government long claiming that 377A will not be proactively enforced, activists have argued that there have been detrimental cascading effects from the law—such as social stigma, the lack of inclusive education, challenges in securing housing, and workplace discrimination—levied against LGBTQ individuals.

“One big challenge is when I was growing up in school, a lot of sexuality education was demonizing LGBTQ people,” said Kennede Sng, a 25-year-old gay man in Singapore. “I think that 377A has definitely played a big part in shaping these mindsets from a very early age.”

“There is a cause for celebration that 377A is repealed because of the symbolism. But it’s just a starting point.”

As recently as May, new adoption laws were introduced to curb “undesirable practices” in the adoption sector, allowing only married heterosexual couples to apply for adoption—leaving same-sex couples out of the equation.

It remains to be seen whether the shift in the government’s position toward the LGBTQ community would usher in policy changes that would create a friendlier environment for queer people living in Singapore. According to activists, these issues may not be solved simply with the scrapping of an archaic law, especially when the LGBTQ community is much more diverse than just gay men.

“Now that [377A] is gone, it’s very important for us to remember that it’s not just about the ‘gay men policies.’ I really have no idea how or when the policies will change, not just for gay people, but for everyone else within the community,” said Teo, citing the transgender community as one of the most vulnerable.

Sharvesh Leatchmanan, a 25-year-old graduate student who identifies as queer and non-binary, says that the repeal has highlighted the inequalities that exist within the LGBTQ community. While gay men are finally being accepted at a national level, there remain those who have fallen through the cracks—especially queer people who live on the intersections of marginalization, such as ethnic minorities.

“Honestly, it's quite somber. I really don't think it's a win because it's a win for a specific group of people within the queer community,” he said. “It's not a win for people like me.”

“What are we doing after this? What happens now? Especially when they amend the Constitution, what can one even do?”

But for now, as Singapore navigates what the government considers the “best way forward” in dealing with different voices surrounding LGBTQ issues, activists around the country are cautiously optimistic about the gaps that still lie ahead in safeguarding queer rights, while not forgetting to commemorate the milestone that they have taken decades to reach.

“The demise of Section 377A represents something different to each of us. For everyone who has experienced the kinds of bullying, rejection and harassment enabled by this law, repeal finally enables us to begin the process of healing,” reads a collective statement issued by LGBTQ activist groups in Singapore on Sunday night.

“For those that long for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, repeal signifies that change is indeed possible. And for our friends and family who have stood by us, repeal is proof and encouragement that your allyship makes a difference.”

Follow Koh Ewe on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories: Tech News

Tencent lines up to deploy Broadcom's co-packaged optical switches

The Register - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 06:00
A faster 51.2Tbit/sec co-packaged switch is also in the works

Broadcom will deploy its 25.6Tbit/sec Humbolt co-packaged optical (CPO) switches in China-based cloud provider Tencent's datacenters in a bid to accelerate adoption of the emerging network tech.…

Categories: Tech News

I Tried the Privacy Phone Network Intended to Mask Your Identity

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 06:00

On Friday, 5142 were the last four digits of my IMSI, the unique code linked to my SIM card, according to an app on my phone. This code is what telecommunications giants and surveillance vendors often use to track phones, and by extension people, as they go about their business.

In the app I then pushed a “Change ID” button. About a minute later, my IMSI had changed. The last four digits were now 5206, the app said. To third-parties that might snoop on IMSIs, such as those that use a suitcase sized piece of spy tech called an IMSI catcher which hoovers up the unique codes in a certain area, or a network that might give data related to that IMSI to the authorities, I might as well be a new person altogether. 

This is PGPP, or Pretty Good Phone Privacy, a new pseudo-phone network that aims to add an additional layer of privacy on top of traditional and surveillance heavy telecommunications networks. The tool certainly does not solve the issue of privacy on phones as a whole—that problem is complex, with multiple parts such as the operating system, the hardware, and more—but it could help protect the sort of persistent surveillance that everyone is subjected to by simply being connected to a phone network.

In my testing it seems the service might be suited to those who want to add an extra layer or two of protection to their data and identity when using mobile phone networks. PGPP probably won’t help entirely against targeted attacks—the developers are clear in that this is not the intent. But if you want something that lets you use phone networks a little more comfortably, PGPP could be an interesting, if still in early stages, option.

Do you know about any other privacy focused phones, or new methods of phone tracking? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email

“Our aim is to thwart current bulk data collection in the network, which have centered around IMSIs and IPs,” Paul Schmitt, a researcher from Princeton University and who is behind PGPP along with Barath Raghavan from the University of Southern California. The pair presented research on PGPP at the respected Usenix Security Symposium last year and have now rolled out PGPP as a beta. “We believe that PGPP raises the bar significantly for mobile privacy,” Schmitt added. The pair are offering PGPP under the company name INVISV.

On the user side, PGPP comes in the form of an app. A user downloads it, pays for a subscription, and then runs through a mostly automated setup process which downloads an eSim to their phone. An eSim is a digital SIM card; instead of having to place a physical card inside the phone, the device downloads all the necessary information online. From there, the user is connected to the PGPP network and can change their IMSI as they please in the app a certain number of times every month, depending on their subscription. The Pro plan is $90 a month and includes 30 IMSI swaps per month with unlimited data, and the Core plan costs $40 which includes 8 IMSI swaps and 9GB of data. That’s it, you don’t pay a more traditional carrier on top of that.

Many Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) exist, which are companies which sell telecommunications service but use the infrastructure in place of more traditional mobile network operators. PGPP isn’t either one of those. Schmitt framed it more as an eSIM app. INVISV buys eSIMS from Telna, a telecommunications service provider based in Canada, which in turn has agreements with mobile operators in various countries, Schmitt explained. Telna, for example, receives a pool of IMSIs from the Polish telecom Play. When Motherboard started the signup process for Signal, the app autopopulated the number to receive a verification code with the Polish +46 country prefix. Since phones on the PGPP network don’t technically have phone numbers, users would need to find another way to sign up to Signal on such a device (Raghavan said INVISV is going to add an inbound-only SMS service for this sort of verification). Motherboard successfully downloaded and had multiple voice calls on Wickr, another encrypted app now owned by Amazon. 


Beyond the protections PGPP offers around IMSI swapping, the service is bundled with a second part which INVISV calls “Relay.” This is closer to something like Apple’s recently announced “iCloud Private Relay,” which sends users’ internet traffic through two points before reaching the wider internet, hiding the users’ IP address and some other information from third-parties. The iCloud Private Relay is only for when users browse the web in Safari and, obviously, only applies to Apple devices. PGPP’s Relay meanwhile “provides whole-phone two-hop IP privacy,” Schmitt said. 

“Like Apple, we partner with Fastly for the second hop that egresses onto the Internet. With Relay we wanted to make something that just works and can be used by anyone and provides more protection than a VPN (since VPNs are architecturally centralized, not decoupled, so they are controlled by a single company with a single point of observation),” he added.

Together, the IMSI swapping and Relay provide a set of tools that will generally increase users’ privacy on the internet to some degree. 

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If the feds come knocking and ask for PGPP user data, INVISV says it will not have much private information to give in response to any data requests.

“We've talked through this with our lawyers in preparation (we're too small to have lawyers on staff / in-house counsel)—our process is to evaluate whether the request is an actual legal order that we are mandated to comply with, and only if that's the case we proceed to the next step which is to consider the content of the order. We have very little information that we could provide, and this largely has to do with the decoupling we designed into the system,” Schmitt said. 

INVISV is able to see partial credit card information and when the subscription was paid for, as part of their use of the payment processor Stripe, Schmitt said. “But we don't know any identifying information about the phone from which the subscription was made (the user can do it while on a VPN, at a public WiFi hotspot, etc.).” Raghavan added it is possible for users to pay with a prepaid card if they choose to. These can be sourced with cash, creating another layer of obfuscation on the user’s identity. 

“Common (as far as we know) agency requests are along the lines of ‘provide us information about this IMSI | MSISDN [phone number] | IP address.’ We do not have useful information for any of those three,” Schmitt said.

Agencies could try to obtain information from other parties, such as underlying telecommunication companies that have the infrastructure that PGPP is piggybacking off. And ultimately, each device still has an IMEI. These are different from IMSIs, in that they are a unique code baked into each phone, and which, depending on the situation, can be used to identify a device.

“They are likely to be able to get some data that way [by going to the telecommunications companies]—more than we have—but we believe we have made it harder for bulk collection to take place. Mobile operators sometimes query for IMEIs to check against the stolen handset database, and this happens from the mobile core straight to the baseband chip on the phone, which is outside of what we can control,” Schmitt said, and added that for bulk tracking “IMSIs are currently used for this, along with phone numbers (MSISDN). This doesn't mean that the IMEI couldn't be used this way in the future, but it takes a long time for big mobile operators to adapt to new technologies.”

Karsten Nohl, a security researcher at SRLabs who has focused on telecommunications security told Motherboard in an email, “The mobile network can still track based on IMEI.”


PGPP of course does not address other data collection from mobile phones that is independent of the phone network itself, such as that done by the Google Android operating system. Over the past several years, law enforcement agencies have increasingly served so-called reverse location data warrants against Google, where officials request information on all devices that were at a particular location at a specific time. This information is gleaned from Google itself and the location tracking capability inside Android.

So to mitigate that I then installed PGPP on a GrapheneOS phone. GrapheneOS is a heavily re-engineered version of Android that strips out much of the operating system’s capability for surveillance. By default this also includes the Google Play Store, but users can download that to access apps if they want to. Raghavan sent me the APK of PGPP itself to install so I didn’t have to grab it from the Play Store, but most users would need to do this or download it from a third-party site.

The only tweak necessary to run PGPP on a GrapheneOS phone was that I needed to “enable privileged eSIM management,” a toggle in the GrapheneOS settings. Daniel Micay, who is behind GrapheneOS, told me that eSIM activation does partly use a Google service, but that “it’s not a risk beyond the fact they are aware of that device activating eSim.”

When asked about the benefits of PGPP more generally, Micay said he thought “it would only be useful if you kept switching phones to get new IMEIs.”

Swapping phones constantly is an extreme position though. For someone who wants to introduce extra friction to a third-party being able to identify their phone activity to their real identity, PGPP can still provide some of that.

“This is actually something I’ve been wanting for a while, I’ve been using a data only plan from T-Mobile, but as many privacy advocates will point out it’s not really helpful because of IMSI tracking,” Lucky225, a phone phreak and privacy advocate who has previously found gaping security issues with telecommunications networks, told Motherboard in an online chat.

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Categories: Tech News

Economists Say Life Is Going to Be More Expensive Forever, Sorry

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 06:00

These days, it seems like everyone has a few important questions on their mind: Is the economy still in the gutter? Or are things getting better? Does inflation mean prices will stay high forever, or will these prices eventually come back down? 

There’s been some developments that suggest good news is around the corner. A version of the Build Back Better agenda was passed—significantly pared down but still, passed. Hundreds of thousands of jobs continue to be created each quarter, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was passed. Finally, inflation in key sectors has begun to cool off.

That last point is key, especially if your wallet has been feeling pinched as prices have skyrocketed over the past year. Data released on August 10 shows that inflation is still elevated but falling—from June to July, the CPI's rate of increase went from 9.1 to 8.5 percent. Still, with supply chain crises linked to COVID-19 shutdowns and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, prices are likely to continue to inflate. 

“Since WWII, we haven't seen prices across the board come down in a sustained way—when prices rise, they tend to stay high”

This raises the question of when—if ever—prices are going to come down to pre-pandemic, let alone pre-inflation levels? According to economists Motherboard spoke to, they most likely never will if corporations are left to their own devices.

"Big corporations know that consumers will be forced to put up with higher prices, especially for necessities like housing or gas that people cannot live without. Since WWII, we haven't seen prices across the board come down in a sustained way—when prices rise, they tend to stay high for long periods after the initial price hikes,” said Dr. Rakeen Mabud, chief economist and managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, in an interview with Motherboard.

On the day the August inflation report was released, Groundwork published a report showing that rent inflation was just one of the concerning areas that would persist at great cost to everyone. Rent, which makes up about a third of the CPI, accounts for a major driver of inflation and is important for a few reasons: not only can it not be cut down like other expenses and hikes can drive people into homelessness, but the CPI consistently underestimates rental inflation because "it doesn't factor in rising prices in new rentals and leases" nor does it capture regional variation or rental increases since the pandemic began, according to Groundwork. 

Rent inflation has been driven not only by the pandemic, but by landlords themselves. In New York, landlords lobbied for the highest rent increase in a decade for about one million rent stabilized apartments, citing concerns about inflation. But as Groundwork points out, the majority of these units are owned by "landlords who rent more than 1,000 units and can easily weather higher costs, unlike tenants."  On top of that, once higher rents are locked in, they are unlikely to go down significantly as tenants accept the new reality.

"Consider the housing market—even as inflation starts to cool off, housing prices and rents have continued to increase. Corporate landlords are downright gleeful about this dynamic,” Mabud told Motherboard. They pointed to a late 2021 earnings call where the CEO of corporate landlord Starwood Capital said that inflation in consumer prices and wages is “an extraordinary gift that keeps on giving” and added that “tenants seem capable and willing to pay these rent increases.”

What other prices will stay high? "We can be fairly confident that prices will continue to rise in the non-competitive sectors of the economy, such as pharmaceuticals and refineries. The pharma-related constraints in the Inflation Reduction Act, for example, won't hit for a few years, and even then will only touch a handful of drugs,” Hal Singer, managing director at the consulting firm Econ One and adjunct professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, told Motherboard.

The thing is, while commodity prices fluctuate in wholesale markets and will likely go down, companies have a different relationship with consumers. Thanks to the market power that firms enjoy because of corporate concentration, as well as eager use of inflation as cover for price hikes, prices across the entire economy are unlikely to fall at notable rates for a long while, and in some cases, maybe never. 

For well over a year now, firms have not only been testing how far price hikes can go, but getting away with it too. In July 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported that numerous major corporations are experimenting with how high they can raise prices and that executives have hinted that such increases would persist past the point of being justified by inflation. “You don’t generally get a customer to accept inflation-justified pricing until they’re confident it’s not transitory inflation,” Conagra CEO Sean Connolly told investors recently, the outlet reported. 

“Once a new price point has been established, firms are reluctant to move prices downwards, recognizing that consumers have already accepted the higher price”

As an example of this trend, Mabud pointed to automotive parts retailer AutoZone. "The company’s CEO told investors last quarter that ‘following periods of higher inflation, our industry has historically not reduced pricing to reflect lower ultimate cost,’” they said, adding that the chief executive of paint supplier PPG also said something similar recently. “When an analyst asked the paint company PPG Industries whether they plan to give some of the pricing back as the costs of raw materials subside, the CEO did not miss a beat: he made it clear that ‘we’re not going to be giving this pricing back’ because the higher prices are “being accepted by our customers," said Mabud.

"Prices are sticky downwards. In other words, once a new price point has been established, firms are reluctant to move prices downwards, recognizing that consumers have already accepted the higher price,” Singer told Motherboard. “The best we can hope for now is price stability. But don't count on prices reverting to pre-pandemic levels."

All of this raises the important question of how society can combat this tendency toward ever-increasing prices for consumer goods and essentials? The answer, according to experts, is policy; after all, we are where we are now because of policy choices. 

“Sadly, we are living in an economy designed by and for big corporations to maximize their returns. Decades of deliberate policy choices have resulted in a deeply concentrated economy and a brittle supply chain that prioritizes short term profits for shareholders over an effective system that actually delivers goods on time. That means that when we experience shocks like a pandemic, we inevitably experience bottlenecks and shortages that drive up prices.”

Gasoline prices, for example, subsided over the past month and fell 7.7 percent on the price index thanks to a multitude of factors. Sure, high prices may have discouraged consumers from driving and encouraged states to cut gasoline taxes, but the core driver was the fall of crude oil prices. That was driven by a host of trends ranging from a drop in demand thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns in China, dipping into strategic reserves, and global fears of a recession—not by oil producers, who settled on profiteering to take advantage of the inflationary period.

"We need a reorientation of public policy, including antitrust, to challenge the idea that consolidation is a good idea”

None of these are trends that will durably persist—demand will rise again, we will stop dipping into the reserves, and recession fears will abate as they have already begun to. More permanent fixes such as shifting demand by increasing production or reducing demand as part of a green transition away from fossil fuels are out of the picture, for now.

If we are interested in not just stabilizing prices or bringing them down, we need to undermine the political economy that allows high prices to emerge and persist. 

"’How do we bring prices down' is sitting on top of a deeper question,” Stacy Mitchell, policy director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Motherboard. "We need a reorientation of public policy, including antitrust, to challenge the idea that consolidation is a good idea. What we really need is public policy oriented around creating decentralized systems of production and distribution that are more resilient and diversified. That means a reorientation of antitrust policy to be more aggressive about breaking up companies and blocking mergers. It also means a restructuring of our banking system so instead of capital flowing to the biggest companies, we actually have capital flowing out to small companies and startups." 

Over the past few years, progressive reformers have been championing antitrust—that is, state intervention to roll back corporate consolidation in sectors of the economy—as a tool to reshape the underlying political and legal order of our economy that prioritizes corporate power and consolidation, but there are other tools that should be used at the same time. Last week, two economists (Isabelle M. Weber and Meg Jacobs) wrote a Washington Post piece that argued inflation could be fought with price stabilization as well as price controls—regulations to literally freeze or cap prices of goods and services—instead of interest rate hikes that punish workers the most. The former, they argue, can actually be part of a larger strategy to revitalize our economy and prioritize the prosperity of workers and the general public, while the latter requires breaking those groups through mass layoffs that reduce the ability of consumers to spend and contribute to inflation.

“Carefully selected caps could buy time for the important supply-side measures in the legislation to come into effect, while also tackling short-term price spurts driven by today’s emergency conditions,” Jacobs and Weber wrote. “Doing so would preserve purchasing power instead of erasing it and can create an economic environment that encourages urgently needed investments—public and private alike—in workers, care, education, infrastructure, climate mitigation and more.”

Weber and Jacobs point out that despite the vitriol economists now regard price controls with, they have worked in key moments. During World War II, price ceilings on sectors that contributed to inflation—such as meat and fuel—were paired with a use of government boards to determine what was excessive: "Each company, shopkeeper, landlord or butcher was entitled to make a profit but not to profiteering. They had to 'hold the line,' sticking to the same profit margins as before price controls went into effect and obeying ceiling prices on specific goods." 

This, combined with the government encouraging consumers to report price ceiling violations, meant price controls curtailed prices hikes and inflation, sustained an economic boom, and saw those at the bottom of society's hierarchy enjoy the greatest income gains. Price controls deployed years later by Nixon in the midst of inflation sparked by the Vietnam War, oil supply shock, and food price hikes, were cynically rolled out ahead of a reelection change and weren't paired with the social mobilization that made World War II's successful, Weber and Jacobs argue. 

"The key to price stabilization, then, lies in politics: a strong alliance and a broad-based social commitment are crucial for the effective implementation of selective controls as a way to tamp down inflation,” they wrote. “The damage done by the price shocks in 2022 makes this combination possible because it’s hurting consumers as well as powerful corporations such as Walmart, that have built their business models on low-cost consumer goods. This creates an unlikely opportunity for a broad alliance to push for a political effort to stabilize the prices of essentials.”

Congress has started to take steps in that direction in the form of the Emergency Price Stabilization Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. The former, introduced by New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman, would empower the White House's supply chain disruption taskforce to handle inflation drives linked to supply issues. As Weber wrote in The Guardian with economist Mark Paul, it could push Biden to deploy price stabilization measures (including price controls) in key goods and services: "gas, housing, food, electricity, etc." 

Price controls can be thought of as one of the major ways to address the problem of inflation, but in our dysfunctional economy it cannot end there. We need more data on corporate profits to identify profiteering and the role it plays in inflation and we need investments in our capacity to provide key goods and services whose disruption leads to supply-driven inflation, as Weber and Paul point out. 

We also need to go after price fixing and collusion among dominant firms, curtail mergers that are rolling up the economy, and break up giants that dominate various sectors. Doing so will not only allow us more room to curtail prices, but more importantly do so while ensuring better working conditions and general prosperity. The alternative—raising interest rates—is an easy stopgap measure that does nothing but reinforce the status quo; it is an economic policy that passes costs onto the public and workers, neglects productive infrastructure, and prioritizes corporate power instead of public interest.

Categories: Tech News

Why Doesn’t America Build Things?

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 06:00

In 1996, Donald Trump was hoping to bounce back from a series of poor investments. So he bought a palatial mansion in Westchester County, New York, just north of New York City. The mansion, called Seven Springs, sat on 230 acres of undeveloped wilderness. Trump wanted to turn it into a golf course.

But the nearby village of Mount Kisco, with a large Latinx population and a lower median income than the four wealthy towns the property touches, gets its drinking water from Byram Lake, directly adjacent to Seven Springs. The town worried pesticides from the golf course would run off into the lake and contaminate its drinking water.

The village of Mount Kisco hired Michael Gerrard, an environmental lawyer, to protect its water. And Gerrard had a plan, the same plan he deployed to successfully stop a highway on the west side of Manhattan from being built in the 1970s and countless incinerators, landfills, and other environmentally harmful projects at other locations over the years. The plan was to use environmental review laws.

“One strategy is just to require more studies in the hope of finding something bad,” Gerrard, who is now a professor at Columbia University, told me recently. It’s a strategy that often works, to the appreciation of people who oppose such projects and the frustration of those who support them.

This is exactly what Gerrard did to fight Seven Springs. Gerrard and Mount Kisco knew the risk of pesticides in Mount Kisco’s drinking water was high and that the Clean Water Act of 1972 provided avenues for blocking the golf course if they could prove it.

“A close reading of the appendices to the environmental impact statement (when laid against state regulations) revealed that pesticide levels in the runoff could exceed drinking water standards under certain scenarios,” Gerrard wrote in a blog post in July 2015. In response, Trump’s course designers and lawyers proposed a filtration system that had literally never been used before. Mount Kisco activists wore buttons saying “We’re Not Trump’s Guinea Pigs.” Regulators for the state’s environmental department ruled a pilot test on the filtration system would be needed before the course could be built. After eight years of this—by which time Trump had bought and renovated another Westchester County golf club, in Briarcliff Manor—Trump gave up on the golf course idea.

“In the end, the environmental-impact review process and the Clean Water Act did their jobs,” Gerrard wrote. “The people of Mount Kisco still enjoy clean drinking water, and the occasional dandelion still pokes its head through the grass.”

Seven SpringsSeven Springs estate. Credit: The Washington Post / Contributor via Getty

Although little known, the story of Seven Springs is a triumph for environmental protection laws. It is “the dog that didn’t bark,” as several people interviewed for this article characterized cases where environmental protection laws—most prominently the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, otherwise known as NEPA—did their jobs. They are the stories of lakes not poisoned, forests not cut down, air not polluted, and dams not built, preserving and protecting finite environmental riches from the insatiable demands of capitalist growth.

But the same environmental review process Gerrard so successfully deployed is being increasingly criticized by the very groups that once harnessed its powers so successfully. Now, critics observe, those same groups and laws slow or even stop the construction of necessary infrastructure, the shortage of which is causing grave societal ills. We cannot build the affordable housing we need, the public transportation we lack, and the wind and solar farms we so desperately require, and a growing chorus of critics point to environmental protection laws as a major culprit of the holdup.

To some extent, Gerrard has become one of those critics. In 2017, he wrote an academic article on ways to bring about a “massive increase” in renewable energy capacity. It named NEPA as one of the four “most important obstacles” to achieving that goal, along with permitting processes, state and local approvals, and endangered species protection laws.

The theory that NEPA is a key explanation for why we can’t build things anymore is hardly fringe. A surprisingly ideologically diverse coalition has emerged in recent years that broadly agree environmental reviews are now more a problem than a solution. Joe Manchin has made “permitting reform”—often a euphemism for environmental reviews—a key priority. M. Nolan Gray, author and researcher for California YIMBY, a pro-housing and urbanist group, wrote in The Atlantic that the state’s environmental review law is an “unexpected impediment to California’s going green.” The conservative Manhattan Institute has been advocating for a “rethinking” and “streamlining” of environmental reviews for years. So has the libertarian Reason Magazine.  Perhaps the most prominent recent critic of the environmental review process is the New York Times columnist Ezra Klein. The focus of his criticism has been the failures of modern liberalism, and the environmental movement specifically, who have wanted to slow or even stop harmful projects, he argues.

“The environmental movement cheers when Biden says he wants to decarbonize and fast. But if he said that in order to achieve that goal, he wanted to reform or waive large sections of the National Environmental Policy Act to speed the construction of clean energy infrastructure,” Klein wrote, “he’d find himself at war.”

I agree with much of what Klein and other environmental review critics have to say. But I also fear their often brief  one-sentence acknowledgments of the intrinsic, unassailable value of environmental protection laws to accomplish really important goals—"That it’s easy to breathe the air in Los Angeles today is their [Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader’s] legacy, and they should be honored for it” as Klein put it—is not enough and broadly misrepresents what our problems actually are.

NEPA and other laws like it are not only fundamental but also essential to the basic mission of environmentalism in the broadest sense, which is to leave the planet better off than we found it. The good news is a lot of experts believe the problems with the environmental review process can be solved without changing a word of NEPA, because the devil is not in the words of the text itself but rather in the resources and methods with which officials interpret it.

Environmental review laws cut to the very core of basic questions of American life: Who should have a say in what we build, how should we weigh competing priorities, and how should we settle disputes about those priorities. Almost everyone I spoke to agreed that the environmental review process can and should be improved just as anything needs to be maintained and improved to adapt to changing times, but that doing so doesn’t require changing a single line of text in the law. They also almost all agreed NEPA is deeply, fundamentally necessary.

Among the things I learned reporting this article:

  • 180 countries and jurisdictions have environmental review laws. Many, including those in countries where green infrastructure is often built efficiently and cost-effectively, work similarly to ours. And several, including the United Kingdom and Norway, also have problems with extensive project delays due to environmental reviews but nevertheless succeed in building large green-energy and infrastructure projects.
  • An oft-cited statistic about federal environmental reviews taking an average of 4.5 years is deeply misleading because the environmental review is often put on hold for reasons that have nothing to do with the review process.
  • When delays do happen, it is often due to a lack of agency staff or experience to handle the workload.
  • Every agency at all levels of government has a lot of leeway in how it actually implements the environmental review process. Experts who’ve worked in and with these agencies for decades tell me it is these decisions that have far more impact on how well the process goes than the law itself.
  • Many delays inherent to the review process have to do with basic errors like agencies not coordinating with one another and doing things consecutively rather than concurrently or having different project management software that can’t work together.

In his long career, Gerrard has been on all sides of the environmental review process. He’s worked for government agencies trying to get projects done and for activist groups fighting to stop them. He knows the process needs to work better to reduce emissions. But even though he is in favor of some reforms to get green energy projects out the door quicker, he is not willing to condemn NEPA to get that done.

“NEPA is often the whipping boy for project delays,” Gerrard said. “Sometimes that's deserved, but more often not.”


NEPA says the federal government has to consider the effect of any major federal action on the environment, such as the building of airports, military complexes, or major construction on federal land. When such an action is proposed, the federal agency will conduct an environmental review—either a shorter, less intensive one, called an environmental assessment (EA), or a longer, more detailed one for projects expected to have a big impact on the environment, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The purpose of these reviews is not to mandate the government to do whatever has the least environmental impact or is most beneficial. It is not to mandate anything at all. It is simply to assess what the likely effects will be.

“In theory, a federal agency could propose to drop a proton bomb over Manhattan. And as long as they look at the impacts, they can do it,” Fred Wagner, a lawyer at the firm Venable who has decades of environmental review experience on transportation projects, told Motherboard. “I mean, it's silly. But that's the way the law works.”

In the extensive legal literature on environmental reviews, this concept is known as the “Look before you leap” doctrine. You’d have to be an idiot, the logic goes, to leap without looking. But this is precisely what the U.S. government did before NEPA.

“We used to build things” has become such a ubiquitous critique of modern American society that it’s a meme. It is true; we used to build things: some 8,100 major dams creating new reservoirs and altering a third of the continent. 161,000 miles of highways dividing ecosystems, destroying neighborhoods, carving massive boundaries across the land, paving over good chunks of the country. 11,000 electric power plants spewing who knows what into the sky and the air we breathe. 141,000 miles of train tracks, hundreds of millions of acres of trees logged before we even knew all that much about them.

GettyImages-1410154383.jpgCredit: Wild Horizon / Contributor via Getty

And we did almost all of it having no idea what would happen to the environment we were disrupting. After the environmentalist movement of the 1960s—which began in earnest with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, one of the first great environmentalist exposés about the chemical industry hiding the harmful effects of pesticides—there was broad agreement we had to start looking before leaping. In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act passed the House 372-15 and the Senate unanimously—bipartisan support that would be unfathomable in today’s politics. Richard Nixon signed it into law on Jan. 1, 1970.

NEPA was a first of its kind; no other country had anything like it at the time. It is often referred to as the Magna Carta of environmental review laws. Early NEPA court cases were about whether the law should apply to the construction of new nuclear power or coal plants (the answer was yes). Early EIS’s were a few dozen pages long. Since then, dozens of states followed with their own environmental review laws, often called “Little NEPAs,” which in some cases go far beyond NEPA in terms of the review and remediation requirements. These state laws are important because they cover projects that don’t involve federal land or money that nevertheless have important impacts on the environment. It was New York’s Environmental Quality Review Act, which was inspired by NEPA, for example, that Gerrard used to save Mount Kisco’s water.

Critically, much of the actual process for how all these reviews were to be done was left up to the courts. Judges, not legislators, decided how NEPA was applied. What constitutes a thorough enough environmental review? How many alternatives must be considered? What kinds of alternatives must be considered? NEPA says the public must have the opportunity to comment on the proposed project and its impact. How much time to comment? Does the agency have to answer these comments? How substantial must the answers be? All of these questions and more could be grounds for a lawsuit.

This, more than any other issue, is where the criticism comes in. Because for groups with enough money or time (it’s best to have both), projects can be stalled for years, even decades under certain circumstances, using the various legal nuances around environmental reviews. A few of the most notorious examples: a wind farm off Cape Cod that fought lawsuits for 16 years before giving up, a wind farm in Wyoming that first applied for federal permits in 2008 and finally got them in 2019, a ban on solar farms in one of the sunniest places in the world because they would ruin the views.

GettyImages-1340401769.jpgA demonstration in support of Cape Wind in 2006. The project was never built due to wealthy, influential opposition. Credit: MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images / Contributor via Getty.

In other cases, the mere threat of a lawsuit causes agencies doing the environmental review to slow the process down. “I’ll give you an example from a project I’m working on,” Wagner told me over the phone recently, although he declined to say which project it was for confidentiality reasons. “The project opponents filed—and I’m not making this up—450 pages of comments. 450 pages! What do you do with that?”

The answer, Wagner said, is the agency has to answer them or else the people opposed to the project can sue the agency on the grounds that it didn’t properly conduct the environmental review process. And to answer those questions will take months of staff and consultant time. Consultants cost money; the staff can’t work on other, more important things; and the delay means the materials the project would use and the people it would pay only get more expensive in the meantime.

And if the opponents get really lucky, they’ll catch the agency saying something that can then be grounds for a different type of lawsuit, one that challenges the project itself. In the case of Westway, the highway project in Manhattan that Gerrard helped stop, the grounds for the successful lawsuit was not that the highway would lead to air pollution or prevent more environmentally friendly uses of the land, like the country’s most-used bike path which it is today. It wasn’t even that the highway would disrupt the natural habitat of the striped sea bass. Instead, it was that the Army Corps of Engineers knew the project would disrupt the habitat of the striped sea bass but didn’t disclose it in the environmental review. If they had simply disclosed that, Gerrard said, Westway almost certainly could have been built.

But project opponents don’t necessarily need to find such a silver bullet. They could simply keep submitting comments, questions, and lawsuits until the company trying to build the project gives up, the politicians in favor of it get voted out, or the delays become too expensive for anyone to stomach.

Sometimes, the mere presence of opposition is enough. When a legal challenge seems likely, Wagner says, the agency will typically lean on him to do more. “Give me more,” Wagner says the agency keeps telling him. “More what?” he will ask. “What exactly do you need?” And they will reply, “More.” More reviews, more opportunities for public comments, extended comment periods, and more answers to those comments. So when the lawsuit inevitably gets filed, they can go to the judge with a long record of saying they asked for more.

This is the simple story. NEPA processes have run amok, small groups of well-resourced opponents have too much power, the legal process is a joke utterly unconcerned with the bigger picture, and vitally important infrastructure to save the planet or solve the housing crisis isn’t getting built because of it.

As we’ve seen, there are obviously cases where this is exactly what happens, and it is more likely to happen on the biggest, most transformative projects that will generate the most disagreement. To be abundantly clear, there is no question that this is an unfair and unjust way of doing environmental reviews.

But condemning the entire environmental review process based on these anecdotal cases is not only wrong from a statistical perspective but also risks making the cure worse than the disease.

It’s the bureaucracy, Stupid

One of the most common pieces of evidence cited against NEPA is the statistic that the average environmental review takes for and a half  years. This number comes from a 2020 review by the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), an office within the executive branch. And it sounds bad. Four and a half years would indeed be a long time to sit around waiting for the environmental review to be completed before a project could start.

But the study analyzed just EIS’s, the rarest, longest and most complicated of the types of reviews. Every year, some 45,000 NEPA decisions are made, but just 450 of them are EIS’s, or one percent of all decisions, according to the CEQ. So of course it self-selects for the types of reviews that are likely to be the most detailed and most contentious and take the longest.

On top of that, NEPA reviews do not happen in a vacuum. Most agencies use NEPA as a kind of umbrella statute to loop in other necessary reviews, permitting procedures, and other types of bureaucracy. Other environmental laws, like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and others require their own reviews, which get looped into the NEPA process. If NEPA went away, those reviews would still have to be done. (Similarly, environmental reviews under state laws typically encompass the entire land use planning and permitting process.)

Many other planning aspects of the project are happening concurrently. Sometimes, the NEPA process is delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with NEPA or environmental laws in general. The company seeking to do the work may not be timely in responding to inquiries. The scope of the project may have changed, which means some review work has to be redone. A new politician may order the environmental review to be slow-walked for some reason. And agencies may simply not have adequate staffing to do the review quickly or to properly coordinate with other agencies involved in the review.

But the CEQ didn’t look into the specifics of any of the reviews that took a long time or what the common sources of delays are. In fact, one of the most astounding things I came across researching this story is how little is known or studied about exactly when and why NEPA reviews take a long time beyond a few high-profile anecdotal cases. The Government Accountability Office, a federal agency, published a report in 2014 with the subtitle “Little Information Exists on NEPA Analyses.”

Part of the problem is most federal agencies have no method of tracking such things, making a comprehensive analysis difficult. But one, the U.S. Forest Service, does. And last year, researchers published a study analyzing 41,194 NEPA decisions from the Forest Service between 2004 and 2020. And what they found ought to have blown up the idea that NEPA itself is the problem.

“Delays, we found, are often caused by factors only tangentially related to the Act, like inadequate agency budgets, staff turnover, delays receiving information from permit applicants, and compliance with other laws,” the researchers wrote. “Improving NEPA efficacy, we argue, should therefore focus on improving agency capacity.”

Of the 41,194 NEPA decisions the Forest Service made, the overwhelming majority of them (81.2 percent) were categorical exclusions (CE), or types of projects that CEQ has consistently found do not have a significant effect on the environment and therefore get expedited reviews. (Incidentally, many NEPA critics seem unaware of the existence of categorical exclusions and propose something very similar as a fix for its perceived problems. But the exclusion concept, which is also in many Little NEPAs, can be abused as well. In California, waterfront sports stadiums like the new Oakland A’s ballpark regularly get exemptions while public transportation projects do not, although a proposed bill heading to the governor’s desk would give blanket exemptions to mass transit and bike lane projects as well. The upshot is there are already mechanisms to exempt or streamline reviews for obviously “good” projects; they are just poorly used). These reviews are, generally speaking, streamlined and efficient, taking a median time of just under four months. Another 16.7 percent of decisions were the middle-ground EAs, which took a median of 1.2 years. And the EIS’s, of course, took the longest, with a median of 2.8 years.

These timeframes make sense—more complex reviews with a larger environmental impact generally take longer—but the researchers found important evidence that gets to the heart of what’s wrong with environmental reviews. Sometimes, a CE analysis, which requires the least of any three levels of review, takes longer than the median reviews for both EAs and EIS’s. Which is to say, requiring less review will not stop outlier cases from taking a really long time.

Repeatedly, the researchers found that the cause of delays was not excessive red tape or onerous reviews but understaffed and overburdened agencies. A 2009 GAO study looked at 250 land exchanges at the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service that had to go through environmental review. Agency staff told the GAO the biggest delays were shrinking staff levels due to “an increasing number of retirements.”

Agency priorities also pulled staff away from environmental reviews. For example, the Forest Service routinely missed review timelines because staff had to address wildfires and fire suppression emergencies, evidence the problem is not an excessive bureaucracy but an overburdened one. Likewise, a former attorney at the Department of Transportation identified “insufficient staff and resources” as two of “the biggest hurdles federal agencies face when working to meet their NEPA requirements in a timely manner. Budgets of federal agencies continue to, with few exceptions, be decreased by Congress in annual appropriations, yet the workload remains.”

As the researchers pointed out, “These are serious problems that must be addressed, but they are problems that grow from an under-resourced agency struggling to adapt to a rapidly evolving mission. They are not problems rooted in agency NEPA regulations or practice.”

Even in cases where the Forest Service was sued over its environmental analyses, the popular narrative doesn’t quite hold up. In 227 cases, judges issued rulings on alleged NEPA violations in Forest Service reviews, and the Forest Service lost 112 of them. But in almost half (42) of those losses, the judge also found the Forest Service violated the National Forest Management Act, a key piece of environmental legislation to protect America’s forests from timber harvesting. By catching violations of federal law, these cases are successes of environmental legislation, not failures.

Don’t hate the game. Hate the players

The way in which NEPA critics present all delays and lawsuits as evidence of NEPA’s failures glosses over a critical point. Voices like Klein of the Times have a tendency to make it sound like the government promoting unjust, wasteful, and environmentally harmful projects is a thing of the past. They cast NEPA as a tool for an age of ignorant, insensitive government that has long since passed. Unfortunately, this is far from the case.

Consider highway projects, for example. Transportation emissions experts largely agree that highway expansions need to have stopped yesterday in order to achieve climate goals while providing few if any benefits to travel times. Yet every state continues to expand its highways and has plans to do so years or decades into the future, having learned surprisingly little from the mistakes of the past, believing that literally covering the highway will solve the problems it creates. NEPA is the critical tool for slowing or stopping those projects because it catches state transportation agencies in a lie about the climate and environmental justice impact these projects will have.

For example, a group of activists in Texas seem to have caught the Texas department of transportation, TxDOT, deceiving the public in its environmental review, and have sued the agency for violating NEPA. Activists in Portland, Oregon, successfully sued its department of transportation as well for conducting the wrong type of environmental review about a highway expansion right next to a middle school. Another lawsuit is seeking to stop a new 280-mile highway in Arizona. If you are in favor of highway expansions, these are egregious abuses of the environmental review process and ample evidence of the need for reform. If you are opposed to highway expansions, this is a demonstration of NEPA working as intended, punishing transportation agencies for not being forthright with the public about the harms we know these projects will create.

Similarly, the United States Postal Service was sued by 16 states and environmental groups for conducting one of the shoddiest environmental reviews of all time for the purchase of its new delivery fleet to justify buying almost entirely all gas trucks at a time when nearly all private delivery companies are moving toward electric trucks. Depending on your perspective, this was either, an egregious abuse of the environmental review process or a necessary check on a disingenuous sidestepping of federal law. The USPS has since upped its electric truck order to 50 percent of the new fleet.

NEPA is also a critical tool in fighting the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. It played a part—although hardly the only part—in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. And the Standing Rock Sioux tribe scored huge victories against the Dakota Access pipeline thanks to court rulings that the permitting process violated NEPA (it is also a demonstration of the limits of NEPA; a judge ordered the pipeline shut down while a proper environmental review took place, but an appeals court judge overturned the ruling, so the pipeline continues to operate).

If you care about climate change, all of the above instances are either NEPA success stories or potential success stories, instances where NEPA gave the public a chance to fight against polluting infrastructure that otherwise certainly would have or will be built. And they are not isolated cases. In 2015, the National Resource Defense Council put together a list of NEPA “success stories.” Many of them never resulted in lawsuits, but instead saw agencies do the right thing after the public comment period yielded significant legitimate concerns.

These dozens of success stories must be considered in the context of the dozens of scare stories in which environmental reviews slow down or stop necessary projects. Keith Woodhouse is a historian at Northwestern University and wrote a book on the radical environmental movement of the late 20th century, which included extensive research into how various environmental groups utilized NEPA. He said it is especially important for those who want to build green energy infrastructure to recognize NEPA’s importance.

“To me, this is kind of a baby/bathwater problem,” he said. “And I just think that the idea that NEPA and related laws are sort of fundamentally indicative of the wrong way to govern just doesn't understand the importance of these laws and the good work that they still do, even including in terms of dense housing and renewable energy.”

Woodhouse’s point was emphasized months later when Sen. Joe Manchin, a staunch advocate of fossil fuels, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a compromise on climate and energy policy bills that would accomplish many clean energy goals but would also include provisions to ease permitting requirements on fossil fuel projects and guarantee a maximum timeline of two years on NEPA reviews for “major” projects. That particular side agreement has not been drafted yet, but arbitrary timelines and round numbers of “necessary” projects that get to bypass NEPA are unlikely to address any real underlying problem.

Is it the law, or is it us?

The question at the heart of all of this is what do we actually want out of environmental review laws. If the concept of environmental review and public input on major projects is still something we as a society value, then the answer is not arbitrary timelines or waiving the process entirely for certain types of projects, because today’s environmentally friendly project may be tomorrow’s environmental disaster.

If we really do still want the things NEPA calls for, then the answer is to focus on the unsexy but vital work of making sure agencies are adequately staffed and prepared to handle NEPA requirements. Even the over-review out of litigation fear can be mitigated if agency staff have greater confidence in themselves and their work due to decades of experience, knowing what types of alternatives must be studied or not, what constitutes adequate public comment answers, and so on.

To cement predictability in how NEPA cases are ruled, Wagner, the environmental lawyer at Venable, suggested the creation of a specific technical court within the federal system for hearing environmental law cases, which could be done by amending the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal rules are made and managed. This, he argues, will ensure cases are heard by experts on environmental law rather than federal circuit judges who might set unrealistic standards for adequate review. This would help federal agencies be more confident in knowing which project alternatives they have to study or how to deal with obstructionist naysayers. The problem now is they don’t know what standards they will consistently be held to by the courts, so they take the most risk-averse path, even if it causes months or years of delay. Utah will soon have water courts with judges who are experts in water law for similar reasons. A designated court with more consistent standards, Wagner believes, “would help a great deal.”

I happen to think that is the right answer, that NEPA still serves an incredibly important societal purpose and should not be brushed aside in the name of expediency, and instead we should double down on administering NEPA more effectively. But I also freely admit it’s an unsatisfying one, because it leaves us holding the bag of deep societal conflict. As Ted Boling, an environmental lawyer at the firm Perkins Coie, told me, “NEPA does not create controversies. Controversies exist. NEPA puts a spotlight on them.”

Almost everything that has ever been worth building—and many things that were not—have been controversial and divisive. Much of the reason many Americans believe we used to build things efficiently and without controversy in this country is because that controversy was either poorly documented or stemmed from populations the government did not recognize as legitimate. In Marc Reisner’s classic book Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, there is a photo from May 20, 1948 of the Secretary of the Interior signing a contract in which the Fort Berthold Indian Tribe sold 155,000 acres “of its reservation’s best land in North Dakota,” as Reisner put it, to build a dam and reservoir. More than 1,700 residents and three towns were forcibly relocated and the tribe was compensated well under market value for the rich agricultural land they had inhabited for more than a millenium. In the photo, George Gillette, the chairman of the Fort Berthold Indian Tribe Business Council, openly weeps as the contract is signed. Every other federal official in the photo ignores him. In Cadillac Desert, the caption for the photo quotes Gillette saying, “Right now, the future does not look good to us.” But the Getty Images caption quotes him as “Right now the future does not look too good for United States.” The difference is a revealing one.

GettyImages-515360260.jpgCredit: Bettmann / Contributor via Getty

The U.S. is hardly a bastion of equality today. but NEPA allows those controversies to exist more openly, more justly, and gives Gillette’s descendants some legal recourse to have an open debate about projects like dams that would destroy their livelihoods.

Most countries have some type of environmental review processes, and whether they work “better” than the U.S.’ is in the eye of the beholder. For example, Elif Ensari, a researcher for NYU who has looked into public transportation construction processes in Turkey, says that their projects can be built “very, very quickly” and environmental reviews take as little as three months for public transit projects because they are fast-tracked as being a net benefit for the environment. But that’s partly because “they do it because they figured they have to” if they want to join the EU. In Italy, the process is handled almost entirely within the bureaucracy, said Marco Chitti, who works for the same research group. And the public comment period happens only after the environmental review is completed. At that point, there is not much anyone can do to stop the project. There is a broader acceptance in Italy—thanks to the way local governments are formulated through at-large elections where people vote for majorities in a region rather than a tiny district representative—that if the local politicians support a project, then it should happen because it has public support, and if the people don’t like it, they’ll vote the politicians out before the project is started.

There are certainly elements of the process the U.S. can learn from abroad. Expedited reviews for obviously environmentally sound projects sounds good in theory, although, as the recent compromise with Manchin suggests, there is far from political consensus on what constitutes such projects. Reforming the public comment process to be more efficient is also a great idea that doesn’t require any changes to NEPA or its basic principles.

But as with all reforms, the devil is in the details. And many of those details come back to the expectations and assumptions Americans have about our government. And this is where the trouble lies.

The fundamental question about NEPA is: Do Americans broadly agree on what we should be building? Do we trust the government to build the right projects in the right manner? If we did, we could let the bureaucracy do its thing in the background, tell us what it decides, and otherwise let the process take care of itself. If not, we feel the need to be involved, to harang, to press, to comment, to intervene, and to sue. And sure, we could devise ways to steamroll over that disagreement, but that would be curing a symptom, not the disease.

Unfortunately, Americans, broadly speaking, do not trust the government. According to OECD 2020 surveys, 46.5 percent of Americans responded “yes” to the question of “Do you have confidence in the national government?” (I was surprised it was that high.) In Canada 60 percent of the people do. Germany, 65.4 percent. The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Switzerland, all above 70 percent. It is likely no coincidence that these countries are also some of the most efficient and best at building infrastructure while also respecting the environment.

This is a Catch-22: People trust their government to build useful stuff when the government has a proven capacity to build transformative, useful stuff, and if it doesn’t, then people don’t give the government the permission, resources, or leeway to execute projects well, further eroding that trust. The U.S., for the past 50 to 70 years, is very much trapped in this trust death spiral.

Efforts to neuter NEPA will not break the cycle. It will, if anything, exacerbate it, as people tend to pay more attention to things they don’t like. And in a country of such wide-ranging opinions on what we should or shouldn’t be building, making review processes shorter will do nothing to solve any of these underlying problems. But it will ensure we make more mistakes, ones we can never reverse, and will one day regret. The things we don’t build are sometimes even bigger victories than the things we do.

“You can say we’re not going to do stupid stuff,” Wagner from Venable said. “But then, you know, the question becomes, who’s defining what’s stupid?”

Categories: Tech News

‘BattleTech Advanced 3062’ Is a Massive and Beautifully Cruel Mod

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 06:00

BattleTech Advanced 3062 is a game about how people break, slowly. It has little interest in swift violence or sudden ends. The quickest death a pilot can hope for is a clean shot to the cockpit, which never comes. Instead, the shot swings wide and blows off an arm, or grazes the head of their mech, and the pilot slams forward. Something in them breaks.

If they do not tend their wounds in the next 35 seconds, they will pass out from the blood loss. They drive their mech’s fist into the center torso of an armor-stripped light mech. It crumples like paper. A salvo hits the back of their mech and something lights up red on the dash. The pilot’s lance-mate fires an artillery shell over their shoulder and another mech is transmuted from a body, to a piece of metal in the shape of a body. The pilot fumbles for the medkit underneath their seat, staunches the bleeding, and hits the eject button. High above, a doctor prepares the medbay.

This slow violence has always defined BattleTech, from the hours-long engagements of the mini-focused wargame, to the seconds-long percussive beat of an LRM (Long Range Missile) suite pounding a Heavy mech’s hull in the 2018 tactics game. This element of the series is only expounded upon by BattleTech Advanced 3062, the massive overhaul mod which has been in development since 2018. The mod moves the game’s timeline forward about 20 years to 3062, when the long forgotten clans return to the Inner Sphere of the Milky Way Galaxy, and brings with it dozens of new mechs, the ability to field vehicles and infantry scale Battle Armors, and totally overhauls of the game’s combat mechanics and mech customization. It is BattleTech (2018) if the developers had never, sensibly, told themselves no. It is massive and beautiful and deeply cruel.

In 3062, like the base game, you play as the commander of a small mercenary company in the Inner Sphere, taking contracts for the political superpowers who dominate it. Whether it be for the Tauran Concordant, the Capellan Confederation, House Marik, or one of the many, many minor factions which make up BattleTech’s universe, you will kill people for money. Those people will be in BattleMechs, 20-100 ton war machines that are built to look like people, or they will be in tanks, or they will be in smaller, heavily armed exoskeletons known as Battle Armors—no matter what, they will be in a machine that you break.

A large, humanoid mech fires a laser salvo as missiles fly from its chest. There are two other mechs standing behind it.Screenshot by Harebrained Schemes.

And 3062 does not allow you to forget things. Things like ammunition and upkeep costs, pilot salaries and morale, and your precious reputation. These are things that the base game lets you forget as your company grows. The jobs are easier there, and the costs are fewer and lower. In my 60 hours with the base game, I only had to withdraw in bad faith (which means I didn’t complete my primary objective) once or twice. In 3062, I failed mission after mission, withdrew time and time again. Racking up ammunition costs, reputation penalties, and broken pilots every time.

After a particularly bad mission, which ended in a 6v7v5 brawl, the company was on its last legs. Noble, the company’s commander and CEO, was forced to take bad jobs. Jobs she didn’t want to think about. The assassination of a dissident political activist. A duel against an enemy commander, one who sent a pathetic rookie in his place because he was a coward. Training exercises and support details for pirate recruits. These jobs hurt people, she knew this. She hired, desperately, to build a large enough crew to take on a real job, while her lancemates spit blood in the medbay.

The game didn’t let me forget this. In a small narrative sequence, Noble was forced to settle a dispute between Freakshow, one of her star pilots, and the ship’s doctor who was tired of Freakshow trying to work while injured. Luckily, I had installed training pods in the Argo, which Freakshow would accept in the meantime, and which the doctor said wouldn’t impact his recovery. Noble’s leg was still in a cast at the time, which Freakshow remarked upon. Noble’s legs have spent a lot of time in casts.

Eventually, though, after a month of terrible, easy jobs, enough of her company’s mechs were working, and she was able to take on a real job, one that could pay well enough to maintain the salaries of her new crewmembers and pay the medical bills of the old. A messy job in a small city. She would have to defend six buildings from three lances of enemy mechs, for about 15 minutes. It was a death sentence with a good paycheck, three quarters of a million C-Bills, one that she was willing to take.

It started bad. 3062, for all the many ways that it is excellent, is a mess. On this particular mission, my long range sniper tank was spawned on top of a building, one it couldn’t get down from. I could make a narrative justification for this, sure, I can make a narrative justification for most bugs, but that doesn’t change the fact that they make the game significantly harder to play. For many, 3062’s bugs would ruin their experience. I loved this one, though. With my tank stranded on top of a building, they were forced to act as a sniper turret, one who had to desperately hope the structure upon which they sat wouldn’t collapse under the battery of a four mech lance.

The star of the show was Poet, a reluctant but exceptional pilot. Despite her ambivalence towards piloting, she grew up in a mercenary company and was a natural. She had a particular talent for crack shots, and piloting extremely mobile mechs through waves of enemy fire, before forcing a melee where she could overwhelm opponents well above her weight class. This is exactly what she attempted to do five turns into the mission, when an enemy lance dropped on the undefended north western corner of the base we were paid to protect. The trek from the south east corner, where most of my lance was engaged, to that new squad couldn’t have been further. The only pilot close enough to engage the four member lance was Poet. And so she ran.

In 3062, winning is all about moving faster and having more information than your opponent. Shots are harder the faster a mech is moving, and the only way to make them easier to hit is by complex sensor systems, destabilizing kicks, and a well-waged information war. This distinguishes it from the base game, in which evasion can be reduced just by firing at an enemy. This means that, over the course of your enemy’s turn, they could strip all the evasion off of your smaller mechs, and obliterate them in a single salvo. This forced light and medium mechs to disappear altogether from the late game.

In 3062, your light and medium mechs can stay in the fight with capable pilots, acting as specialized units like sensor boats or high damage, high speed assassins who fire extremely powerful weapons into the backs of enemies who cannot move quick enough to hit them. That is, until an assault class mech turns around and drives their foot through the center torso of that highly capable assassin, killing them in a single blow. 3062 makes light and medium mechs useful, not invincible. Poet was not invincible.

After dashing in under a wave of enemy fire, Poet drove her foot into the knee of a Strider and lasers across its chest, leaving black glass rivers in their wake. My stranded tank had a sightline on the lance, and provided suppressive fire. With the four member lance split between two unthreatening, but irritating, opponents, they were forced to make bad decisions. They prioritized the sniper tank, which was at the edge of a skyscraper. However, the height differential blocked most of the missile fire, which ended up colliding with the lip of the building—just barely protecting the tank. Laser weapons, however, penetrated through the floors and caught the tank on its underside. It lasted four turns before going up in a fireball.

Poet focused on harassing and distracting the enemy’s two medium skirmishers, who she managed to throw off balance with a flurry of kicks while remaining too fast to hit consistently. That was, until they started fighting back in her melees. Their mechs were bigger and stronger, and Poet’s Centurion lost balance quickly, slamming its back into the asphalt and knocking Poet’s head against the wall of her cockpit. She was bleeding (badly), but she had done her job.

A text box describing an altercation between two members of the same mercenary company. There are three dialogue options, one of which is highlighted.Screenshot by Harebrained Schemes.

3062 expands pilot injuries. In the base game, pilots could suffer a handful of vague injuries resulting from hits to their cockpit or their mech falling over. In 3062 those injuries become much more specific, and much more important. A concussion will reduce your pilot’s ability to land a shot. The pain of a broken rib will reduce their ability to move. The gaping, shredded wound of a compound fracture will cause a pilot to begin bleeding out, requiring them to begin first aid in three turns or risk dying of blood loss. The pilot cannot be forgotten, because their body breaks with the same specificity of their mechs.

Poet ejected, but she bought enough time for Noble to arrive. In the final turns of the mission, Noble swung into position with her Vindicator and started firing shots between two buildings, directly into the back of the enemy Shadowhawk. In two turns, they were dead. In three, so were their allies.

The mission ended. With bonuses from my employer, it ended up paying out a million C-Bills. 250,000 went to maintenance costs. The other three quarters of a million went into my bank account, totaling to 1.5m C-Bills. Enough for three months’ pay. I checked the shop for something to replace my lost tank. It only offered three things. An APC, a squad of battle armor, and an artillery tank, which cost 750,000 C-Bills. That tank cost a month and a half of my company’s continued existence, in exchange for consistent, long-range firepower and the ability to coat my enemies in armor-melting acid. So, I bet my company on a tank, and took the highest paying job I could.

This obsession with efficiency and economic value is not just mechanical or narrative, its aesthetic, too—present in the act of self portraiture via warmachine. The majority of BattleMechs are designed to look like people. This serves a few aesthetic functions. First, it makes the violence they suffer readable to an audience. I, a human woman with blood and bones, do not know what it feels like for an axle to break, but I do know how it feels when a shoulder is torn from its socket. The slow violence of vehicle combat becomes intelligible through a mostly human body.

Second, it does not allow you to forget who is doing the violence—that a human hand is pulling a trigger.

Finally, the fantasy of efficiency present throughout every aspect of BattleTech comes home to roost in a human body. BattleTech attempts to imagine human bodies specially tuned to do the maximum amount of violence, which, in the war-torn Inner Sphere, directly translates to profit. Through this fantasy, human beings become maximally efficient bodies designed for labor, bodies which can be maintained and, inevitably, replaced.

The pilot, through their assortment of stats, skills, and injuries, becomes just another component in the body of the mech—to be modified, exchanged, and repaired like any other. Regardless of how many cute side stories they star in, how many miraculous victories they experience, or how many scars they acquire, they are just another part of their mech and can be replaced like any other. In a body designed for maximum efficiency, the human component is necessary but interchangeable. It is a cruel fantasy, and while BattleTech seems to know this, 3062 can’t stop talking about it.

Its maximalist design approach doesn’t end up muddling the base game’s strengths, it highlights them. 3062 takes every smooth surface of the base game, and turns them into a rough, biting thing. In doing so, BattleTech’s implicit critique of an economic model that treats human beings as vectors for optimal efficiency and profit generation comes to the fore.

Categories: Tech News

Why Pakistan Wants to Arrest Its Popular Former Prime Minister Imran Khan

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 05:30

Tensions reached a boiling point as hundreds of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s supporters gathered outside his mansion in Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad late Sunday evening. 

His supporters assembled there in a bid to protect their leader from arrest after he was charged under the country’s anti-terror laws. If convicted, the cricket-hero turned politician could face several years in jail. 

The country’s ruling government and Khan’s party have been at loggerheads in a bitter power struggle since the leader’s controversial ouster in April. As Pakistan braces itself from devastating floods and a major economic crisis, analysts warn the latest political developments threaten further public unrest. 

Imran Khan, arrest, pakistan, anti-terror lawsSupporters of Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan shout slogans as they guard his residence outside Islamabad on Aug. 22, 2022. Photo: Aamir QURESHI / AFP

Charges were filed against the politician following an impassioned speech he made at a rally on Saturday. In it, he threatened two officials with legal action – the capital city’s police chief and a judge – and accused the pair of being responsible for the arrest and alleged torture of his chief-of-staff Shahbaz Gill. 

“We won’t spare you,” Khan said, directly addressing the judge and top police chief. Gill was arrested on Aug. 9 on sedition charges that accuse him of inciting mutiny in the country’s most powerful institution, the military. Sedition charges in Pakistan carry the death penalty.  

Khan and his party members claim Gill has been tortured and sexually assaulted in police custody. Police and ministers from the government have denied allegations of extrajudicial torture against Gill. 

On Sunday, Pakistan’s media regulatory body banned live telecasts of Khan’s speeches and accused the former cricketer of spreading hate speech. Internet monitor NetBlocks has stated that the country’s internet services disrupted access to YouTube after Khan broadcasted a live speech on it. In the speech, he referred to “neutrals,” a sarcastic euphemism for the military. He claimed that local police “were under pressure by the neutrals to thrash” his party’s workers. 

The police complaint against Khan argued that his speech was meant to “terrorise” top police officials and the judiciary. The politician has been granted protective bail till Thursday. Speaking at a press conference, a senior leader from Imran Khan’s party, Fawad Chaudhry, claimed that there was “no legal basis” for the police complaint against Imran Khan, and that “the country is practically under martial law.”

Imran Khan, arrest, pakistan, anti-terror lawsImran Khan's supporters wave his flags at a massive rally to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Pakistan's independence in Lahore on Aug. 13, 2022. Photo: Arif ALI / AFP

Khan’s party members have urged their followers to take to the streets in rallies against Khan’s impending arrest. 

“If Imran Khan is arrested… we will take over Islamabad with people’s power,” Khan’s former cabinet minister, Ali Amin Gandapur, said on Twitter. 

While Imran Khan’s supporters prepare to push back against his possible arrest, a senior political analyst foresees the charges being contested in Pakistan’s top court. “Every regime in Pakistan tries to pin down their political opponents by invoking the anti-terror act, which does not sustain in the Supreme Court, this has been proven time and time again,” Mubashir Zaidi told VICE World News.

Khan was removed from office following a no-confidence vote in parliament against him in April. Since then, Khan has held large rallies across the country and called for fresh elections in the country. He has claimed that his ouster was orchestrated by a conspiracy between his opposition parties and the United States, an allegation which the U.S. State Department and the Pakistani military have denied. 

Categories: Tech News

How important are tech and other contractors to UK? PM candidate promises tax review if elected

The Register - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 04:51
Liz Truss to go over IR35 off payroll tax as ruling party voters gear up to pick their leader

The leading candidate to replace Boris Johnson as the UK's prime minister has said she would review changes to the IR35 tax rules so often criticized by IT contractors.…

Categories: Tech News

‘Need to Be Un-Pregnant?’ College Students Hand Out QR Codes for Secret Abortions

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 04:00

A few days before the Texas abortion ban went into effect in September 2021, a QR code plastered on a Texas Tech University bathroom stall in Lubbock posed a question: “Need to be un-pregnant?”

The sticker was placed there by C, a rising senior who estimates that she has distributed and posted between 150 and 200 QR codes around campus.

“People really, really don’t like abortion in Lubbock,” C, who asked to only be identified with her first initial due to safety concerns, told VICE News. A few months before C started distributing QR codes, it had been dubbed a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

In states that have banned abortion, students like C are distributing QR codes that take users to websites that sell pills that induce abortion. The QR code stickers are the brainchild of Plan C, an organization that provides information about access to abortion pills. The code leads to the organization’s website, where links to platforms for purchasing abortion pills are a few clicks away. 

For the first time in decades, students are returning to college campuses for the fall semester without the national right to abortion. For some students, this means finding creative ways of communicating information about abortion access.

“I think the fears that I have are the exact reason why it’s so important to have a way to anonymously spread information,” C said.

Launched in 2021, Plan C’s sticker program has fielded requests from every state, the organization said. Over half a million QR code stickers have been distributed—132,000 of which have been provided to individuals who said that they were students.

“I think the fears that I have are the exact reason why it’s so important to have a way to anonymously spread information.”

C herself was first exposed to the QR code stickers when Plan C began distributing them to students on her campus. Shortly after her initial encounter with the group, she started distributing QR codes herself. “Save this card in a safe place just in case one day future you (or a friend) needs to become un-pregnant,” the card read. 

She said that some students appeared disgusted upon being handed a QR code card, but would briefly examine it en route to the trash can. 

Then, to her surprise, some would quietly pocket it.

C said that for each person who ended up disposing of their QR code, there were probably ten more that kept it. “I think it’s important that we provide that information despite what people believe or what they advocate for. They need that access,” she said.

Washington University law student Elena LeVan's Plan C advocacy materials, including QR code stickers (Elena LeVan)Washington University law student Elena LeVan's Plan C advocacy materials, including QR code stickers (Elena LeVan)

In 2020, medication abortions accounted for over half of U.S. abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some abortion pill providers, like Hey Jane, are not currently shipping to the 19 states that have telemedicine abortion restrictions. And some people have already indicated that they will try to get around these restrictions, despite possible legal consequences. 

Abortion restrictions tend to target people who provide abortions, not the people who undergo them. But there’s no guarantee that abortion patients won’t get swept up in a law enforcement dragnet—and, indeed, many already have. And although the vast majority of states do not have explicit laws forbidding self-managed abortion, experts warn that if a prosecutor wants to go after someone for having one or helping someone else do so, they’ll find a way to do it. 

Even in states like Kansas, where in-clinic abortion is currently legal, the ever-changing post-Roe legal landscape has resulted in a patchwork of shifting laws and statutes that even those who pay close attention can find confusing. Abortion rights advocates worry that even just providing information about abortion could potentially open them up to scrutiny from law enforcement.

“We think the moment that we are being censored and shut down from sharing information on a medically safe option in a certain state, then that is the moment we live in a very different United States.”

Amy Merrill, co-founder of Plan C, told VICE News earlier this summer that the organization has had conversations about threats to the legality of its work.

“We keep coming back to our First Amendment rights to share information,” Merrill said. “We think the moment that we are being censored and shut down from sharing information on a medically safe option in a certain state, then that is the moment we live in a very different United States.”

When Claire Burke, a rising sophomore at Barnard College, returned home to Kansas in possession of QR code stickers she obtained from Plan C at school, she did not hesitate to distribute them to friends and post them in public locations around Kansas City. 

In Kansas, abortion remains a topic of contention even after voters upheld the abortion protections in the state’s constitution in August. Burke said that many of her friends at home were concerned prior to the vote, and when they approached her in search of more information, she would hand over the QR code.

“The biggest goal is to make sure that people have access not not only to the information, but to the pills themselves,” she told VICE News.

Elena LeVan, a law student at Washington University in St. Louis and member of advocacy organization If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, recently ordered 500 pieces of advocacy material from Plan C, including QR code cards and stickers for her organization to distribute during the first week of school. In Missouri, abortion is banned at conception except in cases of medical emergency. 

But LeVan wanted to be prepared for the fall semester; she said she also plans to place them in “random” places, like toilet paper dispensers. 

“I think our university hasn’t really taken a strong stance on abortion,” LeVan told VICE News. “So a lot of this is going to be left up to students to spread these resources and get people connected with information.” 

A joint statement by the chancellor and the dean of the School of Medicine following the Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade focused on “dialogue” as opposed to healthcare access. The debate surrounding abortion “is too frequently reduced to polarized points of view with little to no room for constructive dialogue… As a university that places great value on diversity of thought and opinion, we are far from homogeneous in our points of view on this or any topic.” The administrators then encouraged students to come together as a community in the aftermath of the ruling.

In addition to the Plan C materials, LeVan ordered QR code stickers from, a platform that provides resources for individuals seeking an abortion, including links to websites selling abortion pills by mail. According to the organization, they have distributed over 2,000 packets containing about 24 QR code stickers per packet—all of which have been hand-packed by a team of five volunteers at a dining room table.

The organization, which has since limited their sticker campaign to donors, volunteers, and organizations, said that they have received over 200 sticker requests mentioning the word “campus,” as well as additional requests mentioning student groups and sororities.

In South Dakota, one activist started her own QR code sticker initiative. Taking advantage of a sticker sale through the graphic design website Canva, Krista prints stickers with QR codes leading to, a service that ships abortion pills to the U.S. from abroad.

“It’s definitely not a perfect solution by any means,” Krista, who asked to be identified only by her first name out of concern for her safety, told VICE News. “But I think it’s a step in the right direction until we can see some significant changes in our political sphere and our legislature.”

On July 1, a law banning telemedicine abortion went into effect in South Daokta. Governor Kristi Noem also recently announced that she would take action toward implementing a ban on mail-order abortion pills, but that individuals seeking them should not face prosecution. 

In addition to plastering the stickers around various cities in South Dakota, Krista has distributed them to Students for Reproductive Rights, a student group at the University of South Dakota. She also plans to issue them to a student group at South Dakota State University, about two hours north.

“Maybe they don’t think they'll ever need it, but one day something unexpected happens and they may be like, ‘Well, maybe I should see if that QR code if that sticker is still there.’”

The current president of students for reproductive rights at the University of South Dakota, Lexi McKee-Hemenway, lauded the QR codes because they’re discreet and easy to use. McKee-Hemenway said that she has been personally distributing QR codes since receiving them from Krista, and though she has yet to distribute them on campus, anticipates seeing them around in the fall.

“It’s so much easier to be able to just go up and scan the code and be taken somewhere versus having to type in a whole entire web address,” she said. “I want people to have access, I want them to be able to get their necessary healthcare … Even if that means that they have to do it themselves.”

Burke, the sophomore at Barnard, said that if she were to encounter any opposition, she feels confident her community will back her up.

“Anyone who organizes in red states is used to resistance, and I think that this is an especially volatile issue,” she said.

In Texas, where private citizens can file civil lawsuits against anyone who performs or “abets” an abortion, C is more concerned about action being taken by Lubbock residents, rather than by her fellow students. Despite her fears, she continues to distribute the QR codes in the hopes of providing students with information and options.

“Maybe they don’t think they'll ever need it,” she said, “but one day something unexpected happens and they may be like, ‘Well, maybe I should see if that QR code if that sticker is still there.’”

Carter Sherman contributed reporting.

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Categories: Tech News

Rocket Lab CEO reflects on company's humble beginnings as a drainpipe

The Register - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 03:52
PowerPoint presentations are all well and good, but for Peter Beck, you can't beat something physical

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck spoke at the SmallSat 2022 conference and offered up words of wisdom for anyone pondering an entry into the lighter end of the launch market.…

Categories: Tech News

Chinese Discount Retailer Miniso Is Sorry For Pretending To Be Japanese

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 03:50

People could hardly be blamed for mistaking Miniso as a Japanese brand.

The discount retailer has taken over the world by presenting itself as a Japanese brand, with more than 5,100 shops from the capital of North Korea to Broadway Avenue in New York. It has brazenly copied the aesthetic and storefront of casual wear chain Uniqlo. Their products are cheaper, knockoff versions of designer goods from homeware brand Muji. And their logo even features Japanese Katakana characters, which are pronounced as Meisou.

But Miniso is a “proud Chinese brand through-and-through,” the company said last week, as it apologized for pretending to be a Japanese brand and thus hurting the feelings of Chinese consumers. 

The marketing strategy of the New York-listed company has come under scrutiny and sparked outcry as political tensions with Tokyo stirred anti-Japanese sentiment in China.  

In a statement on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, Miniso said it was deeply ashamed for having promoted itself as “a Japanese designer brand” in the early stage of its development, which it described as “a wrong direction.”

The company, which is based in the southern Chinese city of Guangdong, said it has begun “de-Japanizing” since 2019 and will remove any element that makes references to Japan from its marketing materials and storefronts by March next year. 

Its management pledged to hold senior staff responsible for the “severe mistake.” Miniso also vowed to “export the correct Chinese culture and values.”

The statement came after the company caused a domestic backlash earlier this month, as Miniso Spain has mistakenly described Disney Princesses wearing Chinese cheongsam in a recent toy collection as Japanese geisha. The Chinese company subsequently issued an apology and demanded its agent in Spain to terminate the agency that ran its social media accounts. “We admire the long historical civilization and splendid cultural achievements of China,” Miniso Spain later wrote in an Instagram post. 

Though Miniso opened its first store in Guangzhou in 2013 and most of its products are manufactured in China, the company repeatedly insisted it was a Japanese brand in the first few years, citing the presence of Japanese designer Miyake Junya as a co-founder. 

“It is funny how the strategic partnership and high performance of Miniso in China has overshadowed the business in Japan,” Junya said in 2016, when the company operated more than 1,000 outlets in China, but only four in Japan. He hoped to share Japan’s design philosophy with people around the world. 

By 2019, when the company was preparing for its public listing in the U.S., all mentions of Junya and its Japanese origins had disappeared from its site and documents, including its IPO prospectus, which listed Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu as its only founder. 

Miniso was embroiled in 68 lawsuits in the same year, with more than 40 cases involving copyright infringement. In 2016, a Hong Kong outlet reported that several well-known Nordic designers’ names were featured on Miniso’s website without their agreement. At least two Hong Kong artists have also accused the company of ripping off their design. 

Follow Rachel Cheung on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories: Tech News

Big Tech is building the metaverse of its own dreams. You don't want to go there

The Register - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 02:30
No country for old menus

Opinion  A year ago, corporate VR sucked deep on the hype pipe and offered it around. We weren't convinced. All that investment, all that technology, to recreate a drab pastiche of the very environments we'd gratefully escaped in the magical world of WFH.…

Categories: Tech News

In a time before calculators, going the extra mile at work sometimes didn't add up

The Register - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 01:30
New kid on the block risked decimating colleagues' side hustle

Who, Me?  When you start a new job, you always want to impress the boss by going the extra mile (or kilometer). But doing so can risk incurring the wrath of co-workers. …

Categories: Tech News

Lessons to be learned from Google and Oracle’s datacenter heatstroke

The Register - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 00:28
It’s getting hot in here so take down all your nodes

Comment  This year's summer heatwaves aren't just making your average Brit's life a bit miserable, it also caused problems for some cloud providers and server admins trying to keep their gear running.…

Categories: Tech News

Zoom patches make-me-root security flaw, patches patch

The Register - Sun, 08/21/2022 - 23:20
Plus: See if in-app browsers are monitoring you, a novel industrial network attack technique, and more

In brief  Zoom fixed a pair of privilege escalation vulnerabilities, which were detailed at the Black Hat conference this month, but that patch was bypassed, necessitating yet another fix.…

Categories: Tech News

NSO Group CEO steps down, 100 employees let go too

The Register - Sun, 08/21/2022 - 22:01
Controversial Pegasus spyware maker to focus on NATO sales while battling various court cases

Pegasus spyware-maker NSO Group announced on Sunday it will reorganize, replacing its CEO and letting go of around 100 workers.…

Categories: Tech News

Huawei dangles developer incentives to sell Harmony OS around the world

The Register - Sun, 08/21/2022 - 17:59
Plus: Indonesia's four-hour takedown demand; Peak Facebook in Korea?; Alibaba frees font; and more.

Asia In Brief  Huawei last week unveiled initiatives to encourage developers to work on its Harmony OS – the platform it created after US sanctions denied the Chinese giant access to Google's Android operating system.…

Categories: Tech News

Daily Horoscope: August 22, 2022

Motherboard (Vice) - Sun, 08/21/2022 - 14:00

The moon in nurturing water sign Cancer squares off with Jupiter, the planet of growth, at 12:09 PM, inspiring intuitive action. Mercury, the planet of communication, harmonizes with power planet Pluto at 5:58 PM, providing multiple possible explanations and inspiring curiosity about the framework of things. Thoughts are getting organized as Virgo season begins at 11:16 PM.

All times ET.

Stay in the cosmic loop with the VICE horoscopes newsletter. Get horoscopes straight to your inbox when you sign up here!

Aries glyph Aries: March 20, 2022 - April 19, 2022

You’re taking a big step as the moon squares off with confident Jupiter. No bureaucracy stands a chance against your brain power as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto! Virgo season begins, inspiring you to keep busy. Use this time to invite new habits into your life.

Taurus glyphs Taurus: April 19, 2022 - May 20, 2022

The past month found you getting everything in place and now the sun moves into fellow earth sign Virgo, and you can trust the process. Things are running more smoothly, so you can take time to enjoy the last drops of summer.

Gemini glyph Gemini: May 20, 2022 - June 21, 2022

You see through to the other side as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto, the planet of transformation. You might be able to keep things going forever, even after they end. Virgo season will give you more time to rest and make time for being a homebody.

Cancer glyph Cancer: June 21, 2022 - July 22, 2022

The moon in your sign clashes with optimistic Jupiter. With some faith you can make a change that is aligned with the bigger picture. You’re able to see all sides of the story as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto. Virgo season finds you eager to read and learn useful skills.

Leo glyph Leo: July 22, 2022 - August 22, 2022

What wisdom does the sun have to offer you on its final hours through your sign, Leo? The sun leaves its parting gifts of self-awareness, and it enters a part of your chart associated with self-esteem and other resources. You have plenty to offer yourself!

Virgo glyph Virgo: August 22, 2022 - September 22, 2022

You might be wondering the ultimate goal of your social life as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto, the planet of subtext. You can read very deeply into your social situations, allowing you to show up fully as yourself. Virgo season begins, and matters of authenticity and identity are illuminated.

Libra glyph Libra: September 22, 2022 - October 23, 2022

Your relationships inspire you to achieve greatness as the moon clashes with Jupiter. It’s a heroic mood! Your intuition is heightened as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto. As Virgo season begins, you focus less on socializing and more on spending some time alone.

Scorpio glyph Scorpio: October 23, 2022 - November 22, 2022

Take a bow as Leo season closes out: It’s the grand finale, and all eyes are on you! With the sun moving into your chart’s house of hopes and dreams, the coming weeks are marked by a sense that anything is possible, with a little planning, that is. Goals without plans are just wishes.

Sagittarius glyph Sagittarius: November 22, 2022 - December 21, 2022

You’re doing something that requires a lot of trust as the moon clashes with your hopeful planetary ruler, Jupiter. Think of it as an investment in your happiness! You’re pulling strings as cunning Mercury harmonizes with Pluto. Spend today considering your driving beliefs, because Virgo season will ask you to manifest them!

Capricorn glyph Capricorn: December 21, 2021 - January 19, 2022

Trust is being shaped in your relationships as the moon clashes with Jupiter, the planet of beliefs. You’re able to justify anything and explore the depths of your knowledge as cerebral Mercury harmonizes with power planet Pluto. As the sun moves into your chart’s house of expanded horizons, consider what you need to let go of before reaching the next level.

Aquarius glyphs Aquarius: January 19, 2022 - February 18, 2022

Take these final hours of Leo season to see your partners in a way that warms your heart. Take this gaze with you into the next month, as the sun moves through an intimate sector of your chart, deepening relationships.

Pisces glyph Pisces: February 18, 2022 - March 20, 2022

What are you doing to keep the fun going? The moon clashes with jolly Jupiter, your planetary ruler, showing you taking an active part in making happiness happen! The sun moves into your chart’s house of relationships, providing clarity around what you look for in any sort of level partnership.

Categories: Tech News

Weekly Horoscope: August 22 - 28

Motherboard (Vice) - Sun, 08/21/2022 - 14:00

The planet of communication, Mercury, harmonizes with power planet Pluto on Monday, August 22, at 5:58 PM. It’s easy for us to understand a deeper, double meaning. We’re finding multiple possible explanations and questioning the framework. There’s a back-to-school vibe as Virgo season begins on Monday, August 22, at 11:16 PM: Virgo is the sign of processing thoughts, which is perfect for marking the beginning of a school semester.

Uranus, the planet of rebellion, stations retrograde on Wednesday, August 24, at 9:53 AM—while still squaring off with Saturn, the planet of law! The outer planets spend half of the year retrograde, but when they appear to sit still in the sky, their presence is emphasized. The Uranus-Saturn square that has been a signature of the past two years continues to press tensions between the futuristic and historical. In our personal lives, this can play out as friction between promise and uncertainty.

Mercury enters air sign Libra on Thursday, August 25, at 9:02 PM: Mercury in Venus-ruled Libra has a poetic way of expression, and is present in the charts of great debaters and orators. Mercury in Libra is an auspicious time for finding common ground and agreements that please all parties involved.

There’s no shortage of things to do this weekend! Fun goes wild as Venus in Leo clashes with Uranus at 12:33 AM on Saturday, August 27. Also on Saturday, the sun in Virgo clashes with Mars in Gemini at 1:27 AM, prompting people to be self-motivated and take ideas into their own hands.

The Virgo new moon takes place on Saturday at 4:17 AM: New moons in earth signs provide the opportunity to get grounded in reality. Like the sun, this new moon is also squaring off action planet Mars, so we’re figuring out a brilliant plan—and some backup plans—before launching into a new lunar month.

We’re finding a way to balance passion with restraint as Venus in Leo faces off with Saturn at 14:27 on Sunday, August 28.

All times ET.

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Aries glyph Aries: March 20, 2022 - April 19, 2022

You’re figuring out how to make your lifestyle work! You’re getting your tasks in motion with little effort as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto. You transcend red tape with your beautiful mind. As Virgo season begins, you keep yourself busy. Look at what you want to accomplish in a day, and invite in new habits. Your partners become more talkative as Mercury enters your chart’s house of relationships, redefining interpersonal commitments. As the sun squares off with your planetary ruler Mars, you’re figuring out how to reveal your motivations. The new moon in Virgo can be helpful for rewriting your schedule. Reorganize your calendar so that it’s clearly legible before the upcoming Mercury retrograde.

Taurus glyphs Taurus: April 19, 2022 - May 20, 2022

The end of summer is one of the most fun times for Taurus! It’s enjoyable, and you’re still finding stability as Uranus, the planet of surprises, begins its retrograde in your sign. Things are swirling. You might be digging your hooves in the ground, wishing to be a rock. The rock, however, is being hurled through the galaxy, faster than ever. Maybe you identify more as the catalyst, hurling the rock and wishing the world would catch up as you pull everyone into the future. You can surprise yourself, once again, with your desire to change. The new moon in fellow earth sign Virgo is ideal for exploring your definition of  happiness. You take pleasure and desire seriously as pleasure planet Venus faces off with grave Saturn.

Gemini glyph Gemini: May 20, 2022 - June 21, 2022

You’re gaining a better understanding of the end-game as your planetary ruler Mercury  harmonizes with power planet Pluto. Once you see the pit of the well, you find a secret advantage. You’re making more time for rest as the sun moves into a domestic sector of your chart, bringing your attention to your homestead and private life. You’re still in the mood to socialize and be artsy or creative as Mercury enters your chart’s pleasure sector. You’re invigorated and eager to take a jab at executing your vision as the sun clashes with Mars in Gemini. The new moon in Virgo connects you to your roots and finds you grounded in your multi-channel streams of thought.

Cancer glyph Cancer: June 21, 2022 - July 22, 2022

You’re able to see all sides of the story as messenger Mercury harmonizes with Pluto, the planet of secrets. This perspective of the subtext can provide you with a deep backstory, too. You’re learning about people and seeing through any facade of bad behavior. The sun moves into your chart’s house of learning and communication, which can be a good time to start a new course or book, or pick up a new skill. You’re learning more about your family and personal history, as well as your home life, as Mercury enters your chart’s domestic sector. The new moon in Virgo is a good time to clear your mind and find your most authentic inner voice.

Leo glyph Leo: July 22, 2022 - August 22, 2022

You’re figuring out your financial situation as Virgo season begins and the sun, your planetary ruler, enters your chart’s house of personal resources. This can also have implications for your self-esteem, as you consider your ability to support yourself, emotionally and mentally. You’re finding yourself bearing the weight of a changing world as Uranus, the planet of the unexpected, beings its retrograde. Even though things change'—you change, the situation changes—you can always rely on your truth. You might even make something beautiful and inspired out of the strange situation as Venus clashes with Uranus. Prioritize your own feelings and happiness over what you think people expect from you as Venus faces off with Saturn.

Virgo glyph Virgo: August 22, 2022 - September 22, 2022

You’re seeing the shadows of your friendships and flings as Mercury harmonizes with power planet Pluto. You might be wondering the ultimate goal of your social life: What is it that you find fun and pleasurable? Your ability to see through superficial connections allows you to participate in relationships fully as yourself. Virgo season brings up themes of authenticity and identity. You’re keeping track of your belongings and finances as Mercury enters your charts house of personal resources. This can also find you thinking about the way you mentally support and relate to yourself. You’re motivated to take on titles and public projects as the sun squares off with Mars. The new moon in your sign connects you to yourself, your body, and your feelings.

Libra glyph Libra: September 22, 2022 - October 23, 2022

There are some things that you just feel in your bones as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto. As the sun enters Virgo, you can be more intuitive, since Virgo represents a secretive part of your chart. Mercury moves into your sign and you find a graceful way to concisely express things that have a much deeper meaning. You’re eager to cut loose as your planetary ruler Venus squares off with Uranus, the planet of rebellion. But you can be too aware of the consequences of your free-wheeling desires as Venus faces off with serious Saturn. The new moon in Virgo finds you reckoning with the dreamy parts of yourself that go unnoticed, but are now demanding your care and attention.

Scorpio glyph Scorpio: October 23, 2022 - November 22, 2022

Anything is possible with a little planning as the sun moves through your chart’s house of hopes and dreams. Friends and community members can make you feel like you have the right connections. Uranus, the planet of rebellion, begins its retrograde in your chart’s house of relationships. Venus also clashes with Uranus, so love and partnerships are taking on an unconventional form. The sun squares off with your planetary ruler Mars, and you’re ready to make a change for the better. The new moon in Virgo asks you what your five-year plan looks like; there can be many different plans. You find a way to take your desires and legacy seriously as Venus faces off with Saturn.

Sagittarius glyph Sagittarius: November 22, 2022 - December 21, 2022

You’re pulling strings as trickster Mercury harmonizes with power planet Pluto, making it easy for you to mingle and manifest. As Virgo season begins, you have more eyes on you and your legacy. Fame is a theme as the sun lights up a sector of your chart that is visible from far away. This is a time to think about your vocation or calling, which is always greater than your job or how you make money. The sun clashes with Mars and you’re motivated by the people in your life to chase after this vision. You might find that you’re feeling passionate and excited about ideas, and the new moon in Virgo helps you to ground these ideas in reality and fact.

Capricorn glyph Capricorn: December 21, 2021 - January 19, 2022

There’s a sense of moral relativism as flexible Mercury harmonizes with power planet Pluto. You’re able to justify pretty much anything, exploring the depths of your beliefs and knowledge. The sun moves into fellow earth sign Virgo, which brings your focus to learning more about the world that exists beyond you, whether through spirituality, travel, or education. You’re connecting with what the collective thinks as Mercury enters a public sector of your chart. The new moon in Virgo asks what you want to learn more about, and how you can broaden your horizons. You might feel strict about indulgence as Venus faces off with Saturn, finding you balancing your long-term goals with living in the moment.

Aquarius glyphs Aquarius: January 19, 2022 - February 18, 2022

As the summer begins to end, things are shifting around. The sun moves into a sector of your chart related to intimacy and transformation. This can be because you’re releasing some of your things into someone else’s hands, or you’re ready to take something from theirs. Your modern planetary ruler, Uranus, begins its retrograde, emphasizing themes of tradition versus rebellion that have been coming up in your life over the past two years. The new moon in Virgo asks you to trust others, or you may be feeling much more sensitive to others’ needs. You’re finding a way to warm up, balancing your own skepticism and reservations with other people’s generosity and eagerness, as warm Venus faces off with cold Saturn.

Pisces glyph Pisces: February 18, 2022 - March 20, 2022

You’re gaining a better understanding of the role that your relationships play in your future, and how they can be a vehicle that drives you toward achieving your goals as Mercury harmonizes with Pluto. You might be able to connect with people who have a lot of power and can help get you where you want to be. As the sun enters your chart’s house of partnerships, you have a better perspective on the type of relationships you like to engage with. The sun squares off with Mars and you’re motivated to address home and family issues. The new moon in Virgo brings a fresh perspective to your relationships. You have a lot of room to wonder about other people, and they have room to wonder about you, too.

Categories: Tech News

Musk tries to sell Tesla's Optimus robot butler to China

The Register - Sun, 08/21/2022 - 02:48
Plus: How US Homeland Security uses AI – and text-to-image systems deployed in social media

In brief  Elon Musk wants Tesla's robot butler to be able to cook, mow laws, and care for the elderly, he wrote in an essay published in a magazine backed by the official Cyberspace Administration of China.…

Categories: Tech News