NESOS gives 8-bit system a GUI desktop, 8 tiny files, and it’s amazing

ARS Technica - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 10:13
You're limited to eight files and a word processor, but you can put them anywhere you want in NESOS' rich (for 1985) desktop environment.

Enlarge / You're limited to eight files and a word processor, but you can put them anywhere you want in NESOS' rich (for 1985) desktop environment. (credit: Inkbox)

When you played the Nintendo Entertainment System, you were close to the hardware. It's why you can pull off remarkable glitch hacks, like playing Tennis to hot-boot into broken Super Mario Bros. worlds. The chips, the memory, the board—everything was designed to service the little board inside your cartridge (that and prevent unauthorized games). There wasn't much room for anything else in the early- to mid-1980s.

Room enough, however, for a custom-built operating system built in 2022, if just barely. NESOS 1.0 from Inkbox Software, a 48K OS, features "two core applications, the word processor, and the settings," according to Inkbox. The settings app gives you seven cursors, 53 background colors, and the ability to delete the eight files that can fit inside a maximum 2K of NVRAM (i.e. on-board memory that doesn't lose data when the system loses power). That's 832 bytes each, or about one full screen's worth of memory. You can drag those eight files anywhere you want on the desktop, however.

The creator of NESOS detailing how he built it—and why.

NESOS (pronounced "nee-sohs," according to its creator) is entirely graphical. Inbox notes that there's already a command-line system, Family Basicfor the NES and its Japanese progenitor, the Family Computer/Famicom. "I want NESOS to feel like an actual operating system that Nintendo might have made back in the day for the NES. What would it have looked and felt like?" the creator says in his video overview.

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Sheriff Threatened to Fire All His Black Officers in Racist Tirade Caught on Tape

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 10:09

Just a few months after narrowly defeating the county’s first Black sheriff in November 2018, Columbus County, North Carolina, sheriff Jody Greene went on a racist, paranoid tirade about his Black staff members in a phone call to the then-interim Sheriff, calling them “bastards” and threatening to fire them all.

“Fuck them Black bastards,” Greene said during a phone call with then-interim chief Jason Soles back in February 2019. “They think I’m scared? They’re stupid. I don’t know what else to do with them, so it’s just time to clean them out.”

The audio, first obtained by NBC affiliate WECT, was captured by Soles, who told the outlet that he documented these calls because of the alarming language Greene used. Only now, as Soles prepares to run against Greene for his seat, has the state Bureau of Investigation begun looking into the phone calls.

North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s public information director confirmed to VICE News Thursday that District Attorney Jon David requested that the agency investigate allegations of obstruction of justice concerning the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office this week.

During the calls, Greene expressed his suspicions that one of the department’s Black officers was leaking unspecified information about him to then-Sheriff Lewis Hatcher. At the time, Greene was still embroiled in the aftermath of the tight election, which he won by a slim margin of just 34 votes. As a winner was still being determined, Soles had been named interim sheriff.

Soles told WECT that during this time, Greene called him regularly. It was during one of these calls that the soon-to-be sheriff went on his racist rant. In the recordings, Greene can be heard telling the interim sheriff that he hated Black Democrats, didn’t trust the Black detention officer in the sheriff’s office and would fire people who were “guilty by association” of supposedly leaking information about him.

“I’m sick of it. I’m sick of these Black bastards,” Greene told Soles. “I’m going to clean house and be done with it. And we’ll start from there.”

“There’s a snitch in there somewhere tellin’ what we are doing,” he said during another call. “And I’m not gonna have it. I’m not going to have it.”

Greene also disparaged Melvin Campbell, a Black sergeant in the sheriff’s office who had worked under Greene for 30 years at the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

“We’ll cut the snake’s head f**king off. Period,” Greene said. “And Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared to be. Every black that I know, you need to fire him to start with, he’s a snake.”

Soles told WECT that he began recording the conversation as soon as he heard Greene begin to disparage Black members of the office.

“And, and I knew right then, I was like, ‘Wow, this is coming from the sheriff,’” Soles told the outlet.

Greene’s victory was already marred by controversy at the time. In the weeks that followed the inconclusive election results, the then-sheriff elect suggested an officer from the Whiteville Police Department be appointed interim-sheriff. At the time, Hatcher refused, citing that the officer, Whiteville Deputy Chief Aaron Herring, had been arrested and charged for punching a Black man who was handcuffed in the face three years prior. While Herring was eventually found not guilty, Hatcher worried that the county, which is 30 percent Black, would reject the appointment.

Much of what Greene promised to do came to pass: The two Black officers on the county sheriff’s command staff were demoted, and one of them was eventually fired.

Soles, who is now running against Greene in November, said that he brought the story to both the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office, but the recordings are only now being looked at by the State Bureau of Investigation for possible obstruction of justice.

“This is an ongoing investigation, no additional information is available at this time,” the Bureau said in an email.

In a lengthy statement posted on the sheriff’s office Facebook page Wednesday evening, Greene maintained that his former election opponent had been spreading false rumors about him in the aftermath of the 2018 election, and that the conversations heard in the recordings were somehow altered to create a misleading representation of him. He also accused Soles of being an officer with “poor performance” who is now trying to run a smear campaign just weeks ahead of his election in November.

Greene also outright denied any bigotry on his part.

“I adamantly deny any racial intent or actions on my part,” he wrote. “I acknowledge there were racial tensions during the 2018 certification of the election and that the media and some members in the community were referring to the two political sides as black and white. And I also acknowledge that I use expletive language but deny using it with malice intent.”

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Teenage Girl Killed in Shootout Between Police and Alleged Kidnapper

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 09:42

A 15-year-old California girl, who was the subject of an amber alert, was killed in a shootout as she was running towards the police.

Savannah Graziano died Tuesday in the gunfight between California cops and her father, who is believed to have killed her mother the day before. Her father also died in the shootout.

The situation began on Monday at 7:30 a.m., when a shooting near a Fontana, California elementary school caused the school to be put in lockdown. Police found Tracy Martinez, 45, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds and she was later pronounced dead at the hospital. The couple had been going through a divorce, the Associated Press reported.

Police called the shooting a “domestic violence incident” and alleged Anthony Graziano, Martinez’s estranged husband, abducted his 15-year-old daughter. Police issued an amber alert and immediately began looking for the pair.

On Tuesday, police encountered Graziano in his truck near the city of Barstow, California,  resulting in a car chase and shootout. In the midst of the crossfire, after the vehicles stopped, Savannah Graziano exited the vehicle and ran towards a police car when she was shot and killed. She was wearing tactical gear at the time of her death.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said on Wednesday that detectives who analyzed the scene told him “evidence suggests that Savannah Graziano was a participant in shooting at our deputies. They offered no evidence for this claim. Police only recovered a single weapon from her father’s truck, a rifle.

“We’re still trying to confirm that at this point,” said Dicus.

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Google challenges US ISPs with 100Gbps fiber broadband

The Register - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 09:30
An internet advertiser as your service provider – what could go wrong?

Google is planning to offer much faster broadband speeds in the US areas where it operates its fiber networks, all the way to 100Gbps.…

Categories: Tech News

Elihu Okay’s Music Is Flawed on Purpose

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 09:13

Elihu Okay’s music is a product of his Northeastern indie rock adolescence and his gift for writing ghostly and contemplative poems. Elihu grew up playing in bands in basements in Western Massachusetts, spinning early-aughts anxiety into reflective tracks that built the foundation for his sound. He has an endearing appreciation for simple humor, the brilliant and dumb, an aesthetic in full effect on elihus.website. “If you’re not saying something that’s a little embarrassing then you’re not saying much at all,” he told Noisey.

“Oil,” Elihu Okay’s new single, “is about a phone call that didn’t happen,” he said. Thinking, ‘What would I say if I called this person?’ in the moments after a relationship ends.” With intense breaks and pauses and harmonic bursts of energy, the song is raw and winding, and he recalled processing events through writing about them: “I think really often it is about helping me find a narrative and figure out how I feel.”

The music video encapsulates the song’s elusiveness, drifting between mysterious shots in car headlights in the rain and footage of Elihu in Prospect Park. “With my music, I keep asking myself, ‘How can I be a little uglier, and more honest, and less afraid to make myself look dumb?” he said. “That’s easier for me to do in a song than it is for me to do visually. I actually don’t really want to look at a picture of myself where I feel like I look bad. Whereas I can write a song that is self-deprecating and feel better about it.”

On “Oil,” Elihu drifts thoughtfully into the possibility that his own perspective is flawed. “We’re all building a story about our lives, who we are, and how we act,” he said. “We have a lot of flexibility in how we act and how we think, so I try to be conscious of how I’m building a narrative about what’s happening now. I’d like to be a person who is looking forward and living currently.” After beginning a “skeleton” of the song at home, he finalized it in the company of collaborators he respects immensely, who are all listed in the video’s description. “They all played a big role in shaping what the song became,” he said. 

With an album set to be released in early 2023, Elihu Okay is meticulously crafting all his visuals and putting the finishing touches on the project. In just a few released songs, he’s covered extensive ground in his vocal performance, channeling both robotic, Daft Punkesque vocals and smoky country melodies. Pop piano riffs bleed into hazy guitars and quickly turn into chaotic pathways of poetry. Instrumental scenes emerge without warning, and they beg not to be described or defined in words. “Like what you like,” he said, “without overthinking what it says about yourself and your style.”

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IBM's 'bare metal' LinuxONE push: Did somebody say OpenShift?

The Register - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 08:51
Plus RHEL has fresh release goodies out too

Red Hat has released betas of RHEL 8.7 and 9.1 while its parent company IBM is offering Linux mainframe instances in the cloud, although only in some regions.…

Categories: Tech News

Meta announces Make-A-Video, which generates video from text

ARS Technica - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 08:39
Still image from an AI-generated video of a teddy bear painting a portrait.

Enlarge / Still image from an AI-generated video of a teddy bear painting a portrait. (credit: Meta)

Today, Meta announced Make-A-Video, an AI-powered video generator that can create novel video content from text or image prompts, similar to existing image synthesis tools like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion. It can also make variations of existing videos, though it's not yet available for public use.

On Make-A-Video's announcement page, Meta shows example videos generated from text, including "a young couple walking in heavy rain" and "a teddy bear painting a portrait." It also showcases Make-A-Video's ability to take a static source image and animate it. For example, a still photo of a sea turtle, once processed through the AI model, can appear to be swimming.

The key technology behind Make-A-Video—and why it has arrived sooner than some experts anticipated—is that it builds off existing work with text-to-image synthesis used with image generators like OpenAI's DALL-E. In July, Meta announced its own text-to-image AI model called Make-A-Scene.

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Here’s What Hurricane Ian Hath Wrought—and It’s Not Over Yet

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 08:37

Hurricane Ian hit Florida on Wednesday as a category 4 hurricane, battering the Sunshine State with up to 150 mph winds, leaving more than 2.6 million people without power, and leading one sheriff to speculate that the storm’s ultimate death toll could be in the hundreds. 

The hurricane made landfall Wednesday in southwest Florida near the island of Cayo Costa. It was the strongest hurricane to hit the state’s western coast since Hurricane Charley in 2004, according to CNN

Fort Myers, near Cape Coral, saw a powerful storm surge that leveled many of the city’s homes and businesses, with some reports of houses floating away. 

In Naples, a downed power line sparked a fire. 

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told Good Morning America on Thursday that he “definitely knows” that at least hundreds of people died due to the hurricane, though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called that claim “unconfirmed.” 

Marceno’s office declined to evacuate hundreds of inmates at a jail in downtown Fort Myers, in an area where officials had ordered mandatory evacuations Tuesday, the Miami New Times reported. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said late Wednesday that inmates at this jail and another were “relocated within the main jail to a higher floor.” 

More than 2.6 million people in Florida were without power Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide. 

The hurricane progressively weakened after making landfall, and as of Thursday had been downgraded to a tropical storm. But during a Thursday press conference, DeSantis warned of “basically a 500-year flood event” affecting central Florida and potentially the northern part of the state.

Though the hurricane was initially feared to be the worst to hit the Tampa area in more than 100 years, the area was largely spared from the worst of Ian. In St. Petersburg, flamingos at the city’s Sunken Gardens botanical garden were temporarily evacuated to a bathroom.

The DeSantis administration and the White House, which have frequently been at odds over major political issues in the past two years, have been in cooperation on the hurricane response, both DeSantis and Biden administration officials have said. On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden and DeSantis had talked on the phone Thursday morning. 

“The President told the Governor he is sending his FEMA Administrator to Florida tomorrow to check in on response efforts and see where additional support is needed,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “The President and Governor committed to continued close coordination.”

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Microsoft will end support for its SwiftKey iOS keyboard on October 5

ARS Technica - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 08:28
Microsoft's SwiftKey keyboard for iOS is fading away next month.

Enlarge / Microsoft's SwiftKey keyboard for iOS is fading away next month. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft will discontinue its SwiftKey software keyboard for iOS and delist it from the App Store, according to a statement made to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley when asked about the future of the software.

"As of October 5, support for SwiftKey iOS will end and it will be delisted from the Apple App Store," said Chris Wolfe, SwiftKey's director of product management. "Microsoft will continue support for SwiftKey Android as well as the underlying technology that powers the Windows touch keyboard. For those customers who have SwiftKey installed on iOS, it will continue to work until it is manually uninstalled or a user gets a new device."

The iOS version of SwiftKey was last updated in August of 2021. Most updates in the year leading up to that were of the nondescript "bug fixes and performance improvements" variety. Microsoft purchased SwiftKey in 2016 for a reported $250 million, both for its iOS and Android software keyboards and their underlying technology.

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NATO Says Nord Stream Pipeline Was Sabotaged, Promises to Defend Its Allies

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 08:07

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has released an official statement calling the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines sabotage and vowing to defend its allied nations against such attacks. 

In a statement released on September 29, NATO said the damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea was “of deep concern. All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage,” the statement said. “These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage.”

NATO was created in 1949 to deter the Soviet Union. Its raison d'être has changed over the years, but the member nations have always vowed to protect each other if one was ever attacked. This is Article 5 of its charter. It was first invoked after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

In its statement, NATO asserted its right to defend itself. “We, as Allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors,” it said. “Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.”

The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines ran gas from Russia into Europe. Germany shut down Nord Stream 1 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 was never activated and Russia said it was shutting down the pipe indefinitely. On September 27, authorities noticed a steep drop in pressure in the pipes as natural gas began to leak into the Baltic Sea.

Scientists at the Swedish National Seismic Network detected what it called two “clear explosions” near the pipes on Monday. One registered a 2.3 magnitude at various monitoring stations. No one knows who is responsible for what many are calling an attack on the pipeline, and conspiracy theories are flourishing.

Gas has been a pressure point between Russia and Europe. In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia responded to heavy European sanctions by cutting off the flow of natural gas to countries like Germany. It’s affecting the economy of Europe, causing energy prices and some factories to shut down. Germany is even looking into restarting old nuclear power plants as the winter months approach. 

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Alien ‘Aqua Worlds’ Covered in Habitable Seawater More Abundant Than We Imagined, Study Proposes

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 08:00

A handful of “aqua planets” that are awash with habitable seawater will be discovered within the next decade, according to the predictions of a new study. The research suggests that temperate ocean worlds that orbit small stars, known as red dwarfs, may be far more common than previously assumed, raising the tantalizing prospect that some of these planets may host alien life.  

Red dwarfs, also known as M dwarfs, are relatively cool compared to stars like the Sun, but they are a hot topic in the search for extraterrestrial life. The vast majority of stars in our galaxy are red dwarfs, and their ubiquity has galvanized scientists to grapple with their potential habitability. For years, researchers have debated the possible merits and drawbacks for life in these systems, with some arguing that it is likely rare for planets around red dwarfs to end up with the right amount of water to support aliens.

Now, a pair of astronomers have presented an updated model that estimates somewhere between 5–10 percent of red dwarf planets that are under 1.3 times the mass of Earth “have appropriate amounts of seawater for habitability,” an occurrence rate that is “high enough to detect potentially habitable planets by ongoing and near-future M dwarf planet survey missions,” according to a study published on Thursday in Nature Astronomy.

“At least, it would be fair to say that we have seen the light for finding habitable planets, unlike the previous theoretical prediction that their existence is hopelessly unlikely,” said authors Tadahiro Kimura and Masahiro Ikoma, astronomers at the University of Tokyo and the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI), respectively, in an email to Motherboard. 

“However, there is still much we do not know about the climate of planets other than the Earth,” the team added. “Therefore, more research on planetary habitability is needed.”

In this way, the new model presented an optimistic view of finding habitable conditions, and perhaps even signs of life, on Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone of these systems, which is the region where liquid water can exist. 

This sunny perspective stems from new parameters that Kimura and Ikoma wrote into the updated model, including variations in the evolution of the protoplanetary disc that form these systems, as well the process of water enrichment in the primordial atmospheres of the exoplanets. The novel constraints, which were played across 10,000 different simulations, have implications for the production, abundance, and evolution of liquid water on exoplanets.

“Water delivery to rocky planets has been long discussed in the context of the origin of the Earth’s oceans,” Kimura and Ikoma said. “It is believed that water-laden small bodies delivered Earth’s water. By contrast, we wanted a more general understanding of how rocky planets obtain water.”

“Then, we noticed that hydrogen (one of the two elements for H2O) is available because planets are formed in hydrogen-rich nebulae,” they continued. “We also noticed that all rocks contain oxygen (namely, the other element for H2O). Thus, we considered that the easiest and most general way for rocky planets to get water is to chemically produce H2O through a reaction between hydrogen from the nebula and oxygen from rocks.”

By accounting for these variables in their model, the researchers show that about 1 in 100 habitable zone near-Earth mass planets (HZ-NEMPs) orbiting M dwarfs can end up with a comparable amount of water to Earth oceans, under specific conditions. One percent may not seem like a lot, but considering that thousands of planets have been found in orbit around red dwarfs, and many thousands more are expected to be discovered in the coming years, it is a significant number. In this way, the new study hints that many observable planets around red dwarfs might have oceans similar to those on Earth, where life on our planet first emerged.

“Signals from life living on planets closer to us would be easier to detect,” Kimura and Ikoma  said. “M dwarfs are much more abundant in the solar neighbourhood than Sun-like stars (or G dwarfs). That is why M dwarf systems are exciting targets in the search for extraterrestrial life.”

While this is an exciting possibility, Kimura and Ikoma caution that there are still many variables that add uncertainties to the predictions. For instance, they point to some of the unique features of red dwarf systems, including the close proximity of the habitable zone to the star compared to, for instance, the much more distant location of Earth around the Sun. 

As a result of these close orbits, an exoplanet orbiting in the habitable zone of a red dwarf has a higher chance of becoming tidally locked, meaning that one face is always pointed toward the star in perpetual daylight while the other is turned away in eternal night. The researchers note that this configuration could prevent temperate climates or cause them to collapse. 

Tidal locking is just one of many variables that will need to be considered when assessing the habitability of HZ-NEMPs in the future. Fortunately, sophisticated observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which became operational this summer, and the forthcoming Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) mission, due for launch in 2029, have the power to resolve incredible details about exoplanets, including signs of aliens life.

“The only habitable planet we currently know is the Earth,” Kimura and Ikoma said. “We have no complete idea how even the Earth has maintained habitable environments. Therefore, we need more studies about how climate depends on planetary properties such as seawater amount, gravity and rotation, and host-stellar properties such as temperature and activity.”

“From observational points of view, accurate measurement of the mass and radius of exoplanets will help us identify the existence of oceans and estimate their depths,” the researchers concluded. “In addition, observations of exoplanet atmospheres conducted by JWST and ARIEL will give crucial hints to understanding planetary surface environments.” 

Categories: Tech News

Fast Company Hacker on Rogue Apple News Notification: ‘Anyone Could Have Done It’

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 07:59

The hacker who breached news website Fast Company and used that access to push an offensive Apple News push alert to a massive number of users says they performed the hack to “embarrass” Fast Company.

The hacker, who goes by the handle thrax, also said that the hack itself was opportunistic and they didn’t specifically target Fast Company, at least initially, highlighting something that is sometimes missed in cybersecurity discussions: often, it does not entirely matter who you are, but if you are vulnerable, a hacker may exploit those weaknesses simply because they can.

“It's not every day that you get to click a button and send tens of thousands of people a notification straight to their phone. I don't know the statistic for this, but it was lots given what we've seen,” thrax told Motherboard in a direct message on a data trading website where they have an account.

Do you know about any other hacks? 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 joseph.cox@vice.com.

On Tuesday, Fast Company sent an Apple News push notification that said “[racial slur] tongue my anus. Thrax was here.” Many articles on the Fast Company website were also changed to display a similar message, according to archives of the defacement on the Wayback Machine. For days after the hijacking, the Fast Company website has remained offline, with visitors unable to view its articles, a highly unusual scene even compared to earlier examples of defacements of news websites. At the time of writing, Fast Company has replaced its landing page with a statement which directs visitors to the company’s social media channels.

“The messages are vile and are not in line with the content and ethos of Fast Company. Tuesday's breach follows an apparently related event that occurred Sunday afternoon on FastCompany.com, when an unknown actor (or actors) posted similar language on the site's home page and other pages. Fast Company regrets that such abhorrent language appeared on our platforms and in Apple News, and we apologize to anyone who saw it before it was taken down,” that statement reads.

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Thrax told Motherboard that they were “not surprised Fast Company’s website is still offline.” They said the hack started when they were browsing a website that displayed sites that had exposed credentials in public facing web pages. Those results included Fast Company and a range of other sites, thrax said. On the data trading platform, thrax has released an alleged set of more than 6,700 records that they say in an accompanying post is taken from Fast Company’s WordPress database, including password hashes for some users.

“I want to add that this was completely preventable; anyone could have done it and that anyone just ended up being me. It wasn't a sophisticated cyber attack from a foreign state and it didn't require ‘specialist skills’,” thrax added.

On the push notification specifically, thrax said “It could have been a hoax threat-to-life event, a hoax nuclear fallout, the hoax death of President Biden, a crypto scam or anything else which could have had the potential to shift markets. Instead, I chose to embarrass Fast Company.”

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Trump Is Single-Handedly Keeping QAnon Alive

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 07:44

When former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, it seemed like QAnon was finished.

But two years on, QAnon, the conspiracy movement that posits that Trump is waging a secret war against the deep state to unmask a global pedophile ring run by Democrats and Hollywood elite, is still alive, and recently refreshed. They now have a new leader in Trump: the former president has spent the last few months re-energizing the community and giving them hope once more that all their wildest fantasies will come true.

For years, Trump has hinted at support for the movement, refusing to condemn their violence-inflected conspiracies when asked by the media and boosting QAnon accounts on his Twitter account. But recently, Trump has been using his rallies, speeches, and posts on his own social media platform Truth Social to not only hint at his support for QAnon but to openly endorse it

This comes just weeks before November’s midterms elections where a slate of far-right candidates who have espoused QAnon conspiracies, as well as boosting Trump’s own stolen election lies, are seeking election to crucial positions across the country.

Since April, Trump has shared over 130 posts from QAnon-affiliated accounts on Truth Social. In some of these posts, he has shared images of himself wearing a Q lapel pin and explicit QAnon phrases like WWG1WGA (which stands for ‘Where We Go One We Go All’).  On Tuesday, Trump shared a post featuring a fiery Q symbol. His team has also shared a campaign-style video featuring a song QAnon followers incorrectly believed was called “WWG1WGA”—and even after Trump’s team knew the Qanon crowd had embraced the song as their own, they continued to use it at rallies.

The former president is indulging in increasingly explicit endorsement of the conspiracy theory, and QAnon followers are now convinced they were right all along. 

After Trump's latest batch of Truth Social posts on Tuesday, one QAnon influencer wrote on Telegram: “He doesn't care about being accused of aligning with ‘those crazy Q people.’ In the replies, QAnon followers made it clear that they believe Trump’s actions are confirmation. “I can smell sweet victory and vindication coming,” one user wrote. 

Another user posted an increasingly common refrain among QAnon supporters in recent weeks: “Waiting for ‘the question.’ How much goading will it take for [them] to ask it?”

This comment refers to the media asking Trump for his view on QAnon, which many supporters believe will result in Trump now confirming the conspiracies were true all along. 

However, when VICE News asked “the question” to Trump’s spokespeople, there was no response. 

Trump’s recent QAnon activity could result in more violence in the weeks and months to come. Since Trump’s QAnon posting spree began, there has been an uptick in QAnon-linked violence. Earlier this month, a man in Michigan shot and killed his wife and shot and injured his daughter after being radicalized by QAnon conspiracies. In Pennsylvania, an armed man who had shared QAnon videos on Facebook entered a Dairy Queen shop and threatened to “kill all Democrats. And now Trump’s supporters online are now making similar violent threats.

“I hope you all are right, that something is actually going to happen,” one Telegram user wrote. “I feel like I've been chasing a carrot for the last 2 years. Starting to feel like civil war is the only way.”

Casual observers predicted that QAnon, which began on 4chan in late 2017, would fade away after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and Q fell silent in December 2020. When much of the QAnon community was de-platformed from Twitter and Facebook in the wake of the Capitol riot, the movement was written off as doomed.

But, in the almost two years since Trump’s defeat, QAnon has persisted. Various offshoots of QAnon, such as the QAnon Queen of Canada cult, the Negative 48 group who believe Trump is JFK in disguise, and the Save the Children campaign, that brought so many people into the movement in 2020, have continued. While they are not as strong, the groups have latched onto other conspiracies in order to maintain relevance.

“They're certainly not as big and networked as they once were, but they are still there,” Jared Holt, senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue focusing on U.S. extremism, told VICE News. “And a lot of them, in the absence of Q after Biden's inauguration, pivoted towards election denialism, along with the rest of the conspiratorial GOP.”

And the move to Trump’s Truth Social, as the former president has seemingly embraced the Q universe, should come as no surprise:  That is exactly what the platform was designed to do from the very beginning.

A fake @q account on Truth Social was set up even before Trump’s own account was created, and all the major QAnon influencers were given verified accounts the moment they joined the platform. 

“What is happening now with Trump's Truth Social account was inevitable,” Mike Rains, a researcher who hosts the QAnon-focused podcast Adventures in HellwQrld told VICE News.  “The people who made Truth Social worked relentlessly to recruit QAnon. Once on the platform, QAnon followers were endlessly going to promote Trump and Trump was going to start reposting their praise of him, which would get the mainstream media to cover his embrace of QAnon and give him attention.”

Just this week, Kash Patel, a Trump official who was chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense during Trump's presidency and who now serves on the board of Truth Social, said the former president was in awe of the research skills of QAnon followers. 

“I've seen on Truth Social how good these researchers are and I kind of wish I had some of them when I was doing Russiagate,” Patel said in an interview with a conspiracy channel. “I talk with the president all the time and we're just blown away at the amount of acumen some of these people have.”

Truth Social has not released figures for how many people are using the platform, but if you take Trump as the main—possibly only—draw for the platform, he has 4.1 million followers.

“He's using his platform as a former president to, at the very least, legitimize QAnon material, if not actively lend some credence to it, which is incredibly dangerous,” Holt said. "There are still millions of people getting this kind of imagery, watching Trump as he plays footsies in a more apparent and accelerating way with QAnon, so it's implausible for me to imagine that there aren't people in that crowd that haven't been exposed to QAnon before that are maybe seeing it now because the President is sharing it.”

This behavior is not new for Trump. When he was active on Twitter with 80 million followers, the former president shared hundreds of tweets from QAnon accounts.  What’s different this time, however, is that the messages and imagery he is sharing are explicitly QAnon-focused, whether that’s a picture of Trump with a Q lapel pin or a video featuring multiple QAnon phrases and logos.

The explicit nature of the content makes it much harder for Trump or his team to claim they simply didn’t know what QAnon is. 

“I have no reason to think that he doesn't know what he's doing,” Holt said. “The guy was the President of the United States. I don't think he's a smart man, but he's not completely braindead. Even if we're gonna pretend that Trump has no idea what he's looking at, his aides do, the people around him do and nobody is making an apparent effort to stop him from doing this.”

Trump may be the most powerful voice in the Republican Party pushing QAnon conspiracies, but he is far from alone. A coalition of candidates for governor and secretary of state in crucial swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada was formed under the guidance of a QAnon influencer known as Juan O’Savin. And some QAnon-linked candidates have won their primaries, including Mark Finchem who is running for Arizona’s Secretary of State. John Gibbs, who won his primary for a House seat in Michigan, has claimed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman participated in Satanic rituals.

It’s unclear why Trump has decided to embrace QAnon so openly now, but the timing is strange, as the former president faces multiple lawsuits and criminal investigations following the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home.

“I think he's really feeling like he is actually at some risk and when you feel like you're at risk and your back is against the wall, you turn to the people who've always been in your corner,” Mike Rothschild, author of the book The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, told VICE News. "He doesn't want the fair weather MAGA people who are willing to walk away from him, he wants the hardcore believers and that's the Q people.”

Trump’s continued pushing of the conspiracy and his apparent endorsement of its wild fantasies could push his supporters to carry out even more violent acts when their predictions fail to come true.

“There is a feeling in that community that something big is about to happen, but because it's so vague, and because it's just how this movement works, it could be anything,” Rothschild said. “I think one of the really scary things is that the people who are most prone to potentially committing a violent act on Trump's behalf are getting really excited and I don't think that's good.”

Categories: Tech News

Upcoming Outlook for Windows app opens to more testers

The Register - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 07:30
Office Insider? You might want to check refreshed email client

Microsoft has a preview out for its "Unified" Outlook for Windows app for all users on its Office Insider program, and said it will be available for those on the Windows Insider program in the near future.…

Categories: Tech News

Gab Founder Andrew Torba Wants to Build a Christian Nationalist Internet

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 07:26

Gab CEO Andrew Torba says that he rediscovered God after a user from his social media platform opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in a hate-fuelled attack, killing 11, in 2018.

Torba’s newfound religious outlook wasn’t borne out of some sense of responsibility for enabling the shooting through the toxic cesspool of online bigotry he’d created, nor sorrow for the victims of the massacre. It was that the shooting was bad for his business and personal life, Torba explained in a podcast last week. “My face was plastered next to his as if I was the one who pulled the trigger,” Torba said. “I lost everything.” 

Members of his company quit, including his lead engineer. Gab, a social media platform that billed itself as a beacon of free speech, where a lack of moderation was a selling point, was banned by hosting providers, payment processors, and app stores. 

“My business was reduced to ash, and my personal life was reduced to ash,” he said. “When you have something that dramatic happen to you, you learn very quickly who your real friends are. I had everything taken away from me, but I had Christ.” 

This is Torba’s new origin story, how he pivoted from being a free speech zealot to a hardcore Christian nationalist. This year, he’s gone full-tilt on the once-fringe ideology that blends patriotic fervor with religious zeal. He’s also made it clear that he fancies himself a kingmaker to the GOP’s political fringes, just as Christian nationalist rhetoric has crept from church pulpits into the mainstream, and is now looming large over the upcoming midterms. 

Today, more than a million of Americans—in particular, young American men—visit Gab each month.

When Torba founded Gab in 2016, the site quickly—and for good reason—gained a reputation as a safe haven for neo-Nazis and white supremacist shitposters who’d been booted from mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Among them, the man who opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue. 

Back then, it was unthinkable that mainstream elected officials and political candidates would consider it a good idea to set up shop on Gab. But as the intersection in the venn diagram between the GOP and far-right extremists has grown bigger, it’s become increasingly clear that some fringe political figures see Torba as a viable ally. 

Arizona state sen. Wendy Rogers and Arizona state rep. Mark Finchem (who is running for secretary of state) touted their endorsements from Torba earlier this summer—Rogers even declared herself part of the “#GabCaucus.” Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was forced to disavow Torba following reports that he’d paid the Gab CEO thousands of dollars as a consultant. U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz all maintain Gab accounts. Greene, who has identified herself as a Christian nationalist, previously paid at least nearly $40,000 in marketing costs to Gab. 

But while Torba loves to present Gab as an unstoppable, rapidly growing force, data provided to VICE News by SimilarWeb, a digital intelligence data analyst, tells a slightly different story. 

According to SimilarWeb’s data, Gab had nearly 13 million views (about 1.7 million unique views) in August and traffic to the site has been steadily declining throughout 2022—which could in part be due to Trump launching his own social media platform, “Truth Social.” 

Gab traffic.pngData from SimilarWeb shows the growth — and decline — of Gab since 2019.

To be clear: web traffic to Gab in 2022 is still substantially higher than what was recorded in 2020, but it’s nowhere close to the kinds of numbers that the site was getting in early 2021 when traffic soared on the day of the Capitol riot, and peaked on Jan 11 with nearly 4 million daily visits. 

At the time, Torba claimed that the spike in Gab activity was due to Twitter permanently suspending Trump for spreading election misinformation, which caused many of his supporters to seek out “alternative” platforms. 

It’s no secret that Torba was desperate to get Trump on Gab. A verified, placeholder account by the name of Donald Trump registered to Torba’s email, and with 2.3 million followers, automatically reshares any posts he’s made elsewhere, giving the illusion that he is active on the platform. 

The spike in traffic to Gab also coincided with Parler, another app popular with the far-right, crashing that month amid an influx of Trump supporters. Traffic to Gab remained relatively high in the following months, despite the platform being hacked in February 2021. 

Torba, who has promoted the white nationalist “Great Replacement” theory and made explicitly antisemitic comments on his Gab profile, seems keen to capitalize on the rise of Christian nationalism by making his platform the beating heart of this surging ideology. Last month Torba self-published a short book titled, simply, Christian Nationalism which is currently ranked #10 in the category of “Christian Spiritual Warfare” on Amazon . Earlier this summer, he rolled out a new line of Gab merch, including hats emblazoned with the “Christian Nationalist” flag—a version of the American flag, but a cross is in place where the stars usually are. 

He also sells a $35 pillow, in a bright green hue, with the phrase “Christ is King,” which has been co-opted by white nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes’ supporters, who are known as “groypers.”

Gab store.pngGab's online store rolled out a new line of Christian Nationalism merchandise earlier this summer.

Torba’s ability to keep high-profile political figures on the platform is all in service of his ultimate fantasy, of building what he calls a “parallel Christian society on the internet.” There seems to be some indication that he’s delivering on that promise, but it’s too soon to know whether it’ll take off. There’s now Gab TV, and Gab Ads. Late last year, Torba even announced the launch of Gab Pay, the platform’s own payment processor.

“I just joined Gab!” wrote William Wolfe, a former senior Trump official who served in the Pentagon and the State Department, on the platform last week. “I unapologetically defend the idea of Christian nationalism, rightly defined, as a key component of national renewal.”

Wolfe also shared a link to a talk he gave at the recent National Conservatism Conference, titled “The Christian Case for America First Government.” “Looking forward to connecting on here with those who share this vision for how to help rebuild our country,” he added.  

Joe Kent, who is running for Congress out of Washington, is also on Gab, even after a recent article in Rolling Stone raised questions about whether his campaign might be reaping the benefits of being on Gab. A tech firm specializing in disinformation noticed that Kent’s account on Gab saw an unusual spike in followers last December. Months after announcing his candidacy, he seemingly gained 7,000 new followers overnight, which suggested to the tech firm that new users on Gab were automatically forced to follow his account. 

But many members of the GOP continue to keep their distance from Torba. Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said “Antisemitic platforms have no place in Texas, and certainly do not represent Texas values.” Others, such as Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, were forced to distance themselves from Torba after their relationships with Gab’s CEO became the subject of scrutiny. 

Mastriano, whose own flavor of Christian nationalism has shaped his campaign, paid Gab $5,000 for “advertising consulting,” according to watchdog Media Matters for America. HuffPost later discovered that all newly-created accounts on Gab automatically followed Mastriano. And just days before Mastriano put out a statement disavowing Torba and deleted his Gab account, he accepted a $500 campaign donation from him. 

Others, such as Dan Cox, who is running for governor of Maryland, followed Mastriano’s lead and deleted his own Gab account. 

Meanwhile, Torba has only doubled-down on his antisemitic statements, saying in a statement that Jews, atheists or others don’t belong in the conservative movement.

"We have seen the fruits — or lack thereof — of our nation being led by Godless pagans, nonbelievers, Jews, and fake Christians-in-name-only," Torba said in July. "If we are going to build a Christian movement it must be exclusively Christian and we can't be afraid to say that out loud.”

Christian nationalist ideology enjoyed a major resurgence with the election of Donald Trump, who, despite his reported marital philandering, was worshiped by many of his supporters as a Christ-like figure, or a messenger from God. “Donald J Trump is providential,” former Trump advisor Steve Bannon said in a speech at CPAC last month. “God works through Trump.”

Today’s Christian nationalists believe that America is an inherently holy, Christian land, and that it’s their duty to restore God’s kingdom in order for Jesus to return. Part of this means that they think the country’s laws, policies and cultural institutions should reflect evangelical Christian values. 

Within this framework, contentious cultural and political issues, like drag queen story hours, “critical race theory,” Hunter Biden’s laptop, or the 2020 election results, can take on primordial significance as they’re perceived as Satanic obstacles that need to be destroyed in order for God’s kingdom to prevail. 

One study identified Christian nationalism as the most dominant ideology among the mob who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“To these folks, the end justifies the means. If those means are undemocratic, or anti-democratic…that’s fine with them,” said Philip Gorski, a sociologist, co-director of Yale's Center for Comparative Research and co-author of The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. 

And one recent poll found that a majority of Republicans believe that Christianity should be the official religion of the U.S.—despite many of those same respondents recognizing that it would conflict with the Constitution. 

Surging Christian nationalism in the U.S. has also created opportunities for fringe extremists to build bridges into the mainstream. 

“We need to think about this as a coalition-building strategy, and about the ways in which it might be an effort to unite somewhat disparate groups,” said Gorski. 

He described a spectrum of people for whom Christian nationalism might appeal. On one end, he said, there are people who are churchgoing Christians across various denominations though the majority who are evangelicals and Pentecostals. For those people, said Gorski, the theological intricacies of Christian nationalism will be important. 

On the other side of the spectrum, you have someone like Fuentes. “People who are basically just secular white supremacists,” said Gorski. “And it kind of sounds better to say you’re defending Christian civilization than defending white dominance. I mean, it sounds nicer, nobler — it’s a nice fig leaf anyway.”

And then there’s the people in the middle: MAGA-types for whom Christian nationalism can be used as a kind of virtue-signaling. 

Torba’s blog posts on his news site since 2019 reflect a shift in his messaging and tone over time. His go-to subject matter in some of his earlier blogs, like what he perceived as a double standard in Facebook’s content moderation, or Big Tech’s alleged ties to the Chinese Communist party, evolved into urgent, manifesto-like screeds with religious overtones. 

In one of the only posts on his news site from 2019 that mentioned religion, Torba wrote, “whenever we [Gab] get no-platformed the first thing I do is thank God for the blessings that inevitably come from these trials by fire.” 

That kind of rhetoric became more frequent in his writings the following year. When COVID-19 hit the U.S., it triggered a movement of Christian conservatives who claimed they were being persecuted by lockdown orders in some places that prevented them from attending church in person. In a June 2020 blog titled, “Then They Came for Christians: A Warning,” Torba tried to argue that the persecution was also happening online — and he and Gab were among the persecuted. 

“God moved me to build what would become a digital Noah’s Ark of sorts, although I didn’t realize that at the time back in 2016,” he wrote. “Gab was run by an outspoken Christian and Trump supporter, so it had to [be] smeared and destroyed at all costs.” 

Torba went all-in on the Stop the Steal movement, promoting false conspiracies that Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election. He also ramped up his religious rhetoric. In late November 2020, he wrote “The Christian Crusade to Save Free Speech, Again.” “It’s time for you to take a leap of faith, brothers and sisters, and fully embrace Jesus Christ as King or risk being conquered and destroyed by the false god of woke marxism and its pagan army of lost souls,” he wrote. “We must rise up and defend our freedom in the name of God or risk being destroyed from within our own nations.” He signed that blog, “Jesus is King.” 

In 2021, after the Capitol riot, Torba’s writing grew even more urgent and extreme: he started talking about the need to form a “parallel system “that caters solely to Christian conservatives, and vowed to only support Christian businesses moving forward.

“If they are not serving God, they are serving Satan,” he wrote in one blog titled “The Silent Christian Secession,” in which he also expressed support for the eventual formation of “Jesusland” (referencing a 2004 meme that envisioned the U.S. splitting up, with the southern states reforming as a Christian bloc named Jesusland).

The first time Torba namechecked Christian Nationalism on his news site was March 2021. 

“The Holy Spirit has captivated and energized the youth. The kids are Christian Nationalists. There is no turning back now,” Torba wrote in a blog titled, “Have Faith, The Kids Are Christian Nationalists.” “What is the worst that can happen? Someone calls them a “racist”? Who cares. They are leaning into it, as they should.” 

It soon became clear that the “kids” in question included Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist livestreamer who was 22 at the time, and his “America First” movement, whose supporters were known as “groypers.” In July 2021, Torba wrote a blog directly praising Fuentes, who, like many others in his movement, was rebranding as a Christian Nationalist to broaden his appeal. 

“You may not like it, but Nick Fuentes and the millions of Christian men and women like him are the future. Get used to it,” Torba wrote “We’re not going anywhere and we grow stronger by the day. America First Christian Nationalism is inevitable.” 

An analysis of Torba’s posts on Gab by Media Matters for America published earlier this year found that he’d mentioned Fuentes or his organization “America First” over 140 times since 2019 — and 120 of those references were in 2021. Fuentes, for his part, described Torba as a “total rock star” and a “very important figure.” 

The budding bromance between Fuentes and Torba became official earlier this year, when Fuentes announced that Gab’s CEO was sponsoring his conference, “AFPAC” (America First Political Action Conference) which was being held in Orlando, Florida, the same weekend as CPAC. 

That conference drew a number of elected officials as speakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Arizona state rep. Wendy Rogers, Rep. Paul Gosar and Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (the latter two speakers spoke by video). 

Andrew Torba Wendy Rogers.pngArizona State Senator Wendy Rogers promoted her endorsement from Torba on her Gab account and on Telegram.

Fuentes’ admiration for Torba stemmed, in part, from his ability to draw legitimate political figures onto Gab, which would have been unthinkable at the time of the Tree of Life shooting in 2018, given the site’s reputation for being a safe haven for neo-Nazi’s and white supremacist shitposters. 

Those groups still exist on Gab but now they coexist with Trump supporters, QAnon followers, and increasingly, Christian nationalists. On Gab’s “Marketplace,” users can sell T-shirts with swastikas or statements like “Support Your Local Proud Boy” alongside T-shirts with things like “Jesus Set Me Free” written on them. 

By shrouding himself in religious rhetoric, Torba’s tried to whitewash his reputation of some of the more unsavory aspects of his platform, build inroads into the GOP, and launder antisemitic views into the mainstream. 

“It’s consistent with the mainstreaming strategies that the radical, racist right have been pursuing and deploying for decades in the U.S,” said Gorski of Torba’s tactics. “Taking something that’s fascist and making it look conservative by associating it with something more mainstream.”

The head of the Anti-Defamation League recently called Torba “one of the most toxic people in public life.” Whether or not Torba is able to attain success in his ambitions of being a legitimate political power player depends, in part, on whether the GOP continues to pander to the fringes, boost white nationalist dog whistles, and platform disinformation. 

Torba has repeatedly stated this year that he’ll only talk to “Christian” media outlets. When VICE News reached out for comment, he responded with a clip from a recent biopic Padre Pio where Shia LeBouef plays an Italian Franciscan friar. In the clip, LeBouef shouts “Say it, Say ‘Christ is Lord’.”

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter.

Categories: Tech News

Brett Favre Is Screwed

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 07:09

Over the weekend, Brett Favre’s shows on SiriusXM and ESPN Milwaukee were put on hold amid increasing scrutiny of his involvement in a massive welfare fraud scam in Mississippi. Favre, a former quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, has faced questions over his ties to the scandal since 2020, when investigators found that more than $77 million in federal money meant for Mississippi’s poorest residents had been misspent, or pocketed, by government officials, former pro athletes, and nonprofit heads. For his part, Favre is accused of misappropriating roughly $8 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding.

Last week, the nonprofit news site Mississippi Today published a bombshell story on texts between Favre, former Mississippi governor Phil Bryant, and Nancy New, the head of a nonprofit at the center of the scandal, who’s already pleaded guilty to fraud, bribery, and racketeering charges. Favre has been accused of receiving $1.1 million in welfare money from New’s nonprofit in “speaking fees” for talks he allegedly never gave. As he and New worked on the deal, he texted her: “If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?”

Though Favre returned that $1.1 million in 2021, a state official says he still owes $228,000 in interest. And that’s not the only accusation he’s facing. He also allegedly helped funnel $5 million in TANF money toward the construction of a new volleyball stadium at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter played the sport. (Favre claims he used the $1.1 million he received to help pay for the stadium.) On top of that, he’s been accused of working on a deal to have $2.1 million in TANF money spent on stock in Prevacus, a biotech company in which he was a major shareholder. He allegedly hashed out the deal with New and John Davis, the former head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Last week, Davis pleaded guilty to a long list of fraud and conspiracy charges related to his role in the welfare scam.

The text messages Mississippi Today published last week show that, at a minimum, Favre worked closely with two people at the center of this scandal who have already admitted they broke the law. Favre has denied wrongdoing, and as of now, he isn’t facing any criminal charges. But he has been questioned by the FBI. And according to sources who spoke with Mississippi Today, more people could wind up being charged as the investigation into the scandal continues.

For help figuring out what might happen next, VICE called up Howard Master, a former public corruption prosecutor at the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, who currently works as Managing Director and Counsel to the CEO at Nardello & Co., a global investigations firm. Master, an expert on corruption, financial crime, and investigations, weighed in on the allegations Favre is facing and what will determine whether he gets charged.

VICE: How perilous of a position would you say Brett Favre is in right now?

Howard Master: The individual who routed funds to him and to the biotech company that he had invested in, [Nancy New,] is cooperating with the government. I took a look at John Davis’ plea materials. And, though it’s not spelled out, it’s clear to me, based on my understanding of how the federal process works, that he is cooperating as well.

“I think it’s pretty clear a crime was committed.”

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Favre could face criminal charges out of this. It’s a crime to steal or defraud a government agency, particularly with respect to a federally funded program. Just the bare allegation that Brett Favre accepted $1.1 million for talks and promotional activity that arguably isn’t even permitted by the program is bad. But, even worse, it was for talks he never gave. That, by itself, exposes him to potential criminal liability. Moreover, it sounds like this was part of a larger scheme, at least according to the allegations, to funnel money to this volleyball stadium. So there’s also potential exposure for Brett Farve on the $5 million, and arguably on the biotech investment as well.

His greatest risk relates to money that he himself accepted. It seems from the text [he sent to New] that he knew this was welfare money. He knows that he didn’t provide the services that are described in the agreements. He knew it was a sham.

You said that there’s a chance Favre could face criminal charges here. How likely would you say it is that he’ll be charged?

That’s a distinct possibility. Certainly, the exposure of these text messages—that show, essentially, that Favre did know that this money was coming from a welfare agency, and that he did have communications with the governor about it, both of which appear to be contradicting his earlier statements—those are not good for him. That suggests he’s lying to the public. Why is he lying? This whole thing was a corrupt scheme at its inception. How could he possibly think that it was proper to get $1.1 million, even if it didn’t go directly into his pocket and went to fund the volleyball stadium? How could he think that it’s OK to get welfare money for not doing any work?

He has a lot of money, he has a lot of investments, but as far as we can tell, he doesn’t have much experience with these programs, unlike some of the other people who are getting charged. So he might have that out. But it hasn’t prevented potential charges against the DiBiases. [Ed. note: The DiBiases are a family of pro wrestlers accused of participating in the scam.] So there are some people who are on the less sophisticated side of things who are potentially facing charges.

It does not appear that [Favre] personally enjoyed a great deal of benefit, although, of course, [the money] was routed to a pet project of his. So those will be things that prosecutors will have to consider carefully. Could you prove that he acted corruptly and effectively stole funds, even though he’s not sophisticated, and it’s not clear that the money went directly into his pocket?

I wouldn’t hazard a percentage guess. But it’s certainly more than zero.

Favre was questioned by the FBI. What does that tell you?

Because so much money either flowed through him or to other organizations that indirectly benefited him, he would be a natural person that the FBI would want to talk to. I guess the fact that he submitted to an interview indicates that he believes that he might avoid charges. If he knew he was going to be charged and he was told he was a target of an investigation, his lawyer likely would have said, “I’m not bringing him in. He’s going to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.” So he thought that perhaps he could explain his conduct and explain why it wasn’t criminal.

Favre allegedly worked to divert $5 million in TANF money toward building a volleyball stadium at his alma mater. For starters, why is that such a big no-no?

When the federal government grants money, there are always strings attached. TANF is a block grant program, but it is meant to help the poor, to achieve certain objectives, and to support certain permitted expenses. This volleyball stadium is clearly not one of those purposes. It’s not involved in helping the poor. And, second, apparently there’s a prohibition on brick-and-mortar expenditures in connection with the TANF program. So you can’t use this block grant to build a physical building, much less a volleyball stadium. So that’s a big problem. It’s most obviously a problem for those who are charged with administering the program. But also, as a matter of contract or grant law, it’s a problem for any subgrantee. So any money that flowed through to Favre is charged with adhering to the rules of the program. The whole thing was directly contrary to the intent of the program and what the program was supposed to permit.

“These are safety net programs that are meant to shield the poorest of the poor.”

What’s going to determine whether Favre gets charged with a crime for his involvement with the volleyball stadium deal?

The conduct could be charged criminally. To charge someone with a crime, you need to prove a crime was committed—I think it’s pretty clear a crime was committed—and then that the person knowingly participated in that criminal activity. He certainly was in the middle of this transaction. But the question is, did he know that this was an impermissible, unlawful use of federal funds? And I can’t tell yet. I think he knew that it would certainly look bad. Because you already see the texts that say, like, “Is the press gonna find out?” But it’s a little different to say, “I’m worried that the press will find out,” than it is to say, “I’m worried I’m going to get caught.”

I would say the other factor would probably be lack of direct personal benefit. Yes, he wanted the stadium built. His daughter was there. But that’s a little less obvious than having your brother-in-law get half a million dollars for a no-show job, which is what Davis got.

Favre received $1.1 million in “speaking fees” for talks he allegedly never gave, and that money came from the TANF program. Do you think he could get charged with a crime over that?

He’s facing much greater danger from that, because it was a sham contract that he entered into. You can’t get government money to do something, say that you did it, and then not do it. I think we’d be having a slightly different conversation if he actually provided the services. But if he’s knowingly participating in some sort of sham agreement to route money to the volleyball stadium or, potentially, to his personal benefit, then he’s participating in fraud, or a scheme to steal what he knew to be government money.

“If he lied to the FBI, and there are some provable lies there, there’s a very high likelihood he’ll be charged.”

Let’s say, hypothetically, he had gotten a contract to promote people signing up for a particular welfare program, and he got paid $1.1 million to do that, and he did it. You could say that’s highway robbery; that he never should have gotten paid that much. You know, what the heck is Mississippi doing with its welfare money? But he would have provided permissible services.

If, in fact, he didn’t do any of that, and it was literally just a pass-through or a way of benefiting him, then the money was stolen, because no services were provided. And if he knew that this was just a sham agreement to route money—and there’s some indication from what I’ve read that he did—I mean, who could think that that’s proper? Assuming he provided no services and he knew it was fake, he’s at risk for that.

What’s going to determine whether he gets charged with a crime over accepting that $1.1 million?

It’s really important to hear what he has to say. They’re going to take a really hard look at the statement that he gave to the FBI previously. Often what gets people in trouble is they say certain things believing that it’ll never unravel, and people will keep their secrets. And then the truth ends up coming out a couple of years later, and their statements get exposed as lies because people start telling the truth. If that happens, and it turns out he lied to the FBI, and there are some provable lies there, there’s a very high likelihood he’ll be charged.

He could be charged with lying to the FBI. And then beyond that, why would you lie about certain things if you didn’t have a guilty state of mind? You could say, “Well, I have a failure of memory.” But certain basic things—did you know this was welfare money?—if he lied about that, then I would say he’s going to be charged. Not necessarily, but very likely.

Favre was allegedly involved in a deal where TANF money was used to buy stock in a biotech company in which he was a major shareholder. Do you think that that rises to the level of criminal conduct, and what’s going to determine whether he gets charged for that?

It’s definitely criminal conduct. No doubt about that. But the thing is, it looks like the TANF funds that were sent ended up resulting in ownership interest to Nancy New, Jesse New, and Zachary New, [Nancy’s sons]. So it doesn’t look like Favre got additional ownership interest in the company off of this investment.

Did he recruit them? Did he know it was welfare money? Potentially. So could he be a co-conspirator in that scheme? It’s possible. It looks like he did host a stock pitch. And it looks like they knew that this was going to be government money. Did he know that the money was going to result in Nancy New and others personally getting a piece of the company? If he knew that, then he probably could be charged.

Even if it didn’t benefit him personally, if he’s facilitating embezzlement or theft of government funds for the personal benefit of his friend Nancy New, he’s potentially chargeable. And that’s another situation where regardless of your level of sophistication, how could you think that welfare money is properly spent on Nancy New and her kids getting a piece of a biotech company?

If Brett Favre does wind up getting charged, what do you think his defense might look like?

Essentially, that he’s an unsophisticated football player who didn’t obtain a direct personal benefit. He repaid that $1.1 million early on when it was called out, which he could say reflects his dismay and surprise. It’s not a technical defense to the crime, that you repaid the money. But that certainly makes a difference. It might be money out of his pocket because the money ended up going to the stadium. So that’s something [prosecutors] will have to contend with if he does get charged. He’ll say, “I didn’t know it was wrong. When someone told me it was wrong, with respect to the money that was on my contract, I paid it all back immediately, out of my own pocket.”

He might be able to say, “I had no idea that all these people were getting no-show contracts and dirty stuff. I was just trying to achieve a public good, which is an athletic facility for a public university in Mississippi. I happened to know that they needed a volleyball stadium because my daughter goes there. And these people were much more sophisticated than me, including the governor himself, who said, ‘This is the way to do it, and we support you.’ So who am I to say that this is illegal, if the governor himself is saying let’s make it happen?” It’s not a bad defense, potentially—unless he lied to the FBI. And also, if he knew that Nancy New was going to be getting ownership interest [in the biotech company] with public money. That just just doesn’t hold up.

To zoom out a bit: Favre allegedly misappropriated welfare money and put it toward all these purposes that have nothing to do with helping the poor. Why is that so alarming?

These are safety net programs that are meant to shield the poorest of the poor. To have funds going to privileged people, and to people who are entrusted with administering this program, or to programs that have no relation to helping the needy, like a volleyball stadium—it was just a terrible abuse of the program. That’s money that could have been used to help support young children and help them obtain food or shelter, or help someone who doesn’t have skills and cannot find a job get a job so they can support their family. It’s not an incredibly well-funded program. So when you’re talking about $77 million, that can have a huge impact on a lot of people. But because the money was diverted to other purposes, a lot of people who probably should have been helped were not.

Drew Schwartz is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow him on Twitter.

Categories: Tech News

Japan taps industry to build safer, more secure nuclear energy future

The Register - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 06:45
Project with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries marks shift in policy since Fukushima disaster over a decade ago

Japan is about to change course on energy policy following the Fukushima disaster in 2011 with a focus on developing safer nuclear reactors.…

Categories: Tech News

Juno just raced by Europa, providing our best look in 20 years at the icy world

ARS Technica - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 06:20
The best images we have of Europa were gathered more than two decades ago.

Enlarge / The best images we have of Europa were gathered more than two decades ago. (credit: NASA)

On Thursday morning, NASA's Juno spacecraft swooped down to within 358 km of the surface of Europa, the large, ice-encrusted Moon that orbits Jupiter.

This flyby will provide humanity its closest look at Europa since the Galileo mission made several close flybys more than two decades ago. However, the Juno spacecraft will carry a more powerful suite of instruments and a far more capable camera than Galileo. So this should be our best look yet at the intriguing world.

Launched in 2011, Juno reached Jupiter in 2016 to closely study the composition of the Solar System's largest planet, as well as its powerful magnetosphere. After it successfully completed its primary mission in 2021, Juno's mission operators have begun using the probe to assess moons in the Jovian system, including Europa, Ganymede, and Io.

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Categories: Tech News

Solar + batteries at home can provide backup power during disasters

ARS Technica - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 06:07
Solar + batteries at home can provide backup power during disasters

Enlarge

Lights went out as Hurricane Fiona devastated areas from the Caribbean to Canada, and Hurricane Ian has done the same. Hurricanes, along with other natural disasters like wildfires and winter storms, can leave people without access to electricity.

However, new research out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that added solar capacity, paired with batteries, can help address this problem. The study makes use of historic long-term power outages (caused by disasters) and models the performance of behind-the-meter solar and energy storage systems functioning as a kind of backup source of power during long-term power interruptions.

Behind-the-meter refers to solar systems that are installed on a customer’s residence—on the customer side of the electricity meter. The more common term for this is “roof-top solar,” according to Galen Barbose, research scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the paper’s authors. “It’s more customer-sided solar,” he told Ars.

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Categories: Tech News

Covert malware targets VMware for hypervisor-level espionage

The Register - Thu, 09/29/2022 - 06:00
VMware, Mandiant track back operators, finding ties to China

Emerging covert malware families that target VMware environments could allow criminals to gain persistent administrative access to the hypervisor, transfer files, and execute arbitrary commands between virtual machines, according to VMware and Mandiant, which discovered the software nasty earlier this year.…

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