With our politics increasingly polarized and democracy in retreat, worried Americans are responding in all manner of ways. Some, such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, have mounted a fight against voter suppression. Others, such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, are lobbying social networks to change their products and policies to promote transparency and accuracy in political advertising.
And then there’s the actor Chris Evans, best known for playing Captain America in 10 Marvel movies. According to an earnest new cover story that came out today in Wired, Evans is doing …….. this:
He would build an online platform organized into tidy sections—immigration, health care, education, the economy—each with a series of questions of the kind most Americans can’t succinctly answer themselves. What, exactly, is a tariff? What’s the difference between Medicare and Medicaid? Evans would invite politicians to answer the questions in minute-long videos. He’d conduct the interviews himself, but always from behind the camera. The site would be a place to hear both sides of an issue, to get the TL;DR on WTF was happening in American politics.
The origin story of A Starting Point, as the site will be called, is as follows. One day during a break from filming Avengers: Infinity War, Evans was watching the news. He heard an unfamiliar acronym — NAFTA, or maybe DACA. He Googled the term, and was met with headlines that took multiple, competing points of view. He clicked on the Wikipedia entry, but found that it was very long. “It’s this never-ending thing,” Evans told Arielle Pardes, “and you’re just like, who is going to read 12 pages on something?”
I don’t know — someone who cares?
In any case, Evans was crushed by the realization that to answer his question, he might have to read for several minutes. And so he decided to solve his problem in the next-most-logical way: by flying to Washington every six weeks, recording more than 1,000 videos of members of Congress and Democratic presidential candidates, and posting them on a website that he built with an actor friend and “the founder and CEO of a medical technology company called Masimo.”
And when all the videos are posted, what then?
If Evans got it right, he believed, this wouldn’t be some small-fry website. He’d be helping “create informed, responsible, and empathetic citizens.” He would “reduce partisanship and promote respectful discourse.” At the very least, he would “get more people involved” in politics.
Of course, all that assumes that people who won’t read a Wikipedia entry will watch videos instead. I would always rather read a few sentences about an unfamiliar subject than listen to a congressman filibuster about it until the camera shuts off, but maybe you’re a big fan of C-SPAN.
Still, there are a few obvious problems with Evans’ brainchild. One, it presumes that citizens can best be informed by hearing directly from politicians. Certainly politicians have a privileged viewpoint when it comes to some subjects — primarily their own opinions. But on most subjects, the median member of Congress can only repeat what they were told in briefings by staffers and lobbyists. To suggest that they have a monopoly on the truth is naive.
Two, A Starting Point assumes that you can reduce partisanship by exposing people to multiple points of view. In fact, the opposite is true. Human beings are fact-resistant, never more so than when a fact contradicts a closely held belief. Earlier studies found a so-called “backfire effect” in which seeing a fact contrary to your opinion would make you believe your erroneous opinion even more. Later studies have struggled to replicate that finding, but at the very least it seems fair to say that changing people’s views is extremely hard to do, especially with mere facts.
Finally, A Starting Point begins from the premise that voters are all basically the same, and differ primarily in how much information they have about candidates and issues. In reality, politics is tribal. As Ezra Klein explains in a book coming out later this month, Americans are increasingly polarized around their identities, with partisan affiliation representing a large and growing portion of that identity. Thus the inclination to dismiss what members of the opposing political party say out of hand, based on what they represent.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Evans here: there are worse ways to spend your time than trying to increase participation in the political process. (For example, Evans’ Avengers co-star Chris Hemsworth has a subscription-based fitness app.) But if you’re worried about democracy, you’re probably better off banding together with existing civil society groups, activists, and political scientists than you are going it alone. Defeating Thanos required that the Avengers work together with heroes even stronger than themselves. Captain America knew that. It’s a shame Evans doesn’t.
Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.
Trending up: Facebook launched a new security feature that sends users a notification when their account is used to log into a third-party app. It’s both an added layer of protection and a way for people to gain more control over their information.
⭐ The National Security Agency announced that it alerted Microsoft to a vulnerability in its Windows operating system, rather than following the agency’s typical approach of keeping quiet and exploiting the flaw to develop cyberweapons. Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger at the New York Times explain the significant change in protocol:
The warning allowed Microsoft to develop a patch for the problem and gave the government an early start on fixing the vulnerability. In years past, the National Security Agency has collected all manner of computer vulnerabilities to gain access to digital networks to gather intelligence and generate hacking tools to use against American adversaries.
But that policy was heavily criticized in recent years when the agency lost control of some of those tools, which fell into the hands of cybercriminals and other malicious actors, including North Korean and Russian hackers.
By taking credit for spotting a critical vulnerability and leading the call to update computer systems, the National Security Agency appeared to adopt a shift in strategy and took on an unusually public role for one of the most secretive arms of the American government. The move shows the degree to which the agency was bruised by accusations that it caused hundreds of millions of dollars in preventable damage by allowing vulnerabilities to circulate.
California’s new privacy law gives consumers the right to see and delete their data. But getting access often requires giving up more personal details. (Kashmir Hill / The New York Times)
Network security giant Cloudflare said it’s going to give its security services to US political campaigns for free. The move is part of the company’s efforts to secure upcoming elections against cyberattacks and election interference. (Zack Whittaker / TechCrunch)
The person tasked with creating and enforcing Twitter’s rules is the company’s top lawyer Vijaya Gadde. She says CEO Jack Dorsey rarely weighs in on individual enforcement decisions. Oh, well in that case! ( (Kurt Wagner / Bloomberg)
⭐ Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company will probably never launch the edit button. In a video interview with Wired, the executive crushed the idea that the feature could go live in 2020. The Verge’s James Vincent explains:
[Dorsey] notes that the service has moved on since, but the company doesn’t consider an edit button worth it. There are good reasons for editing tweets, he says, like fixing typos and broken links, but also malicious applications, like editing content to mislead people.
“So, these are all the considerations,” says Dorsey. “But we’ll probably never do it.”
Twitter is preparing to launch pinned lists for Android. Already available on iOS, the feature allows users to create a list of topics or accounts and then pin them to the main feed. (Ben Schoon / 9To5Google)
YouTube launched new feature called profile cards that show a user’s public information and comment history. The feature has been touted as a way for creators to more easily identify their biggest fans by offering easy access to their past comments. It’s currently available on Android. (Sarah Perez / TechCrunch)
YouTube introduced filters to the subscriptions tab on its iOS app to help you decide what to watch next. The filters, which include “unwatched” and “continue watching,” will be coming to Android “in the future.” (Jay Peters / The Verge)
There’s now a tool to mute VCs on Twitter. The website urges people to “silence VC thought leadership and platitudes from your feed.”
Less investor tweets means less content to consume and more time to do literally anything else.
Reading The Interface, for example.
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Politics & Mardi Gras — together again – Daily Advertiser
The campaign trail that leads to the Governor’s Mansion has many pitstops, including but not limited to the annual Washington Mardi Gras celebration.
Candidates have long sported tights alongside other parading Krewe members and navigated the packed confines of the 65th Parish bar. They often bring their teams as well to help spread the word, whether that means hanging branded beads from hotel doorknobs or simply ensuring the right people — like donors — get the right tickets to the right events.
Next month, however, the tradition will be slightly altered. With new COVID-19 rules being enforced by the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians and families and businesses back home still rebuilding after two years of hurricanes, some of the potential candidates for governor are either skipping the expensive shindig or adjusting their plans.
The decision-making process of each of the potential candidates offers us an early preview of who these politicos are, how they think and, most importantly, what their campaigns might look like. No one has officially announced for the big 2023 contest, but that will change sooner rather than later.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has yet to meet a vaccine rule he likes, has no plans to attend Washington Mardi Gras right now. That’s going to be an adjustment for some diehard conservatives who look forward to attending Landry’s annual fundraisers at the Trump Hotel.
Landry’s decision mirrors that of Congressman Clay Higgins, who said he opposes the “oppressive mandates” and new vaccine and testing protocols approved by the Mystick Krewe. Higgins, who is not expected to be a candidate for governor, said the event’s leadership “has apparently determined that free Americans are unable to be trusted with their own medical decisions.”
Over the years, newspapers have been critical of Washington Mardi Gras, since the event jams special interests, lavish spending and elected officials underneath one roof for what now seems like an entire week, rather than a weekend. In other words, some good government folks question the ethics involved in such a swanky party. Higgins’ decision to boycott, though, had The Advocate’s editorial team singing another tune. In an “Our Views” editorial, the paper suggested Higgins’ snub was ”unhinged from reality” and “we dare to say that the party will be a lot more fun without him.”
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is also skipping Washington Mardi Gras next month. “I gave up my box and decided not to attend after Hurricane Ida,” said Nungesser. “I can’t go up there for that while we’re still trying to rebuild across the coast. I’m working with groups that are still serving meals right now.”
Nungesser added, “My job is to promote Louisiana and to get people to come here, and everyone at Washington Mardi Gras is already from here. Now, I did go to New York last week for our float in the Thanksgiving parade to promote Louisiana. That was different. That was work.”
State Sen. Rick Ward of Maringouin and state Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville, who are also considering a run in 2023, said in interviews they plan to be in Washington for the January event, but will probably skip the posh events organized by the Krewe. They both described it as a personal choice, not a political one.
Then there’s Treasurer John Schroder, whose own passion for Mardi Gras is rivaled only by the likes of Krewe legends like late U.S. Sen. Russel Long. He’s a longtime member of Endymion and set a goal for himself — even before elected office — to eventually ride with every parading krewe in Louisiana. So it comes as no surprise that Schroder is planning to attend. “For now,” he added.
He’s not the only one. According to Senior Krewe Lieutenant Tyron Picard, tickets for the various functions and rooms at the Washington Hilton are sold out. The annual gathering kicks off Jan. 27 at the Washington Hilton.
[Full disclosure: If you’re planning to attend, I will see you there.]
‘Good politics, not too great epidemiology’: Ottawa’s new COVID-19 travel rules are a mess, experts say – Toronto Star
OTTAWA—As COVID-19 cases tick upward around the globe and evidence mounts of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread, frustration is rising over the federal government’s attempts to keep the virus outside Canada’s borders.
Since Ottawa imposed its most recent travel ban — along with new testing and quarantine rules — confusion has plagued passengers in airports at home and abroad.
Travellers stuck overseas and those about to depart have descended on Facebook groups, begging for clarity over which rules they’re required to follow, amid questions about why tough new restrictions have been imposed on some countries but not others.
On Twitter, airlines have repeatedly deferred to the federal government when faced with flustered customers looking for help.
The federal government, in turn, keeps pointing to its website, which contains incomplete information.
Even cabinet ministers couldn’t seem to nail down their message: on Monday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Canada was trying to “buy” itself more time to learn about Omicron, while Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told CBC Radio the following morning that the country was working quickly on its approach.
The scramble has an echo of the early days of the pandemic — something experts say could have worrisome consequences nearly two years into the crisis.
“We’re at this point where people are already fed up and fatigued. Even some of the basic measures that we’ve asked for people to do — like masking in indoor settings, trying to reduce social contacts — it’s very hard to keep that up at this point,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network.
“If you lose people’s attention because one issue becomes really confusing, and the communications aren’t clear … we lose those same people for other things that are important to communicate during the emergence of a new variant.”
Much of the confusion began last week, when Ottawa banned foreign nationals who had recently travelled through 10 African countries from entering Canada.
The decision to bar some travellers but not others makes little sense given the rapid nature of Omicron’s spread, said Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a former project manager with the World Health Organization.
“Border closures are also great politics, because it puts the emphasis that this threat is from outside of the country and puts the blame on others, as opposed to putting blame on a country’s public health response to the challenge,” Hoffman told the Star.
His assessment of the strategy? “Good politics, not too great epidemiology.”
Canadians trying to leave those 10 countries were suddenly required to have a negative result from a molecular test for COVID-19 — and to have the test done in a third country — before they arrived back at home.
“That doesn’t seem to be a reasonable policy. Why can’t they have a PCR test where they’re at?” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“If they’re coming here and if they’re coming from a country with a lot of Omicron, then they could be tested here.”
(Travellers departing from South Africa got a slight reprieve on Saturday, with a temporary exemption that allows them to get tested there instead of in a third country. Health Canada told the Star that the exemption will be extended or revoked based on domestic and international epidemiology.)
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Alghabra rationalized the move as creating a “cushion” between travellers’ departures and their arrivals in Canada, to ensure a more accurate test result.
But even for travellers entering Canada from countries that aren’t on the banned list (aside from the United States), the rules can still be nebulous.
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s arrival plans for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers — which include an arrival test, differing periods of quarantine, and followup tests — are not yet fully operational.
“The government is steadily increasing the number of fully vaccinated travellers being tested to reach fully 100 per cent operational capacity in the coming weeks,” Health Canada noted in an emailed statement.
Travellers are still not fully clear on where they obtain tests, how many must be completed and how long they are meant to quarantine, which all depends on where they’re coming from and their vaccination status.
What’s more, the government of Canada’s travel webpage notes that anyone who can show proof of a positive result from a COVID-19 test conducted between 14 and 180 days prior to departure is exempt from any arrival testing. But Health Canada contradicted that in its statement to the Star, saying that travellers arriving from the banned countries must undergo the testing — even if they’ve previously tested positive.
“We’re seeing some early evidence that out of South Africa that reinfections can occur more frequently with Omicron — two to three times more frequently than we’ve seen with other variants,” Hota said.
“Just because you’ve had a prior infection doesn’t mean that you are completely immune to an Omicron infection,” she said, adding that at the very least, those passengers should be asked to isolate given that testing recovered people can sometimes yield unreliable results.
Banerji says governments have been dealt a tricky task in coming up with new rules — and having to implement them.
“I think it’s challenging for any government to make policies with so much uncertainty and a lot of unknowns. I would say that it’s really important … to stick to the evidence and the science rather than an emotional response.”
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China condemns U.S. diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics
China on Tuesday accused the United States of betraying Olympic principles and said Washington would “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing even as a top International Olympic Committee official voiced respect for the U.S. decision.
The White House announced on Monday that U.S. government officials will boycott the Winter Olympics over China’s human rights “atrocities,” though the action allows American athletes to travel to Beijing to compete.
Many key U.S. allies have hesitated follow the U.S. move, but on Wednesday, Australia said it would join the diplomatic boycott.
President Joe Biden’s administration cited what the United States calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. China denies all rights abuses.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing that his country opposes the U.S. diplomatic boycott and promised “resolute countermeasures” in response.
“The United States will pay a price for its mistaken acts,” he said, without giving details. “Let’s all wait and see.”
The IOC, the governing body of the worldwide Olympic movement, held executive board meetings on Tuesday at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, ahead of the Winter Games scheduled for Feb. 4-20 in Beijing.
“We always ask for as much respect as possible and least possible interference from the political world,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC’s coordination commission chief for the Beijing Olympics. “We have to be reciprocal. We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies.”
The Winter Games are due to begin about six months after the conclusion of the Summer Games in Tokyo, which were delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are extremely proud, happy and hopeful that all athletes of the world will live in peace in 59 days,” Samaranch said, referring to the scheduled start of the Winter Games.
Members of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic group living in Turkey welcomed the U.S. boycott.
Rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have called on the IOC to postpone the Games and relocate them unless China ends what the United States deems genocide against ethnic Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups.
The United States is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Asked whether China would consider a diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games in the United States, Zhao said the U.S. boycott has “damaged the foundation and atmosphere” of sports exchange and cooperation on the Olympics, which he likened to “lifting a stone to crush one’s own foot.”
He called on the United States to keep politics out of sports, saying the boycott went against Olympic principles.
The American diplomatic boycott, encouraged for months by some members of the U.S. Congress and rights groups, comes despite an effort to stabilize ties between the world’s two largest economies, with a video meeting last month between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.
‘THE ONLY OPTION’
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday that unless other countries join the boycott it would undermine the message that China’s human rights abuses are unacceptable.
“Now I think the only option really that is available to us is to try to get as many countries as we can to stand with us in this coalition,” Glaser said.
Announcing Australia’s plans to join the boycott, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Beijing had not responded to several issues raised by Australia including alleged human rights abuses.
“So it is not surprising therefore that Australian government officials would not be going to China for those Games,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
Relations between Australia and China, its top trade partner, are at a low ebb over after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities, including coal, beef, barley and wine.
Canada’s foreign ministry said on Monday it continues to discuss the matter with partners and allies. Britain, the Netherlands and Japan said they were still considering their positions. New Zealand’s deputy prime minister said the country would not send government officials but that decision was based largely on COVID-19 concerns.
Chinese media and scholars criticised the U.S. action.
“It is foolish and silly of the United States to do this,” Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters, adding other major powers could do the same to the United States in 2028.
The diplomatic boycott puts corporate Olympic sponsors in “an awkward spot” but causes less concern than a full measure barring athletes, said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who has overseen Olympics broadcast rights deals.
The U.S. bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China applauded Biden’s decision and called on Olympic corporate sponsors to announce similar attendance boycotts, saying a diplomatic boycott alone was not enough.
“Business as usual is not acceptable given the atrocities being committed by the Chinese government,” said commission chair Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, and co-chair Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Yew Lun Tian, Trevor Hunnicutt, Karolos Grohmann, Michael Martina, Steve Keating and Renju Jose; Editing by William Maclean, Will Dunham, Rosalba O’Brien, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle)
Canada to join allies in diplomatic boycott of Winter Games -Trudeau
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