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Trump sends condolences for Milwaukee shooting

U.S. President Donald Trump has extended his "deepest condolences" to the victims and families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Feb. 26)      
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Kevin Garnett’s anger toward ‘snake’ Timberwolves owner is unrelenting
Kevin Garnett will soon be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but the former MVP may need to wait much longer before being honored by his longtime team. Garnett, who spent his first 12 NBA seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and became the franchise’s all-time leader in every significant statistic, doesn’t believe he’ll see...
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nypost.com
Watch These TV Appearances by Democratic Politicians and Guess Which One Is the Presumptive Nominee to Be President
Who still wants what they thought they wanted in June 2019?
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slate.com
Walgreens to offer drive-thru coronavirus tests in 7 states
Drugstore chain says it'll deliver results in less than 15 minutes to as many as 3,000 people a day.
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cbsnews.com
Rand Paul says he’s recovered from coronavirus, volunteering at local hospital
Sen. Rand Paul is free to use the Senate gym again — once it reopens. Paul announced Tuesday that he has tested negative for COVID-19 just over two weeks after finding out he had been diagnosed with the virus, adding that he is now volunteering at a local hospital. “I appreciate all the best wishes...
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nypost.com
Trump’s new press secretary has a history of birtherism and wildly inaccurate coronavirus takes
McEnany at a Trump rally in January 2020. | Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Kayleigh McEnany has a storied record of defending some of Trump’s most egregious excesses. As someone who has gone on cable news a lot to share pro-Trump takes that get attention for the wrong reasons, Kayleigh McEnany, formerly a spokesperson for the Trump 2020 campaign, should be a natural as President Trump’s next press secretary. News that McEnany is to become Trump’s fourth press secretary was first reported by CNN on Tuesday. She will replace Stephanie Grisham, who finishes her nine-month stint in the role without ever having held a press briefing but with many Fox News appearances under her belt. That didn’t happen by accident: Trump reportedly wants his press secretaries to primarily serve as cable news surrogates for him. But the timing of McEnany joining the White House has brought recent comments she’s made about the coronavirus under renewed criticism. “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here” Like many other people in the orbit of the president, including Trump himself, McEnany spent much of the period between January and March downplaying the coronavirus — including as late as March 11, the same day the NBA suspended play after a player tested positive for the virus, becoming one of more than 1,200 people who had tested positive in the US at that point. At that time, Trump was still planning to hold political rallies even though National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci had already recommended large gatherings not be held, saying during congressional testimony that “anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.” During an interview on Fox Business in which host Stuart Varney grilled McEnany about the wisdom of proceeding with rallies despite Fauci’s advice, McEnany suggested that the president — who once claimed windmills cause cancer — knew better than one of the nation’s top public health experts. “The president is the best authority on this issue,” she said. Here's Trump's new press secretary on March 11 saying that the campaign was still planning to hold rallies, even as she is repeatedly told that other campaigns are not and Fauci in effect advised against it.McEnany's response: "The president is the best authority on this issue" pic.twitter.com/c6tPHAZGM1— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) April 7, 2020 But even more egregious in hindsight were comments McEnany made on Trish Regan’s Fox Business show on February 25. (Regan lost her show two weeks later following a rant where she dismissed the growing pandemic as a “coronavirus impeachment scam.”) “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here,” McEnany said, adding, “Isn’t it refreshing when contrasting [the Trump administration’s public health efforts] with the awful presidency of President Obama.” On the same day Larry Kudlow said coronavirus was “contained” on Feb. 25th, Trump’s campaign spox made an even more bold claim.“We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here..and isn't it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama." pic.twitter.com/O0DDH3Rvkw— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) April 4, 2020 The clip of McEnany saying “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here” was recently posted to Twitter by CNN editor Andrew Kaczynski. McEnany responded with a mix of deflection, Trump praise, and attacks on the press — a combination the president seems to be a big fan of. When McEnany made those comments on February 25, the US had fewer than 20 non-cruise-ship-related coronavirus cases. Sadly, in hindsight, they stand out as egregiously inaccurate. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been infected, and more than 12,200 have died. Trump expects his press secretaries to be blindly loyal. Getting things wrong seems to be no problem as long as it advances Trump’s interests. When she starts at the White House, McEnany will be far from the only Trump administration official who has gone viral due to inaccurate statements about the coronavirus. As I detailed last week, 10 million unemployment claims ago, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed the coronavirus “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” In late February, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the coronavirus was “contained” and urged investors to “buy the dip” just ahead of the Dow dropping precipitously. On March 6, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway indignantly told reporters at the White House that the coronavirus was being “contained.” But McEnany surpasses all three officials in her longstanding commitment to boosting Trump’s message of the day. Her history of shilling for Trump goes all the way to 2012, when she amplified the racist conspiracy theories about then-President Obama’s birth certificate that Trump rode to political prominence. #GuessBidensNextGaffe "we're still vigorously pursuing any and all leads on Obama's birth certificate"— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) August 15, 2012 How I Met Your Brother -- Never mind, forgot he's still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) August 30, 2012 In October 2016, McEnany also went to extreme lengths to defend Trump following the release of the Access Hollywood hot mic recording in which he can be heard bragging about groping women, arguing that Trump’s comment about how “when you’re a star, they let you do it” is actually evidence he sought consent before touching them. She’s also defended everything from Trump’s false claim about Obama founding ISIS to his refusal to divest from his business interests upon taking office. These defenses of the president have been widely ridiculed outside the MAGA echo chamber. But as Sean Spicer taught us on the very first day of Trump’s presidency when he trumpeted blatant lies about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd size, the job of being Trump’s press secretary is all about being willing to say whatever the boss thinks is necessary to win the moment. And in that respect, McEnany has already demonstrated she’s up to the task. The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.
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vox.com
Coronavirus pandemic pushes U.S. and China closer to cold war
The health crisis has strengthened hard-liners and driven China and the U.S., the world's two biggest economies, closer to collision.
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latimes.com
Trump’s purge is about to get much worse. Schiff just sent up a flare.
An unsettling glimpse of much worse to come.
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washingtonpost.com
Former Philadelphia Eagles star running back, return specialist Timmy Brown dies at 82
Former Eagles great Timmy Brown was a three-time Pro Bowl selection who also went on to enjoy successful careers as a singer and actor.      
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usatoday.com
White House Task Force To Hold Briefing After Day Of Staffing Turmoil
The White House has shaken up its communications team, and President Trump demoted the inspector general who was overseeing the $2 trillion economic relief package.
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npr.org
Treasury requests $250 billion more for small business relief
The federally-backed loans for small businesses were rapidly depleted just a few days after the program began Friday.
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abcnews.go.com
3 ways the coronavirus is helping the environment
Mother Earth is getting a much-needed breather during this time.
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nypost.com
Mike Pence Spoke to Dominic Raab After Boris Johnson Was Hospitalized for Coronavirus
The Vice President called his British counterpart after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized with severe COVID-19 symptoms.
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newsweek.com
Column: 'Pharma bro' Martin Shkreli wants out of prison to find a cure for coronavirus
In act of chutzpah, 'Pharma bro' Shkreli seeks prison release to find a coronavirus cure.
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latimes.com
Trump may want to be a bit more judicious about referring to pandemics as ‘debacles’
The president used the term to criticize handling of the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak — which he himself says was far less deadly than the current pandemic.
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washingtonpost.com
Fashion stars are live-streaming workouts for fans amid coronavirus
With social-distancing in full effect during the coronavirus pandemic, fashionistas are getting creative with their at-home workouts — and sharing their mood-boosting fitness routines on social media. From catwalk queen Naomi Campbell to Alice + Olivia CEO Stacey Bendet, fashion folk are streaming their training techniques on Instagram Live. Weave one of these virtual sweat...
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nypost.com
Earth is quieter as coronavirus lockdowns reduce seismic vibration
Scientists are reporting that the Earth itself has grown quieter amid the coronavirus shutdowns. Seismologists studying the Earth's ambient seismic noise say there has been a significant decrease as traffic and industry are halted. CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli joins CBSN with more.
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cbsnews.com
Fact check: Trump falsely claims he 'inherited' the faulty coronavirus test. It was developed this year
President Donald Trump has falsely claimed four times since last week that he inherited a faulty coronavirus test -- which was, in reality, developed this year.
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edition.cnn.com
Acting U.S. Navy secretary offers to resign over handling of coronavirus-hit carrier
Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has offered his resignation following criticism of his handling of a crisis involving the captain of a coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, two U.S. officials and a congressional aide told Reuters on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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reuters.com
Louisiana Sen. Cassidy Addresses Racial Disparities In Coronavirus Deaths
Sen. Bill Cassidy, who is a medical doctor, tells Morning Edition that underlying health issues like diabetes contribute to the disproportionate number of African Americans dying of COVID-19.
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npr.org
Coronavirus Pennsylvania Updates: COVID-19 Case Numbers, Death Toll and More
Pennsylvania has reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases every day since March 31. On Tuesday, the state had confirmed more than 14,500 cases in total, as well as 240 deaths.
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newsweek.com
White Supremacy’s Gateway to the American Mind
This article is a collaboration between The Atlantic and ProPublica.“Give me, a white man, a reason to live,” a user posted to the anonymous message board 4chan in the summer of 2017. “Should I get a hobby. What interests can I pursue to save myself from total despair. How do you go on living.”A fellow user had a suggestion: “Please write a concise book of only factual indisputable information exposing the Jews,” focusing on “their selling of our high tech secrets to China/Russia” and “their long track record of pedophilia and perversion etc.”The man seeking advice was intrigued. “And who would publish it and who would put it in their bookstores that would make it worth the trouble,” he asked.The answer came a few minutes later. “Self-publish to Amazon,” his interlocutor replied.“Kindle will publish anything,” a third user chimed in.They were basically right. It takes just a couple of minutes to upload one’s work to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s self-publishing arm; the ebook then shows up in the world’s largest bookstore within half a day, typically with minimal oversight. Since its founding more than a decade ago, KDP has democratized the publishing industry and earned praise for giving authors shut out of traditional channels the chance to reach an audience that would have been previously unimaginable.It has also afforded the same opportunity to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, an investigation by ProPublica and The Atlantic has found. Releases include Anschluss: The Politics of Vesica Piscis, a polemic that praises the “grossly underappreciated” massacre of 77 people by the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik in 2011, and The White Rabbit Handbook, a manifesto linked to an Illinois-based militia group facing federal hate-crime charges for firebombing a mosque. (Amazon removed the latter last week following questions from ProPublica). About 200 of the 1,500 books recommended by the Colchester Collection, an online reading room run by and for white nationalists, were self-published through Amazon. And new KDP acolytes are born every day: Members of fringe groups on 4chan, Discord, and Telegram regularly tout the platform’s convenience, according to our analysis of thousands of conversations on those message boards. There are “literally zero hoops,” one user in 4chan’s /pol/ forum told another in 2015. “Just sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing and publish away. It’s shocking how simple it is, actually.” Even Breivik, at the start of the 1,500-page manifesto that accompanied his terrorist attack, suggested that his followers use KDP’s paperback service, among others, to publicize his message.That these books are widely available on Amazon does not seem to be an accident, but the inevitable consequence of the company’s business strategy. Interviews with more than two dozen former Amazon employees suggest that the company’s drive for market share and philosophical aversion to gatekeepers have incubated an anything-goes approach to content: Virtually no idea is too inflammatory, and no author is off-limits. As major social networks and other publishing platforms have worked to slowly ban extremists, Amazon has emerged as their safe space, a haven from which they can spread their message into mainstream American culture with little more than a few clicks.[Read: A reformed white nationalist says the worst is yet to come]“There is a lot of extremist content on Amazon,” says J. M. Berger, who studies such works as a fellow with the European Union–funded VOX-Pol research network. “The platform has gone largely overlooked because, understandably, we think of books differently than other content. But these products are for sale and they’re being algorithmically pushed.” We tested the recommendations for many far-right texts and discovered several that could lead users down a hate-filled rabbit hole, where the suggested books reinforce a white-nationalist worldview. For ebooks that retail from $2.99 and $9.99, authors keep 70 percent of the profits and Amazon takes the rest. (Amazon doesn’t break out revenue for book sales or its self-publishing arm).“As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “That includes books that some may find objectionable, though we have policies governing which books can be listed for sale. We invest significant time and resources to ensure our guidelines are followed, and remove products that do not adhere to our guidelines. We also promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised.”The growing influence of social networks on political life has prompted a national debate about what should stay up on these platforms, what should come down, who’s to blame, and who decides. Following the deadly far-right violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and PayPal cracked down on the activities of white supremacists and hate groups on their platforms. In recent years, Amazon has barred several high-profile white-supremacist authors, including the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, from its bookstore. It does occasionally pull extremist books from KDP, sometimes months or years after publication, and often in secret, without providing any explanation to authors or readers. But these removals appear to be the exception. KDP’s terse policies do not address hate speech, racism, or incitements to violence, though Amazon reserves the right to remove any items from its store, including “content that disappoints our customers” or fails to “provide an enjoyable reading experience.” By and large, Amazon, which in the United States controls about half of the market for all books and close to 90 percent for ebooks, has become a gateway for white supremacists to reach the American reading public.The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Billy Roper “the uncensored voice of violent neo-Nazism”; Roper calls himself “the most widely read living fiction author in the white-nationalist movement.” For several decades, he has led some of the white-nationalist movement’s most hard-core factions, and today he runs the Shield Wall Network, a group attempting to build a whites-only ethno-state in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, where he lives. (The group made headlines last year for organizing a protest of a Holocaust-remembrance event, at which they shouted the slogan “6 million more.”)Roper is also a prolific author. Since 2014, he has uploaded 17 books of fiction and nonfiction to Amazon’s self-publishing platform. His best-known work is the Hasten the Day trilogy, which takes place in the years after the United States has balkanized into multiple warring ethno-states—an outcome Roper considers inevitable. “I was trying to find a fictional way of expressing my political ideas,” Roper told us, “because a lot of people find fiction more palatable than nonfiction when it comes to accepting an idea that they’re not otherwise comfortable with.” For those who fail to grasp the trilogy’s political message, racist quotations from Thomas Jefferson and David Duke are interspersed throughout the text. In The Balk, an essay collection self-published in 2015, Roper asks readers to imagine themselves in the world he depicts in his fiction. “If your cousin showed up with his Mexican girlfriend and their half-Mexican kids in the middle of a race war and wanted refuge, that could put you automatically on a whole different side,” he writes, advising that “the best way to accomplish discrimination is through prejudice, beforehand. Be prejudiced, and discriminate.”In a phone interview in February, Roper said he has had his accounts suspended on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and VK, a Russian alternative to Facebook—but not Amazon. Having his books on the platform, he said, grants him legitimacy and attracts new audiences. “My existence there has been beneficial in reaching people with my message and growing my organization,” he said. “People can go to Amazon—which is mainstream and acceptable; there’s nothing radical about that—order a book, and in the privacy of their own home they can read the book without ever having to visit a white-nationalist website.”Roper is also active on Goodreads, the Amazon-owned social network for readers, where he frequently posts about giveaways, pitches his novels to book clubs, and tries to spark discussion of “pro-white” books—a popular recruiting tactic, according to Berger, the VOX-Pol researcher. Among the topics discussed in Roper’s “European American Reading Group” are whether it’s useful to read books by “jews and the opposition.”Before the internet, Roper’s reach would have likely been limited by bookstores’ shelf space and curatorial judgement. But in today’s world of digital abundance, far-right authors have enjoyed a newfound visibility. Gary Lauck, the leader of NSDAP/AO, an American neo-Nazi party, used to rely on snail mail to smuggle neo-Nazi propaganda into Germany and other European countries where it’s been banned. Today, several works published by his organization’s press are available to anyone in the U.S. and Europe on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited, a program that offers books to readers for a subscription fee. KDP has also revived an older white-nationalist canon. Many works by historical Nazis and anti-Semites, no longer held by copyright and long out of print, have been reprinted through KDP. Members of far right chat rooms often link to them.Though books now compete with viral videos, memes, and podcasts in the rapidly expanding universe of white-nationalist cultural production, they still play an important role. Roper himself was inspired by The Turner Diaries, which depicts in gruesome detail the genocide of nonwhite people across the world. It was published in 1978 under a pseudonym by William Pierce, the founder of the National Alliance, then regarded as the most dangerous neo-Nazi group in the U.S. As of early April, it still ranked among the top 65,000 books sold on Amazon.Jeff Bezos founded Amazon with the dream of selling people whatever they wanted, when they wanted it. This wasn’t yet possible in 1994. So he started out with books, according to Brad Stone’s 2013 history of Amazon, The Everything Store. Bezos is an avid reader, especially of science fiction, but his decision was driven less by literary passion than by business acumen. Books were easy to ship yet endlessly variable. “If [Bezos] couldn’t build a true everything store right away,” Stone wrote, “he could capture its essence—unlimited selection—in at least one important product category.”From the start, Bezos was determined that nothing should interfere with the company’s relentless quest for scale. He instilled in employees an almost dogmatic rejection of gatekeepers—those intrusive editors and critics who stand between authors and readers, deciding what the public should or shouldn’t consume. “We want to make every book available—the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Bezos explained in a 1998 speech. “And when you’re doing that, you actually have an obligation—if you’re going to make the shopping environment actually conducive to shopping—to sort of let truth loose.”Even in those early days, though, he encountered pushback. In the late ’90s, a former Amazon employee told us, a rabbi wrote in to complain about the company selling The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the early-20th-century anti-Semitic text alleging a Jewish plan for world domination. “Jeff said, ‘Who are we to decide? There’s a comments section and people will comment on the fact that this is beneath them,’” the employee recalled, noting that Bezos was disgusted by such content but concerned about acting as a censor. (Bezos did not respond to a request for comment.)Ex-Amazonians who worked in the books and video divisions said that the same rationale guided the company’s decision to stock Mein Kampf and the Nazi propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl. (Many former and current employees, citing nondisclosure agreements, spoke with us anonymously.) But this desire to avoid gatekeeping occasionally conflicted with another corporate goal: to keep the site family-friendly. “We were always told that Bezos never wanted a customer to open something on their computer screen that they’d be embarrassed by at work,” a former employee said. When the store’s video division launched, Bezos decided not to sell hard-core-porn titles—one of the company’s earliest efforts at moderation. If customers typed in a search term such as XXX, they would be redirected to soft-core productions from Playboy and Penthouse instead.Amazon soon realized that it didn’t need to depend on publishers to control the supply of books; it could just as well print them itself. In 2005, the company purchased BookSurge, a pioneer of print-on-demand technology, for an undisclosed sum. Founded in 2000, BookSurge shared Amazon’s populist philosophy: Its mission was to help anyone tell a story, free from the friction and costs of intermediaries. “We published everything from children’s books to erotic novels to people with fringe political views and photo books that would include adult content as well,” says Rick Jones, who directed operations for BookSurge from its beginning and stayed on after the acquistion until 2014. “It wasn’t our job to judge whether something was right or wrong. Our whole goal was to let the market and the people decide what’s of value.” Content review was anathema to this mission. Nothing was rejected, the BookSurge co-founder Jeff Schwaner told us, except when a text file didn’t meet the formatting specifications.[Read: Jeff Bezos’s master plan]After the purchase, Amazon renamed the company CreateSpace and ramped up its paperback output. It soon launched what’s now known as Kindle Direct Publishing to produce self-published ebooks for its new Kindle e-reader and burgeoning ebook store. (In 2018, Amazon merged CreateSpace into KDP, which now encompasses both the ebook and paperback self-publishing operations.) As the number of books expanded from a few thousand each year to tens of thousands to millions, so did Amazon’s legal risk. “It was just a mess of unregulated content, and no one was in charge of it,” one former Kindle employee remembers of this period. “It was a free-for-all. It was the Wild, Wild West.” To comb through the chaos, Amazon assembled teams to screen for copyright violations that might elicit lawsuits threatening its bottom line. According to former employees, the company’s priority—making as much content as possible available to its customers—meant that essentially everything legal was permitted.That began to change in 2010, when The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure appeared in the Kindle store. An employee on the content-evaluation team, given only a few minutes to check the self-published book for blatant copyright violations, assumed that it was a bizarre joke. He did not have the time to read it, he told us in an interview. If he had, he would have noticed that it described how to approach children and included erotic stories about positive sexual experiences between children and adults. Unsurprisingly, a PR fracas ensued. Amazon removed the book in response to the outcry—then reinstated it, and then removed it again in response to further outcry. The company introduced additional guidelines for sexual content, yet the process was still largely ad hoc, according to the former content reviewer, with decisions made by “a lot of business folks and software engineers” lacking subject-matter expertise. One debate concerned dalliances between relatives in 19th-century novels.As copyright review has become more and more automated, Amazon’s moderators have spent more time evaluating other criteria for “content appropriateness.” Still, several employees noted that the prepublication review process continues to focus more on illegal or indecent content than on hateful, derogatory, or defamatory speech. Authors uploading paperbacks are asked to self-report whether their content is “mature.” If the answer is yes, teams stationed in time zones across the globe quickly check the cover, title, and keywords for obscenities, sometimes evaluating up to 100 books an hour. “It’s a pretty destructive job,” said a former Amazonian who worked on Kindle’s policy team. “You’re seeing stuff you don’t want to see.”Amazon describes KDP as a printing service, not a publisher or social network. But Amazon’s role is by no means passive. Its recommendation algorithm uses your purchasing, browsing, and reading histories to steer you to the books you are most likely to buy, as opposed to what critics have championed or what publishers think you should read. “It actually drives me crazy when I hear Amazon’s rhetoric about getting rid of the gatekeepers, because all they’ve done is replace 1,000 small gatekeepers with one big gatekeeper,” says Shel Kaphan, who helped found Amazon and later served as its chief technology officer until 1999. “They use different criteria, but it’s no more noble than other people’s criteria. In a lot of ways, I’d prefer editorial decisions over a strategy of ‘What makes me the most money today?’”Alex MertoWhen we tested the recommendations for several of the books discussed in far-right chat rooms, we found that many of Amazon’s suggestions reinforced and amplified the given book’s political ideology. For instance, the first six recommendations for Fascism for the Million—and the subsequent associated recommendations —consist exclusively of defenses of fascism, even for users for whom Amazon has stored no browsing history. (The book, inspired by the remarks of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, was published by a far-right press last year.) What’s more, we found that recommendations for far-right books often overlap with and refer back to one another, creating a sort of echo chamber. Curious readers can easily click through several different clusters of books espousing anti-Semitism, nativism, Nazism, and white nationalism without encountering a text from an opposing point of view. The search algorithm also groups radical texts together. If shoppers search for the white-nationalist cult classic Siege, by James Mason, the third and fourth results shown are for works by Julius Evola, the far-right Italian ideologue cited in a 2014 lecture by Steve Bannon.Because of her research into far-right groups, Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, frequently encounters these polarized bubbles while browsing Amazon. “Amazon is pushing readers further down the road to a process of online radicalization, and it doesn’t need to do that,” she told us.For certain books, Amazon showed us not only what customers also bought but what’s “frequently bought together”—although it appears to have recently disabled the feature.When we browsed a revisionist account of the Auschwitz concentration camp in February, for instance, Amazon suggested combining it with compilations from primary sources: Goebbels on the Jews and Hitler on the Jews. Even after users buy a book and log out, Amazon keeps pushing similar books by sending promotional emails. When we purchased The Balk, Roper’s book of political essays, Amazon followed up to suggest other works of his, along with a self-published pamphlet by another far-right author that describes “the conspiracy to flood Europe with aliens.”Like other savvy authors, some white supremacists go beyond Amazon’s automated assistance to boost sales. One technique is to “category squat”—that is, classify one’s books in low-traffic or obscure categories such as “Ancient Greek History” to game their rankings. As a commentator on the 4chan /pol/ forum explained to someone interested in self-publishing on KDP, “If you pick a good niche and the book is good and you understand their search algorithm you can make a lot of money.” Jewish Privilege, by the anti-Semitic commentator E. Michael Jones, is ranked as the tenth most popular book in “LGBT Political Issues,” despite being about the alleged evils of Jewish people.Other authors manipulate their ratings by making their self-published books temporarily free so that readers can “purchase” them and leave a positive review. “ALL of my books are available for FREE in e-book form this week in exchange for an honest review on Amazon later,” Roper posted in 2017 on the neo-Nazi message board Stormfront. As a result of this behind-the-scenes lobbying, Berger says, far-right texts often seem to have better reviews than other kinds of books, which may affect how frequently Amazon recommends them. The first installment of Roper’s trilogy has 70 reviews and a rating of four out of five stars. Roper even gave the book a five-star review on Goodreads: “I liked it so much that I’m currently working on the sequel!”Amazon appears to take action against far-right texts primarily in response to high-profile complaints. Former Amazon employees have characterized the company’s moves as “reactive.” They say the company’s aversion to policing its bookstore is both philosophical (who are we to judge?) and pragmatic (no automated system could accurately screen the millions of texts uploaded each year at scale).Nevertheless, Amazon has begun to make some of the hard decisions it had previously avoided. In recent years, it has taken down hundreds of works of Holocaust denial, including a large portion of the catalog of Castle Hill Publishers, a revisionist press. In 2019, it banned several books by Greg Johnson and his white-nationalist publishing house, Counter-Currents. It has also removed works by the alt-right influencer known as Roosh and the Islamophobic author Tommy Robinson, both of whom had self-published through KDP. And in March, following decades of campaigns by Jewish organizations, the retailer blocked editions of Mein Kampf sold by third-party merchants or reprinted through KDP; the book can still be purchased directly through Amazon.When the retailer decides to drop a publisher or remove a book, it offers no explanation, no appeals process, and little to no warning. “Amazon will be as ambiguous as possible, and when they terminate or suspend accounts, they will essentially imply, You know what you did and shame on you,” says Dale L. Roberts, who hosts a popular YouTube channel about the self-publishing business. Its notice to authors is “very generic copy and paste.”This opacity makes it difficult for authors and readers to know how and why these decisions are made. For instance, while books such as Johnson’s The White Nationalist Manifesto have been removed from the site, self-published manifestos such as The Declaration of White Independence and Foundations of the 21st Century: The Philosophy of White Nationalism remain for sale. We also came across nearly a dozen Holocaust-skeptic books still available on Amazon, including some for sale in Germany, where such texts can be illegal. In response to our questions, Amazon took three of them down. It declined to share information about the number of books it’s taken down, its internal policies, or how it enforces them.[Read: Alt history]Amazon’s ambiguous guidelines are not without reason. Given the company’s prominence in the marketplace, overly broad content restrictions might threaten literary expression as a whole. Louis-Ferdinand Céline, for instance, was a fascist, an anti-Semite, and a Holocaust denier; he also wrote Journey to the End of the Night, which is among the most acclaimed works of French fiction. “Even if a book contains hate speech, it may be that it’s quoting other people’s hate speech or has other social, historical, or literary merit,” says Eric Goldman, a leading First Amendment and content-moderation expert. It would be misguided to apply to a book-length essay or novel the same policies that attempt to govern tweets and Facebook posts, he adds.Hate speech is also notoriously difficult to define. “There’s still nothing like consensus about what extremism even is in general, let alone when you get down to what’s considered to be a controversial and difficult decision about the whole of a book,” Berger says. “Even I, who’ve studied elements of this, would be hesitant to say that there’s any easy recipe to decide what stays and what goes.”Smaller self-publishing companies say they have taken a more proactive stance. Lulu, Smashwords, and Kobo all explicitly prohibit authors from self-publishing discriminatory or hateful content through their platforms. Representatives from each company spoke with us about navigating the tension between free expression and fomenting hate. “We don’t enjoy acting as a gatekeeper,” Mark Coker, the Smashwords founder and CEO, said. “We don’t enjoy serving as arbiter of what’s acceptable and what’s not. But it’s a responsibility we have to take on.”Lulu and Smashwords have banned Roper from using their platforms in recent years. (Roper has not uploaded his works to Kobo.) When Smashwords terminated Roper’s account, a representative explained that it was because his work was “advocating hateful, discriminatory or racist views or actions toward others,” according to emails shared with us by Smashwords.Even KDP has taken a second look at Roper’s work. Last year, it removed two of the 17 books he’s self-published on the platform, both compilations of nonfiction essays and blog posts, stating simply that the books were “in violation of our content guidelines.” To Roper, this choice seemed arbitrary and misguided, especially because one of the titles taken down, The Ethnostate, includes a full reprinting of his book The Balk, which is still available for purchase. As he sees it, the two prohibited books are the least provocative of his writings. “My novels describe war and violence and bloodshed and death, and even, in a couple of the books, genocide—literal racial genocide—in no uncertain terms,” Roper said. But based on its choices, he said, Amazon seems to find his essays more offensive “than me literally typing out 1,000 pages describing races torturing and murdering one another until one or the other become extinct.”In the past two weeks, as more Americans have sheltered in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Roper said he’s seen a spike in his Amazon sales. He wonders whether it’s because his vision of impending social collapse has begun to resonate with more readers. Or perhaps, he said, “people got bored with Netflix.”
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These are the trade-offs we make when we depend on billionaires to save us
Getty Images Now more than ever, the coronavirus crisis has Americans living in tech billionaires’ world. There is something deeply frightening about relying on billionaires to save us in this crisis. But what if we have no better choice? The US government has repeatedly proven to be sluggish at best and impotent at worst at controlling the carnage of the coronavirus crisis. American deaths are now over 10,000, officials are comparing this week to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, and at times it can feel like there are no leaders who can help. But saviors, of a sort, loom: billionaires — and tech billionaires in particular. Tech billionaires dominate the list of the world’s wealthiest people. And so Silicon Valley could not be better prepared to step into this void. And it has, even if unevenly: Companies like Apple have donated 20 million masks. Bill Gates is building factories to produce vaccines that don’t even exist yet. And other tech elites — think millionaires, not billionaires — have mobilized their networks for ambitious efforts to find equipment from around the globe or feed hospital workers in their hometowns. But for all the wealthy’s good deeds, this status quo raises alarming questions about the long-term dangers of this dependency on this private sector and its generosity, especially about the world we’ll inherit once the dust settles. How can we be stronger the next time a pandemic, or any other crisis, strikes? “If we need the resources now, but we’ll regret them having this power later, what does it mean for immediate suffering at the moment?” In conversations with philanthropists, wealth advisers, and billionaires over the last week, they described the uneasy bind to Recode: On one hand, tech billionaires are doing many helpful things. A nurse on the frontlines of the crisis probably couldn’t care less whether the mask that protects them came from Tim Cook or from Donald Trump — they’re just glad they have one. But two things can be true at once: Tech billionaires can be doing good while simultaneously revealing their power and entrenching it for the long haul. As the government struggles and the safety net crumbles, tech billionaires are reaching the apex of their influence — influence that may not recede so easily once we do manage to survive this pandemic. “If we need the resources now, but we’ll regret them having this power later,” asked Megan Tompkins-Stange, who studies the influence of the elite, “what does it mean for immediate suffering at the moment?” “We do need billionaires to donate their resources when a state that has failed so abjectly,” she told Recode. “At the same time, opening up all these avenues for philanthropies to provide for the public need — even in the short term — provides more space for them after the crisis to leverage that into new democratic legitimacy.” There are four interrelated spheres in which tech billionaires have commanded more plutocratic influence during this crisis: their philanthropic power, their corporate power, their political power and the power of their personal brands. We are living in their world more than ever, and it’s worth asking if that’s a good thing. Philanthropic power Over the past year or two, the world of billionaires has wrestled with a fresh, counter-intuitive question: Is it wrong for the mega-rich to give to charity? After all, they could just pay more in taxes instead. But today’s crisis has laid bare how much we might need these billionaires in a specific moment: when the government is failing. And since philanthropists can only do so much, critics say that the crisis points to problems with our system more broadly — and that the US shouldn’t have to rely on charitable billionaires for masks or ventilators next time. “Philanthropy is taking on a greater portion of the responsibility for response than anyone expected,” said Dustin Moskovitz, one of the founders of Facebook and one of Silicon Valley’s most thoughtful billionaire philanthropists. “Unfortunately I think it’s clear to anyone closely following the situation today that philanthropy simply can’t solve this crisis on its own.” That’s true despite the number of Silicon Valley billionaires whose net worths have skyrocketed over the past decade. Some of them are so wealthy that even if they want to give their money away, they literally cannot dispense with their fortunes quickly enough. This has fueled the rise of charitable vehicles like donor-advised funds and thinned the line between a billionaire and an asset manager — both are overseeing vast financial empires. Advisors to tech billionaires, in particular, describe a paralysis: The nouveau riche don’t even know what to do with the money, so they stow it away, to be tapped later. Kimberly White/Getty Images Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, in 2007. And yet the critique of billionaire philanthropy revolves around the idea that these donations are an expression of private power. Indeed, philanthropists like Moskovitz are some of the most important people in determining the shape of America’s response to an unprecedented crisis. They are imbued with unaccountable, untransparent, and undemocratic influence. Power grabs can happen. And their donations can legitimize the philanthropists as heroes, which can discourage scrutiny of their business practices. But that general theory misses two things about this particular moment: First of all, while the donations certainly do offer a public-relations boon, much of the current philanthropic response — for pandemic models, for vaccine research, or for feeding the hungry — are not directly emboldening billionaires’ short-term grip on society, although questions about their taxes remain. And secondly, this critique can over-generalize the entire philanthropic response to the crisis by focusing solely on top-down efforts from billionaires. Even if you hypothetically believe that the rich should be taxed at a much higher rate and that democratic leaders, not billionaires, should be the ones making funding decisions, it is not as if the tax code is going to be rewritten right now. So in an emergency and with the government failing, you would certainly rather have, say, $25 million from Mark Zuckerberg for therapeutics research than not. The money donated by Zuckerberg or Gates or Moskovitz very well might save lives. “Although I think concerns about the private sector and philanthropy doing what the government is supposed to be doing are somewhat valid, there isn’t a great alternative right now,” wrote Sam Altman, the former head of Y Combinator, on his blog as part of a plea for more private science funding. Defenders of billionaire philanthropy often point to people like Gates, who is spending his fortune to create manufacturing capacity for seven possible different vaccines. Admirers say they would rather have Gates deploying his billions on that, rather than have him pay a few more tax dollars that would be lost in the federal bureaucracy. That may be true, but it alsogives them some indirect influence: Who elected Gates to be in charge of America’s vaccine production plan, even if he is savvily spending his money? The millions that Steve Ballmer has contributed to support communities in three particular cities close to his heart — Detroit, Los Angeles, and Seattle — will help, and so will the $100 million that Jeff Bezos is sending to food banks around the US, but who beyond them decided that these are the best uses of America’s resources? Even Anand Giridharadas, among the most strident critics of billionaire mega-charity, thinks the gifts are welcome in an emergency. But he argues we still have to continue to ask questions about how we grew so dependent on them in the first place. “We are now awash in press releases and narratives about billionaires stepping up. And there’s a little bit of a, ‘How do you like them billions?’ thing happening. Where because this is such a desperate, urgent, fast-moving moment, there is the ability of very rich people to act quickly and step into the breach and do stuff in a way that feels redemptive to many people, even though I think we should be more suspicious,” Giridharadas told Recode. “While as a normal human being you celebrate someone buying a lot of masks quickly and donating them where an American state might take longer to get that done,” he explained, “It’s really important to ask why the crisis has hit us the way it has and the weaknesses it’s exposed. ... A lot of those people stepping up are responsible for the underlying conditions of weakness.” Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images Anand Giridharadas in 2019. To Giridharadas, the real “stepping up” would come from billionaires renouncing the use of loopholes to evade taxes that weaken government’s revenue and ability to respond, to halt their use of offshore manufacturing that has hamstrung our domestic inventory of things like masks, and to campaign for stronger a social safety net with programs like universal healthcare. “When you are talking about people dying on a minute-to-minute basis, there has to be some space to say, ‘Can we talk about this afterward?’ But I want to be very clear, given where I come from: We actually have to talk about it afterward,” Giridharadas said. ”I don’t think it is unkind to note those things while we are, as a society, taking some of their money.” Secondly, not all donors are so easy to caricature as the critics suggest. It isn’t as if all of the people “stepping up” are power-hungry billionaires. In fact, some billionaires aren’t exerting power with their philanthropy for a different reason — because they’re not publicly doing much giving at all. Jeff Richards, a venture capitalist, feels the conversation about Silicon Valley plutocratic power can be too focused on billionaires and can overlook efforts by ordinary tech leaders who are wealthy, yes, but hardly titans, such as efforts organized by another investor, Ryan Sarver, and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, to sponsor meals or restaurants. “There’s no agenda. Neither of them are trying to build influence or build an empire or curry favor with politicians or anything like that,” Richards said. “I’m probably naive in that I believe that most of the things people do are from the goodness in their heart.” And a related point: It might not be the case that billionaires are even donating as much as we’d think, which ironically means they aren’t grabbing as much influence along the way as we’d fear. Some of the most prominent tech billionaires, such as Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have so far proven to be MIA, at least publicly, amid the crisis. Representatives of the pair, who together control over $100 billion in assets, didn’t return requests for comment. And the gifts announced by people like Zuckerberg and Bezos are often astonishingly small percentages of their net worth, as critics on the left are quick to point out. Still, it’s hard to know for sure. In the opaque, atomized world of philanthropy, it is always possible that donors are making major gifts that they don’t announce. Corporate power Activists worry that all this philanthropy could have an unintended — or perhaps perfectly intended — consequence: Political insulation for these billionaires’ corporations. These good deeds could slow the building bipartisan scrutiny of these companies’ size, labor practices, and data scandals. It’s not as self-evident that Big Tech companies will come out of this with enhanced reputations — these companies could be on a path to ugly scrutiny over how they treat low-level employees, for instance. But some are concerned that Big Tech, after years on the defensive, will be able to “charity-wash” their reputations and build corporate goodwill through redemptive, headline-grabbing donations that help lower the temperature on, say, breaking up the tech companies at the end of this. Big Tech’s billionaire class will have more power after the crisis than they had before, argues Sally Hubbard of the Open Market Institute. Brick-and-mortar retail is hemorrhaging jobs at a time when Amazon is adding hundreds of thousands of their own. Google is gaining even more of a foothold in the home as educators across the country deploy Google Classroom to teach students remotely — whether you want your family to use it or not. Officials, among others, from California Gov. Gavin Newsom to Vice President Mike Pence have repeatedly gone out of their way to offer thanks for the generosity of Cook and Zuckerberg — corporate leaders that they themselves will need to regulate for years to come. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Then Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom with Nasdaq CEO Robert Greifeld, center right, unveil the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco in 2015. The center provides business training, mentoring and networking opportunities for early stage startup founders — maybe even the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. Freada Kapor Klein, a tech philanthropist herself who worries deeply about tech philanthropists’ power, said she had applauded, for instance, the specifics of the two largest non-corporate gifts, the $100 million that Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have each donated to charity. But she’s not naive. “It enhances their legacy, their standing, the way to which they are revered. And sometimes that makes it harder to hold them accountable,” she said. “It’s not a critique of this gift or of them as individuals. It is a critique of the dynamic.” At the very least, the pandemic is surely blotting out competing policy debates — after all, it is hard to focus on almost-academic concerns about tech monopolies amid tales of unprepared hospitals with rising body counts. And yet Hubbard hopes questions about tech power will return either way. “As one crisis comes and destroys so many people’s livelihoods, they’re going to say, ‘Wait, why were these the only companies that were strong enough to weather this?’” she said. Political power Linked to billionaires’ corporate power is their political power. This crisis has shown how tech billionaires have been able to leave their imprint on American policy. After years of building muscular lobbying operations around the globe, some billionaires are wielding and deploying that influence to push their points of view. Take Larry Ellison. The founder of Oracle and one of the world’s wealthiest people, Ellison surprised many in Silicon Valley this February when he hosted a fundraiser for Trump that raised $7 million for his campaign, an event that undoubtedly strengthened his ties with the White House. That fundraiser followed years of Oracle’s Washington shop fostering particularly close ties with the administration. “Larry Ellison is not accountable to a public that voted for him” Just one month later, Ellison was reportedly calling upon those ties to the administration to lobby Trump to push two unproven antimalarial drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, as possible treatments for the coronavirus. And that can be problematic for the rest of us — who don’t have lobbying operations or estates to host presidential fundraisers. Trump in recent days has begun pushing from the White House briefing room that Americans should take chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which some doctors worry could cause severe side effects and have little evidence of efficacy. “My concern is when Donald Trump calls up Larry Ellison and says, ‘Hey, what do you think? What should I do?’ Because Larry Ellison is again not an infectious disease expert,” said Tompkins-Stange. “Larry Ellison is not accountable to a public that voted for him.” Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Oracle chair of the board and chief technology officer Larry Ellison in 2019. To be sure, Tompkins-Stange said she wasn’t yet aware of other overt ways in which tech elites were undemocratically shaping US policy. There aren’t exactly press releases about this sort of stuff. But Ellison’s relationship with Trump offers a case study in how tech billionaires coulduse their wealth to create political power going forward. “Larry Ellison,” Trump said Sunday from the briefing room. “Amazing guy.” Power of personal brands And then there is billionaires’ brand influence — unquantifiable, yes, but universally recognized. In short: When they speak, we listen. Billionaires have for decades been our oracles and our rock stars, gracing gushing magazine covers, pacing commencement stages, selling how-to-get-rich-too books to the masses, and, more broadly, turning their money into cultural cachet. And during a crisis — when people are so desperate for trustworthy information — these billionaires have filled the void, deploying their celebrity and credibility to try to spread good information. Some tech leaders, in fact, were among the earliest to sound the alarm about the risk of a global pandemic when the coronavirus was only spreading within China. Despite all that good in the short term, this crisis could give these billionaires far greater influence in public life as our so-called thought leaders over the long term, enhancing the size of their platforms and the tenor of their reputations on matters far afield from tech. It is Gates that has emerged as, by far, the most visible tech leader during this crisis. At a time when representatives for other tech billionaires are evading questions about what their bosses are doing in response, Gates has been seemingly everywhere, offering sober, apolitical analysis: Commanding 30 minutes in primetime on CNN. Offering solutions in The Washington Post and on The Daily Show. On Reddit AMAs and TED livestreams. “At a time like this, we are searching for that kind of calm, clear leadership. Bill has been very consistent in his voice on these issues,” said Jeff Raikes, the former CEO of the Gates Foundation and still a close associate of Gates. “In a vacuum, then people like Bill [resonate more] if we don’t have that clarity of voice from our political leaders.” Wang Ye/Xinhua via Getty Images Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping and a goodwill ambassador of the World Health Organization for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, meets with Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in Beijing on November 21. Along with Gates, tech’s biggest celebrities have generally used their platforms and personal brands to draw attention to the crisis (with the exception of Elon Musk, who initially called it “dumb.”) Zuckerberg, for instance, has been hosting smart, responsible interviews on Facebook Live with people like National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and Newsom. Marc Benioff has used his megaphone to call on other CEOs to promise no major layoffs for three months and for other mayors to lock down their cities. While some would like to see these billionaires be more confrontational toward Trump, it’s hard to criticize all that they have done. If the powerful exerting their power to save lives brings them more power, there’s an argument to be made in three words: So be it. If tech leaders had an outsized voice in America before this crisis — they did, after all, invent some of the platforms — their brands have only been enhanced by it. As is the case with their enhancement of their philanthropic, corporate, and political power, the question here to consider is: What is the alternative? It is understandable to be concerned about the enhanced influence of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest, but is that more concerning than the people who might die if its leaders didn’t make mega-donations, expand their company’s reach, or use their voice to speak to their followers? If the powerful exerting their power to save lives brings them more power, there’s an argument to be made in three words: So be it. But there is a tradeoff there that shouldn’t surprise us when this crisis is over and we see tech billionaires standing taller than ever in the rubble. “We’re in a situation where we’re both reliant on the government than we’ve ever been,” said Richards, “but we’re also more reliant on the private sector than we’ve ever been.” And at the end of this, our society may be more unequal, too.
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