ProPublica Wins June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism

The American Association for Cancer Research announced today that ProPublica has won the June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism in the Online/Multimedia category. The annual prize honors outstanding journalistic coverage that enhances the public’s understanding of cancer, cancer research or cancer policy. ProPublica was recognized for a project by reporter Caroline Chen and former Google News Lab fellow Riley Wong that concerned a stark underrepresentation of African Americans in clinical trials for cancer drugs, even when the type of cancer disproportionately affects them.

Chen and Wong found that, in trials for 24 of the 31 cancer drugs approved since 2015, fewer than 5 percent of the patients were black, though African Americans make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population. As a result, desperately ill black patients aren’t getting access to experimental drugs that could extend their life spans or improve their quality of life. One particularly striking example showed that even though black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, in four recent drug trials for that blood cancer, on average, only 5 percent of patients were black.

The team created its own data set for the story, manually entering FDA data on clinical trials used to approve drugs into a spreadsheet, and then matching it with incidence data from the National Cancer Institute. In order to understand the disparities they identified and the complex reasons for them, Chen and Wong spent months talking to various stakeholders: patients, physicians, drugmakers, researchers, patient advocacy groups, FDA officials and principal investigators overseeing clinical trials.

Finding individual patients whose stories could be told was particularly challenging. One reason for low African-American participation in clinical trials is that black patients often don’t belong to support groups or have doctors at academic hospitals. Instead, the reporters found them through cold calling, Facebook messaging and word of mouth. In the course of interviewing patients, they realized that many people don’t understand how trials work, prompting them to create and publish the Cancer Patient’s Guide to Clinical Trials. The guide has been shared through social media by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The nonprofit BIO Ventures for Global Health also wrote an op-ed in response to the investigation, noting that “clinical trials are perpetuating existing health care disparities across the globe.”

Learn more about the June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism here.

The Atlantic and Allstate Grant $200,000 to Local Nonprofits through 2019 Renewal Awards

At a summit in New York City today, The Atlantic and Allstate awarded five nonprofits from across the country with the fourth annual Renewal Awards, a national search to honor community-based organizations for their innovative, grassroots approach to driving change and bringing progress to the country.

The five groups were selected from 9,300 nominations and have collectively affected tens of thousands of lives by addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing America today: from housing and prenatal care for parenting and pregnant teens living in poverty; to preparing immigrants and refugees for life in a new country; to lifting up a city through the beautification and care of buildings. Several of the organizations are focused on empowering women and families, and four of the winning nonprofits are led by women.

The Atlantic and Allstate are proud to double the value of the grant and expand the leadership opportunities for the Renewal Award recipients this year. Each of the five winners announced today will receive $40,000 over two years to support their work. In addition, each of the five 2018 winners will receive a second grant today of $20,000, making their two-year total grant also come to $40,000.

“At a time of cynical tribalism and deep division in the life of the nation, this work is inspiring and humbling for all of us at The Atlantic,” said Bob Cohn, president of The Atlantic. “For the last four years, we have been on a hunt to find the most innovative community-based programs in America. With generous support from Allstate, we are helping these groups address the real problems that people face each day.”

“Across the country, this year’s Renewal Award winners are improving their communities by empowering women, supporting new immigrants, and providing innovative educational paths for young people,” explained Elizabeth Brady, Chief Marketing Officer at Allstate. “Allstate is proud to invest in these changemakers who are making a difference in the lives of others every day.”

The 2019 Renewal Award winners are:

  • Adelante Mujeres (Forest Grove, OR): Provides holistic education and empowerment opportunities to low-income Latina women and their families to ensure full participation and active leadership in the community.

  • The Compton Initiative (Paramount, CA): Offers groups and volunteers an opportunity to make an impact by instilling a sense of care and pride through painting homes, schools, and churches.

  • New Moms (Chicago, IL): Supports young mothers in finding housing, job training, hands-on experience, linking youth to permanent jobs, and offering guides towards financial independence.

  • Welcoming the Stranger (Philadelphia, PA): Offers free educational classes spanning ESL, computer, and citizenship preparation for adult immigrants and refugees to welcome them into the United States and celebrate their culture.

  • Allstate Youth Empowerment Award: Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (Oakland, CA): Engages and deepens students' understanding of nutrition, food production, and healthy living as well as their ties to the local community.

This year’s Renewal Awards drew three times the number of nominations as in 2018. Winners are selected through a combination of public voting and evaluations by a panel of judges; judging criteria included the current and future impact of each nominee’s program and the program’s ability to be replicated in other communities.

Judges were: former Mayors Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, and Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, Washington; Anne Marie Burgoyne, Emerson Collective; Charlie Dent, former representative from Pennsylvania; Cesar Espinosa, For Families and Their Education; Kate Nack, The Allstate Foundation; Ron Brownstein of The Atlantic; and two 2018 Renewal winners, Bob Curry of the Hazleton Integration Project in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Melissa Sawyer with the Youth Empowerment Project in New Orleans. Allstate, along with public votes, selected the Youth Empowerment Award winner.

Brownstein writes about this year’s winners, and the larger story they tell about a changing America, in a piece published now at “How to Build Community in an Era of Division.”

Started in 2015, The Renewal Awards spotlight grassroots solutions to challenges faced by communities around the country and the people making a positive difference. The awards are the flagship initiative of The Renewal Project, The Atlantic and Allstate’s broader partnership that covers innovation and celebrates change-makers in local communities. With this year’s award, 26 organizations have received $500,000 in grants from Allstate and The Atlantic to further their work. To learn more about the awards, and read about past winners, please visit

Gay men can now be stoned to death in Brunei for having sex

Despite widespread international criticism, Brunei on Wednesday introduced new Islamic laws that make adultery, abortion and gay sex punishable by death by stoning.

Human rights organizations and governments—including the U.S.—have labeled the decision “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

The new rules were instituted by the powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has held power for more than five decades in the tiny Southeast Asian country and is believed to be one of the world’s richest men. He defied the international condemnation, saying Brunei is a “fair” country that was “safe and harmonious” for visitors.

“I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger,” Bolkiah said in a televised address Wednesday.

Both Muslims and non-Muslims will be affected by the new laws, which introduced the death penalty for acts such as rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Muhammad.

While men engaging in gay sex face the death penalty, lesbian sex carries a different penalty of 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of 10 years in jail. Children who have reached puberty and are convicted of these offenses can receive the same punishments as adults, according to Human Rights Watch, while younger children could be subjected to whipping.

The laws are the second phase of the Sultan’s plan to introduce harsher Islamic laws to the country, which has a population of just 420,000. He initially introduced Sharia law in 2014, giving the country a dual legal system with both Sharia and Common Law. That change was met with international criticism, and the delay in implementing the second phase of the laws is seen as an attempt to wait for attention surrounding the legislation to die down.

“Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Sultan Hassanal should immediately suspend amputations, stoning, and all other rights-abusing provisions and punishments.”

Organizations such as the UN and EU, together with countries like Germany, France and the U.S., have all slammed the new laws.

Earlier this week, the UN called for the sultan to reconsider introducing the new laws, saying they would “enshrine in legislation cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law – including death by stoning.” And on Tuesday State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that Brunei’s decision “runs counter to its international human rights obligations, including with respect to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John, and Ellen Degeneres have joined a campaign to boycott nine luxury hotels owned by the sultan, including the Beverly Hills and Bel-Air hotels in Los Angeles.

Some experts have said that the chances of the death penalty being imposed for acts such as gay sex are small, given that a confession or witnesses are needed to get a conviction.

But for gay men in Brunei, the new laws are causing them to fear for their safety.

“You wake up and realize that your neighbors, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn't think you're human, or is okay with stoning,” a Bruneian gay man told the BBC.

Cover Image: Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah delivers a speech on July 5, 2017, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Lori Lightfoot Elected Chicago's First Black, Lesbian Mayor

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Woman Accuses Joe Biden of Inappropriate Behavior at Event Condemning Sexual Assault

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Donald Trump Mocks Democrats 'Petrified' by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Exclusive – Rep. Byrne: Bullying, Boycotts, and Censorship – The Left Is Trying to Silence Conservatives

When you know you can’t win on the facts and that your position on issues like abortion is totally inconsistent with the vast majority of the American people, this is what you do: silence, censor, intimidate, coerce, and attack. (More)

Prosecutors Dropping Child Porn Charges After Software Tools Are Questioned

Using specialized software, investigators traced explicit child pornography to Todd Hartman’s internet address. A dozen police officers raided his Los Angeles-area apartment, seized his computer and arrested him for files including a video of a man ejaculating on a 7-year-old girl. But after his lawyer contended that the software tool inappropriately accessed Hartman’s private files, and asked to examine how it worked, prosecutors dismissed the case.

Near Phoenix, police with a similar detection program tracked underage porn photos, including a 4-year-old with her legs spread, to Tom Tolworthy’s home computer. He was indicted in state court on 10 counts of committing a “dangerous crime against children,” each of which carried a decade in prison if convicted. Yet when investigators checked Tolworthy’s hard drive, the images weren’t there. Even though investigators said different offensive files surfaced on another computer that he owned, the case was tossed.

At a time when at least half a million laptops, tablets, phones and other devices are viewing or sharing child pornography on the internet every month, software that tracks images to specific internet connections has become a vital tool for prosecutors. Increasingly, though, it’s backfiring.

Drawing upon thousands of pages of court filings as well as interviews with lawyers and experts, ProPublica found more than a dozen cases since 2011 that were dismissed either because of challenges to the software’s findings, or the refusal by the government or the maker to share the computer programs with defense attorneys, or both. Tami Loehrs, a forensics expert who often testifies in child pornography cases, said she is aware of more than 60 cases in which the defense strategy has focused on the software.

Defense attorneys have long complained that the government’s secrecy claims may hamstring suspects seeking to prove that the software wrongly identified them. But the growing success of their counterattack is also raising concerns that, by questioning the software used by investigators, some who trade in child pornography can avoid punishment.

“When protecting the defendant’s right to a fair trial requires the government to disclose its confidential techniques, prosecutors face a choice: Give up the prosecution or give up the secret. Each option has a cost,” said Orin Kerr, an expert in computer crime law and former Justice Department lawyer. “If prosecutors give up the prosecution, it may very well mean that a guilty person goes free. If prosecutors give up the secret, it may hurt their ability to catch other criminals. Prosecutors have to choose which of those outcomes is less bad in each particular case.”

In several cases, like Tolworthy’s, court documents say that the software traced offensive images to an Internet Protocol address. But, for reasons that remain unclear, those images weren’t found on the defendant’s computer. In others, like Hartman’s, defense lawyers said the software discovered porn in areas of the computer it wasn’t supposed to enter, and they suggested the police conducted an overly broad search.

These problems are compounded by the insistence of both the government and the software manufacturers on protecting the secrecy of their computer code, so as not to imperil other prosecutions or make trade secrets public. Unwilling to take the risk that the sensitive programs could leak publicly, they have rejected revealing the software even under strict court secrecy.

Nevertheless, the software is facing renewed scrutiny: In another case where child pornography identified by the software wasn’t found on the suspect’s computer, a federal judge in February allowed a defense expert to examine it. And recently, the nonprofit Human Rights Watch asked the Justice Department to review, in part, whether one suite of software tools, the Child Protection System, had been independently tested.

“The sharing of child-sex-abuse images is a serious crime, and law enforcement should be investigating it. But the government needs to understand how the tools work, if they could violate the law and if they are accurate,” said Sarah St.Vincent, a Human Rights Watch researcher who examined the practice.

“These defendants are not very popular, but a dangerous precedent is a dangerous precedent that affects everyone. And if the government drops cases or some charges to avoid scrutiny of the software, that could prevent victims from getting justice consistently,” she said. “The government is effectively asserting sweeping surveillance powers but is then hiding from the courts what the software did and how it worked.”

The dismissals represent a small fraction of the hundreds of federal and state child pornography prosecutions since 2011. More often, defendants plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. (Of 17 closed cases brought since 2017 by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, all but two resulted in plea deals, ProPublica found.) Even after their charges were dropped, Tolworthy and Hartman are both facing new trials. Still, the dismissals are noteworthy because challenges to the software are spreading among the defense bar and gaining credence with judges.

Software developers and law enforcement officials say the detection software is an essential part of combating the proliferation of child pornography and exploitation on the internet.

“This is a horrendous crime, and as a society we’re obligated to protect victims this young,” said Brian Levine, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who helped develop one such tool, called Torrential Downpour. “There are a number of victims who are too young to speak, or can’t speak out of fear. This tool is available to law enforcement to rescue those children who are abused.”

In cases where previously flagged porn isn’t turning up on a suspect’s computer, investigators have suggested the files have merely been erased before arrest, or that they’re stored in encrypted areas of a hard drive that the police can’t access. Defense attorneys counter that some software logs don’t show the files were ever downloaded in the first place, or that they may have been downloaded by mistake and immediately purged.

Defense lawyers are given a bevy of reasons why porn-detection software can’t be handed over for review, even under a protective order that limits disclosure to attorneys and their experts. Law enforcement authorities often say that they’re prohibited from disclosing software by their contracts with the manufacturer, which considers it proprietary technology.

Prosecutors are also reluctant to disclose a coveted law enforcement tool just to convict one defendant. A Justice Department spokeswoman referred ProPublica to a government journal article, which argued peer-to-peer detection tools “are increasingly targeted by defendants through overbroad discovery requests.”

“While the Department of Justice supports full compliance with all discovery obligations imposed by law,” wrote lawyers for the Justice Department and the FBI, “those obligations generally do not require disclosure of sensitive information regarding law enforcement techniques which, if exposed, would threaten the viability of future investigations.”

One former Justice Department prosecutor said the government has shielded software in criminal cases for fear that disclosure could expose investigators’ capabilities or classified technology to criminals.

“They don’t want to reveal that in a case because it can be the last time they use it,” said the lawyer, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic. “It sounds like they may, in some circumstances, be using programs that are never intended to see the light of day in the criminal justice system.”

The government’s reluctance to share technology with defense attorneys isn’t limited to child pornography cases. Prosecutors have let defendants monitored with cellphone trackers known as Stingrays go free rather than fully reveal the technology. The secrecy surrounding cell tracking was once so pervasive in Baltimore that Maryland’s highest court rebuked the practice as “detrimental.” As was first reported by Reuters in 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration relied in investigations on information gathered through domestic wiretaps, a phone-records database and National Security Agency intercepts, while training agents to hide those sources from the public record.

“Courts and police are increasingly using software to make decisions in the criminal justice system about bail, sentencing, and probability-matching for DNA and other forensic tests,” said Jennifer Granick, a surveillance and cybersecurity lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project who has studied the issue.

“If the defense isn’t able to examine these techniques, then we have to just take the government’s word for it — on these complicated, sensitive and non-black-and-white decisions. And that’s just too dangerous.”

The software programs used by investigators scan for child porn on peer-to-peer networks, a decentralized connection of computers on the internet where users share files directly with one another. Those networks behave similarly to software like Napster, the popular file-sharing program used to download music in the early days of the commercial internet.

Although Napster may have faded, the trading of child pornography on peer-to-peer networks hasn’t. To keep up, police rely on modified versions of popular peer-to-peer programs to flag IP addresses of suspected child pornography, enabling investigators to subpoena the internet provider and unearth the internet subscriber. They then obtain a search warrant for computers at the physical location they say is involved in sharing porn.

One common suite of software tools, the Child Protection System, is maintained by the Florida-based Child Rescue Coalition. Although the coalition says it’s a nonprofit, it has ties to for-profit data brokers and the data company TLO. (TransUnion, the major credit-reporting agency, has acquired TLO.) CRC has hosted some of its computer servers at TransUnion since 2016, according to a review of internet records collected by the firm Farsight Security.

A redacted user manual filed in a federal case, portions of which were un-redacted by Human Rights Watch and confirmed by ProPublica, indicates that the Child Protection System draws on unverified data gathered by these firms. It says TLO “has allowed law enforcement access to data collected on internet users from a variety of sources,” with enhanced information that includes “marketing data that has been linked to IP addresses and email accounts from corporate sources.”

“No logs are kept of any law enforcement query of corporate data,” the manual continued. It cautioned that subscriber data was unconfirmed, and that it should “be confirmed through other investigative means that are acceptable with your agency and prosecuting attorney.”

Software that relies on unconfirmed information from big data brokers, civil liberties advocates say, may not only point police to the wrong internet address owner, but it also enables them to gather a mountain of personal details about a suspect without a court order, sidestepping constitutional protections.

The software’s makers have resisted disclosure of its coding. In May 2013, TLO asked a federal court in El Paso, Texas, to quash a subpoena to reveal the software known as the Child Protection System in a child-porn case. The materials sought, they said, “are protected under the law enforcement privilege and trade secrets laws.” After the judge ordered the software produced, prosecutors instead agreed to a plea deal that favored the defendant; he was sentenced to three years he had already served for “transportation of obscene material.”

CRC says on its website that its software is used in every state and more than 90 countries, and has tracked more than 54 million offenders. CRC President William Wiltse, a former Oregon police officer, has testified for the prosecution in cases in which investigators relied on the Child Protection System.

CRC did not respond to phone and email inquiries from ProPublica this month about its software. It told Human Rights Watch this year, “As a policy, we do not publicly share details of how we identify sex offenders online, as we do not want predators to learn better ways to hide their illegal activity.” A spokesman for TransUnion, which now owns TLO, said the company “supports Child Rescue Coalition in its work with law enforcement to protect children from sexual exploitation online.”

Another widely used detection tool, Torrential Downpour, was developed by the University of Massachusetts a decade ago with U.S. government funding, court records show. Levine told ProPublica in an interview that the program is accurate enough to find probable cause for a search warrant, but that it can only be effective if police and the courts do their jobs.

“The software is one part of an entire process,” Levine said, “followed by investigators and courts to produce reliable evidence and to follow a fair judicial process.”

Investigators using Torrential Downpour said they turned up damning evidence to ensnare Tolworthy, a software engineer from Mesa, Arizona. They accused him of possessing illicit files that included “Pedo Baby 03 - 2 yo Photos 56.jpg.” His IP address was “involved in making those types of files available,” Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Randall Snyder testified in May 2015, according to testimony obtained by ProPublica. “I selected five of them off of the laptop for investigative and charging purposes.” Tolworthy pleaded not guilty.

Asked if the files were “on his computer, or were they just observed being downloaded,” Snyder replied that references to the images were part of a torrent file — a kind of digital index that asks to download specific images or movies. But, he said, “We have not conducted a thorough enough investigation of the computers through our forensics yet to find those particular files.”

In other words, the state couldn’t say if half the files Tolworthy, 44, was arrested for possessing — and that were identified by the software — were indeed on his computer. After prosecutors assured grand jurors that the investigation was continuing, they indicted him anyway.

Yet by late 2016, Tolworthy’s defense expert began raising doubts about whether the files existed. “I was unable to locate the torrent, the info hash or the files of child pornography identified during the undercover investigation,” Loehrs said in an affidavit after conducting her own search of Tolworthy’s hard drive.

“In addition, the torrent, the info hash and the files of child pornography were not found by the State’s forensic examiner, either,” she wrote.

That “info hash,” as it’s called, is a fingerprint that identifies computer files, which investigators match against a database of known child porn. That’s how police detect illegal files that might have been renamed with mundane-sounding headings (such as “sunset.jpg”) to avoid detection. The hash is also important to the defense, Loehrs said, because a computer might mistakenly broadcast the hash of a downloaded file when, in fact, it’s the hash of a movie or video a user merely requested — sometimes by accident.

Arizona Superior Court Judge Mark Brain found the defense arguments persuasive. He said it appeared that Tolworthy had “a substantial need for the software” and ruled in February 2017 that Tolworthy’s lawyers could ask for it.

The defense pressed for the software program, but the University of Massachusetts balked. Its lawyer said in a court document that handing over the software would “destroy its value to the university and its faculty researcher,” citing a $440,000 annual FBI grant. “Releasing it to public view would frustrate public policy and impede law enforcement’s ability to deter peer-to-peer sharing of child pornography,” the lawyer added.

If the images identified by Torrential Downpour are missing from a suspect’s hard drive, as in Tolworthy’s case, that’s not the software’s fault, Levine told ProPublica. Suspects could delete contraband after downloading it, or they might encrypt their computers to prevent illicit materials from being found.

Prosecutors first indicated they’d drop only the charges associated with the search and leave those arising from images found on another computer during a search of Tolworthy’s house. In April 2018, though, they dismissed all charges, saying it was “in the interests of justice.” They have since re-filed charges against Tolworthy relating in part to the material on the old computer; that case is pending in state court.

Tolworthy, through his lawyer, declined to comment. Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Amanda Steele said there was no policy to dismiss charges rather than disclose secretive software tools. “Prosecutors regularly review cases to ensure appropriate charges are filed and just results are achieved,” she said.

The Tolworthy saga is strikingly similar to another Arizona case, which is in federal court. In late 2016 and early 2017, Torrential Downpour identified child pornography at the IP address of Anthony Gonzales, who lived with his family in Surprise, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix. As in the Tolworthy case, the files previously tagged by investigators online weren’t found on Gonzales’ computer, but police say other contraband turned up on a tablet after his house was searched. Gonzales pleaded not guilty.

In February, the judge ordered the software turned over to the defense. Loehrs, the expert for Gonzales as well as Tolworthy, “opined that all software programs have flaws, and Torrential Downpour is no exception,” U.S. District Judge David Campbell wrote.

“Defendant Gonzales has done more than simply request access to the software and argue that it is material to his defense,” the judge wrote. “He has presented evidence that calls into question the government’s version of events.”

Both sides in the pending case are in discussions about how to test the software, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“It matters to find out whether the government is abiding by the law and the Constitution,” said Barbara Hull, a Phoenix lawyer representing Gonzales. “People need to know what the government is doing on the internet, and whether their privacy and their rights are being violated.”

Even when the child porn identified by the software does show up on the suspect’s computer, some of the cases have unraveled, largely due to the government’s penchant for secrecy.

After the Child Protection System led police to illicit files on Hartman’s hard drive, such as the video “Cumming over loli_s pussy 2010 7yo and Dad Brilliant.wmv,” the former church youth counselor faced up to 50 years in prison if convicted. Hartman pleaded not guilty and his public defender, Andrea Jacobs, asked to inspect the software.

Prosecutors said its disclosure would allow child pornographers to evade detection. They also noted that the Child Protection System is available to law enforcement under a strict agreement that maintains its secrecy: “No persons shall publicly demonstrate this system or the software provided without the expressed permission of the software owner.”

To counter the evidence of child pornography turned up by Child Protection System, Hartman’s lawyer contended that an examination of the software was critical to his defense. The detection program, Jacobs said, likely searched files in private areas on his computer that weren’t ever meant to be found on peer-to-peer networks. Hartman, his expert said, had not shared the hundreds of images in four of the six files allegedly identified by Child Protection System and downloaded by a Newport Beach, California, police officer during the investigation. And the last time that the two remaining files were shared had been three months before the investigation started, so the software should not have caught them, she said.

Only the software itself could show whether it went too far, and the prosecution and the manufacturer refused to reveal the program. As a result, “Despite ample opportunity to do so, the government has not refuted this testimony,” U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton wrote in November 2015. She sided with Hartman’s lawyer and ordered disclosure of the software.

Prosecutors stalled. “The government has made substantial progress, but is requesting additional time because items pivotal to the requested testing are in the possession of a non-governmental entity” that also owns the intellectual property, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Gannon said on Jan. 8, 2016.

She promised an answer by Jan. 19, 2016. The next day, she dismissed the case in a one-sentence filing.

Jacobs, who is no longer representing Hartman, told ProPublica she couldn’t discuss the case. Hartman’s mother did not respond to an interview request, and family staying at his house in Yorba Linda, California, did not answer a knock at the door and a written message left by a ProPublica reporter in mid-March.

As with Tolworthy, the dismissal didn’t end Hartman’s legal troubles. He was later charged in California state court under child-porn and child-sex laws. That case is pending.

Both Tolworthy and Hartman are in jail awaiting trial.

The Atlantic Daily: A Logjam

What We’re Following

The U.K. has about a week to go before it’s supposed to depart the EU, and yet the terms of Brexit are, well … who knows. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May took the unconventional step of indicating that she’ll negotiate an exit plan with her Labour Party archrival, Jeremy Corbyn. As Brexit devolves into a Shakespearean tragicomedy that has Brits fearing what comes next, some businesses are looking forward to the withdrawal. Though a divorce from the EU would of course create a host of economic losers, some business owners who find EU regulations especially onerous—such as the owner of Britain’s oldest salmon curer—are betting that they could emerge from the post-Brexit rubble as winners. But the economic reality of Brexit isn’t as cut-and-dried as it seems.

Millennials are ruining … drinking? For many fledgling American adults, slamming back shots at a bar or nursing a beer after work were once go-to social activities. But some Millennials are starting to get turn away from drinking—even if they’re not totally giving up booze. They’re still drinking some, but now less than before, as “self-care” comes into fashion, financial stability eludes many, and marrying and having children get delayed. But Millennials aren’t giving up all substances cold turkey: Marijuana consumption is on the rise as it’s become legal for recreational use in parts of the country.

+ Millennials have been held responsible for a lot of things: the death of department stories, the sidelining of the McDonald’s McWrap, the decline of divorce. Derek Thompson sees it differently.

Saahil Desai


'The Matrix' turns 20

(Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

The Matrix is 20 years old this year, and we might never get a movie like it again, David Sims writes:

The film came out exactly 20 years ago, before 1999’s summer action-movie season had even begun; The Matrix’s big competitors at the theater were comedies such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Analyze This. As an R-rated sci-fi epic about hackers who know kung fu and do battle with machines in a postapocalyptic wasteland, The Matrix was difficult to describe. Yet it somehow became a word-of-mouth hit, the rare blockbuster that opens at No. 1 at the box office, falls to No. 2, and then climbs back to the top position (which it did in its fourth week). It’s the kind of dazzling, original film that inspires a generation of fans and imitators—and the kind of movie Hollywood wouldn’t make in today’s franchise-heavy media landscape.

→ Read the rest

Evening Read

Joe Biden’s ‘Affectionate’ Behavior Was an Open Secret

(Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

Joe Biden, the longtime U.S. senator and vice president to Barack Obama, has come under recent scrutiny for a behavior already acknowledged and well known in many circles. Megan Garber writes:

Many Democrats have a vested interest in seeing Biden in epic terms, as a savior and fighter and Trump-slayer; his non-apology apology—one that echoes uncomfortably the similar one he offered-not-offered to Anita Hill—allows for the mythology to live on. Biden the champion; Biden the harmless flirt; Biden, who suffered so much and means so well; Biden, who is somehow powerless against the forceful enthusiasms of his own affections. The framings allow the believers to look at all the evidence—the videos and the photos and the ear-whispers and the too-close conversations and the young girl who strains mightily to avoid the vice president’s incoming forehead kiss—and, in spite of it all, toss up their hands: Who’s to know what’s in his heart?

The affection defense is extremely familiar in its contours and related to many other common tropes ...

→ Read the rest

Urban Developments

How American Recycling Is Changing After China’s National Sword

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Our partner site CityLab explores the cities of the future and investigates the biggest ideas and issues facing urban dwellers around the world. Claire Tran shares today’s top stories:

About 40 percent of U.S. recyclables used to go to China, but early last year, the country tightened its standards. Now, local agencies are struggling to keep up with the waste they can’t ship away.

Tiny homes, co-housing, and shipping containers—in the midst of California’s housing crisis, San Jose is investing in a smorgasbord of potential solutions.

Amsterdam plans to eliminate more than 11,000 urban parking spaces by 2025, replacing them with trees, bike parking, and wider sidewalks. Here’s how the city is pulling it off, without actually stripping drivers of their right to park.

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Subscribe to the CityLab Daily newsletter.

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The West Takes NATO for Granted. One Country Still Wants In.

TBILISI—Transnational security cooperation, as an idea, has seen better days.

Real and rhetorical commitments to NATO are flagging: President Donald Trump has called the alliance “obsolete”; Germany sees itself soon spending barely half of NATO’s mandated but unenforced target for defense spending; and Britain’s defense budget fell by nearly one-fifth from 2010 to 2015.

The trend is largely understandable. Seventy years after NATO’s founding, and nearly three decades after the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, maintaining the alliance is a lesser priority, if not a burden. Even with a resurgent Russia, the threat of tank divisions rolling across Europe seems mostly ludicrous.

Yet farther to the east, this scenario is not a fantasy—it is recent history. Indeed, for this small country, not even a member state, NATO is nearly sacrosanct.

[Read: The president of the United States asks, ‘What’s an ally?’]

Situated on Russia’s doorstep, the Caucasus republic of Georgia has long been an enthusiastic proponent of NATO membership. Since the Rose Revolution in 2003, when peaceful demonstrations forced the ouster of a Moscow-backed leader and propelled the pro-Western politician Mikheil Saakashvili to power, the country has prioritized integration into the transatlantic security alliance. Georgia remains the top non-NATO contributor of troops to the coalition mission in Afghanistan, with 885 soldiers in the country, and previously stationed the third-largest contingent of soldiers in Iraq during that country’s occupation, after the United States and Britain. Despite such efforts, the prospects of Georgia joining the alliance remain dim.

Remarkably, however, this has not been reflected in the public mood here. A poll released in January by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an American think tank, showed that 78 percent of Georgians favored their country joining NATO, a figure that was topped only by the 81 percent who approved when asked the same question in the NDI’s November 2013 poll.

This level of support might appear strange. With the Trump administration regularly admonishing its allies and questioning the United States’ international commitments, the past two years would seem an unlikely moment for enthusiasm toward NATO to grow, particularly among countries outside the organization. Here in Georgia, however, that is precisely what is happening.

Georgians have long been well disposed toward NATO, and in six and a half years of polling on the issue, the NDI has never found that less than three-fifths of the population want their country to enter the alliance.

The most notable demographic that has historically been lukewarm is the country’s minorities, primarily ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis, who together make up about a tenth of Georgians. In June 2017, only 29 percent of those in ethnic-minority settlements supported NATO membership, while an equal amount opposed it. Strong familial and cultural links among those communities to Russia contributed to this, and a partial estrangement from Tbilisi also played a role. A mere 20 percent of Georgian Armenians and Azerbaijanis said they have a strong or intermediate command of the Georgian language, according to the NDI’s most recent figures.

In the latest NDI poll, though, support for NATO among minorities surged to 48 percent. There is no immediately apparent reason why this occurred. Talking with representatives of those communities, however, the picture becomes clearer. After the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, Tbilisi began providing more information to minority groups about Europe, about NATO, and “about the alternative,” Mariam Araqelova, the chairwoman of the Union of Georgian Armenians, an advocacy organization that provides community services, told me. For example, in Samtskhe-Javakheti, a region in southwest Georgia where most of the country’s ethnic Armenians live, a government-funded NATO information center was opened.

Shalala Amirjanova, a Georgian Azerbaijani civic activist from the Azerbaijani-majority town of Marneuli, about 25 miles south of Georgia’s capital, notes that locals “still have many misconceptions about the alliance.” But in this regard, too, a gradual change is under way, with local NGOs engaging the population on the issue. More training exercises have also increased visibility: In August, NATO held the fourth iteration of its Noble Partner multinational exercises in Georgia, which included more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers and 500 more from countries including Britain, France, and Germany, alongside 1,300 Georgian servicemen.

[Read: Who caused the Russian-Georgian war?]

The largest boon to NATO’s image among Georgians, and Georgia’s minorities in particular, however, seems to have come indirectly. In March 2017, the European Union began allowing Georgians to travel to EU countries visa-free. The knock-on effects in terms of their views toward Europe, as well as NATO, have been significant.

“We never had a chance to visit Europe before. The message from them was always: You are good people, but you can’t come here,” Araqelova said. Amirjanova agrees, saying the country’s Azerbaijani community had felt similarly.

Russia’s creeping land grabs in South Ossetia, a breakaway territory that hosts numerous Russian military bases, have also not gone unnoticed, notably by Georgia’s Armenian community. Moscow has been accused of conducting a policy known as borderization, moving its fences forward several hundred meters at a time past the ill-defined border of South Ossetia to de facto annex more Georgian territory. “The situation with South Ossetia in particular has created many skeptical views about Russia’s intentions,” Araqelova said. “People see that the border is moving closer and closer, and they start to think that Russia does not have their own country’s best interests in mind.”

Their northern neighbor’s worsening economic situation has shifted views, too. “People live in Russia to work,” Araqelova said. “Those who have gone more recently have found that it’s more difficult to make a living than they thought. ”

Nationwide, the reasons for the appeal of major international security guarantees to a country that fought the 21st century’s first full-scale state-on-state war are evident. Wider Georgian society today is almost bereft of pro-Russian views, with the few politicians who do represent this viewpoint confined to the margins.

“In Georgia today, there are very people who oppose NATO,” says Iago Kachkachishvili, the director of the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis, a Tbilisi-based think tank. “We simply don’t have another choice.”

[Read: What Putin really wants]

The two main anti-NATO political forces, the loudly pro-Russian former president Nino Burjanadze and the right-wing nationalist Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, both claim support in the single digits. The Alliance of Patriots does not even dare state its anti-NATO views, preferring more tacit messaging, such as emphasizing an “independent path,” fearing a loss of support otherwise. Thus, an almost complete consensus exists among political parties in the country. “Support for NATO is a kind of benchmark for being accepted by the population,” Kachkachishvili asserts.

This largely unified worldview likely explains why Georgians have remained so willing to contribute troops to U.S.-led military campaigns abroad, despite a steady stream of casualties. (In a single incident in Afghanistan in June 2013, seven Georgian soldiers were killed when a Taliban truck bomb struck their compound.)

The path to NATO membership is long. The organization has been unwilling to advance on Georgia’s prospects so long as a fifth of its territory remains outside of government control, with Russian troops present in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is no sign that Georgia is close to being offered a Membership Action Plan, the first concrete initiation of eventual accession.

But there is likewise no indication that anyone in Georgia is prepared to abandon the dream. “It is a requirement for us,” Kachkachishvili says. “We will always have a monstrous neighbor, thinking of Georgia’s destruction. Without strong partners, we cannot be winners.”

Araqvelova is equally certain. “The change has been gradual,” she said, “but it is unstoppable.”

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