Posts tagged with "Washington Post"

Ready, aim … This Taser tells police as soon as it’s fired

November 26, 2018

When a victim is blindsided by an attack or a melee, the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in—and dialing 911 may not be top-of-mind. That’s exactly what customers told Arizona-based Axon when the company—which makes Tasers for self-defense and law enforcement—asked for feedback about its products.

Its solution: A new Taser that automatically alerts authorities as soon as the weapon is fired, the Washington Post reported on November 21.

“When you’re under stress and your focus narrows to getting away from someone, then small details like picking up the phone and calling 911 can escape you,” said Annie Pratt, Axon’s director of consumer products, in a recent interview. “We wanted to create a device that doesn’t require people to be in the physical mental state to remember that last step.”

To make that possible, Axon has partnered with St. Louis-based Noonlight, a company that has created an app that automatically connects users with emergency services when the Taser is activated.

When the trigger on the Taser Pulse+—a new pairing of the weapon and the app—is pulled, a beacon on the device communicates with the app, which alerts authorities that a likely emergency is unfolding. Using information from the app, including GPS, responding authorities have access to the user’s identification and location, even when someone is fleeing the scene of the incident.

“Everything happens in real-time,” Nick Droege, the co-founder of Noonlight, told the Post. “[As] we dispatch emergency services, … the user is getting a text message and a phone call from us so they can explain what’s happened, and 911 dispatchers are also seeing this information.”

“We might also have their health information, which includes information about allergies and medication use, and their picture from their profile information,” he added.

If a Taser owner presses the device’s trigger while the safety is on, Pratt told the news outlet, police aren’t alerted. If customers don’t need assistance from authorities after firing the weapon — or if someone has pulled the trigger by mistake—a user can cancel an active alarm by sharing a four-digit code after he or she receives a text from the company’s dispatchers asking them whether they need help.

The Taser Pulse+ has a 15-foot range and is designed to incapacitate someone for 30 seconds, Pratt said. The device, which includes access to Noonlight, costs about $470, according to Axon.

The company declined to reveal how many individuals have purchased its Tasers and what percentage of its customer base are individual owners vs. law enforcement agencies.

Droege said his long-term goal is to create technology that completely removes the burden of contacting authorities when someone finds themselves in an emergency situation. To get there, he said, Noonlight will partner with companies that create wearable devices and medical technology that can sense when someone is in physical distress.

Research contact: peter.holley@washpost.com

Federal judge blocks President Trump’s ‘caravan’ asylum ban

November 21, 2018

President Donald Trump deployed more than 5,200 military troops to the southern border before the midterm elections in an attempt to stop a “caravan” of Latin Americans from seeking asylum in the United States. Now, a federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of that policy, saying that the president violated a “clear command” from Congress to allow them to apply, according to a November 20 report by the Washington Post.

In a November 19 ruling against plaintiff(s) Donald J. Trump, et. al., in a case brought by the Berkeley, California-based East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, et. al., Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a temporary nationwide restraining order barring enforcement of the policy.

Whatever the scope of the president’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” the judge wrote in his opinion, noting, “Also, plaintiffs and the immigrants they represent will suffer irreparable injury if the rules going into effect pending resolution of this case. Asylum seekers will be put at increased risk of violence and other harms at the border, and many will be deprived of meritorious asylum claims.”

According to the Post’s report, President Trump and his allies spread fear about the caravan which, “as he asserted without evidence in one pre-election tweet,” included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.”

As a result of Judge Tigar’s restraining order, migrants may once again seek asylum either at legal entry points or after crossing illegally onto U.S. soil.

The judge’s order will remain in effect until December 19, at which point the court will consider arguments for a permanent order. The administration offered no immediate comment, the news outlet said,;but has routinely appealed adverse decisions.

More than half of Americans (54%) see the immigrant caravan as some kind of threat, according to a poll this week by USA Today but a majority (70%) say the same immigrants should be able to qualify for asylum in the USA.

Research contact: @isaacstanbecker

Florida recount: Judge defeats efforts to ‘throw shade’ at 4,000 Sunshine State voters

November 16, 2018

Efforts in The Sunshine State to “throw some shade” on voters who sent their ballots through the mail—many of them, members of the military—or who cast their ballots provisionally, or with questionable signatures, were defeated by Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court of Tallahassee on November 15, the Washington Post reported.

Deprive The decision to provide two more days to count at least 4,000 more ballots came hours ahead of the Thursday afternoon deadline for elections officials to complete a machine recount—against which President Donald Trump and Florida’s Republican candidates already had been chafing.

Indeed, Trump tweeted early on November 12 that the races should be called immediately: “The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott [running against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate] and Ron DeSantis [running against Tallahassee Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum for Florida governor] in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible—ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

It was not clear how the judge’s decision would affect the timing of the recount, which was expected to move to a manual canvass today in the too-close-to-call Senate race, in which Scott leads Nelson by fewer than 13,000 votes (0.15 percentage points).

Unofficial results in the gubernatorial race showed Republican former Congressman Ron DeSantis leading Andrew Gillum by nearly 34,000 votes—or roughly 0.4 percentage points.

According to the Post, while the ruling gave Nelson an opportunity to close the numbers gap, it fell short of the more sweeping decision his lawyers sought. In a blow to the campaign, Judge Walker declined Nelson’s request to count all ballots with mismatched signatures, sight unseen.

But, in his ruling, Judge Walker was very clear about the “irreparable injury” that had been inflicted on the constitutional rights of citizens “to cast their ballots and have them counted.”

He noted, “the precise issue in this case is whether Florida’s law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures–with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection—passes constitutional muster. The answer is simple. It does not.”

Specifically, the Post reported, Judge Walker noted that while the deadline to submit a mail-in ballot was 7 p.m. Election Day, the deadline to “cure” a mismatched signature was 5 p.m. Monday, the day before — meaning those voters not notified, or notified too late, had no recourse.

In his ruling, Walker said the plaintiffs, the Florida Democratic Party and the Nelson campaign, had established “irreparable injury” to the constitutional right of citizens “to cast their ballots and have them counted.” Specifically, Walker noted that while the deadline to submit a mail-in ballot was 7 p.m. Election Day, the deadline to “cure” a mismatched signature was 5 p.m. Monday, the day before — meaning those voters not notified, or notified too late, had no recourse.

State law requires canvassing boards to notify voters “immediately” if they determine that a mail-in ballot contains a signature inconsistent with the one on file.

“Here, potentially thousands of voters have been deprived of the right to cast a legal vote — and have that vote counted — by an untrained canvassing board member based on an arbitrary determination that their respective signatures did not match,” wrote the judge “Such a violation of the right to vote cannot be undone.”

He concluded, “This Court … is NOT ordering county canvassing boards to count every mismatched vote, sight unseen. Rather, the county supervisors are directed to allow those voters who should have had an opportunity to cure their ballots in the first place to cure their votes-by-mail and provisional ballots now,” he wrote.

Marc Elias, Nelson’s lead recount attorney, praised the ruling. “We look forward to ensuring that those voters who cast lawful ballots have them counted,” he said in an email to the DC-based news outlet.

Scott’s campaign said it was appealing the decision. “We are confident we will prevail,” said campaign spokesperson Lauren Schenone in a statement.

As recounts continue, the Post pointed out that the stakes are high: The Florida Senate race will determine the size of the GOP’s majority in 2019 and shape the power structure in the nation’s largest swing state. Together, the two sides have racked up at least 10 lawsuits trying to gain a legal advantage in the recount.

Research contact: @WaPoSean

Trump rails against recounts in Florida

November 13, 2018

Even as word came in early on November 12 that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema had taken 49.6% of the Arizona vote in the race for U.S. Senate against the GOP’s Martha McSally (48.1%), President Donald Trump railed against the continuing recounts in Florida—the results of which could change the balance of power in Washington, D.C.

The president alleged, without any solid evidence, that many ballots in the Senate and gubernatorial races were “missing and forged” and that a valid tally  would not be possible, according to a same-day report by the Washington Post.

“An honest vote count is no longer possible—ballots massively infected,” the president tweeted at 7:44 a.m. (ET).

Instead of a recount, Trump suggested that the results from the night of the November 6 midterm election should stand, handing victories to fellow Republicans Rick Scott, the governor, in the Senate race and Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, in the gubernatorial contest.

Must go with Election Night!” the POTUS said.

However, the recounts continue. Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties began retabulating the vote on November 10, while Broward started on November 11. The recounts are happening in accordance with Florida law because of the tight margins in the votes, the Post said.

Notwithstanding those recounts, Trump is not alone . On November 11, Scott went on national television to accuse Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, whom  still is hoping to unseat, of trying to “commit fraud to try to win this election,”  the Post reported, noting, “His campaign said it had filed lawsuits against Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, the election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two Democratic strongholds. Democrats called it desperation by a candidate sitting on a precarious vote lead.”

Scott made his comments in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” after his lead shrank to fewer than 13,000 votes in a race with national stakes. In a separate Fox News television appearance Monday, Scott called Nelson a “sore loser” and alleged that “he’s just here to steal this election.”

Nelson fired back on Twitter on Monday, the Post reported, writing that there is “zero evidence backing up claims by Republican extremists that Democrats are trying to steal the election.”

In the Senate contest, Scott’s lead over Nelson has narrowed to 12,562 votes out of more than 8 million ballots cast, the news outlet said—or a margin of 0.15%, according to an unofficial tally Saturday from the state. State law mandates a machine recount if the margin is half a percentage point or less.

The governor’s race also has tightened, with DeSantis ahead by a mere 0.41%. If that margin holds, it would fall short of the 0.25% threshold for a more involved manual recount.

The election results are slated to be certified on November 20. Newly elected senators are expected to report to Washington, D.C., this week for orientation. Scott said he has not decided his schedule yet. The Senate will swear in new members in January.

Research contact: sean.sullivan@washpost.com

In effort to intimidate voters, Trump and Sessions warn of fraud at polls

November 7, 2018

On the day before the midterm elections, November 5, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued strong warnings about the threat of voter fraud —echoing what the Washington Post characterized as “the president’s baseless claims that massive voter fraud marred his 2016 election and prompting accusations that his administration is trying to intimidate voters.

In a tweet early Monday, Trump said that law enforcement has been “strongly notified” to watch for “ILLEGAL VOTING.” He promised that anyone caught voting improperly would be subjected to “Maximum Criminal Penalties.”

Sessions, in a statement laying out the Justice Department’s plans to monitor ballot access on Election Day, said “fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.

In remarks to reporters on his way to a campaign rally in Cleveland, Trump also falsely claimed that voter fraud is commonplace, the Washington Post said.

“Just take a look,” he said. “All you have to do is go around, take a look at what’s happened over the years, and you’ll see. There are a lot of people—a lot of people—my opinion, and based on proof—that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally. So we just want to let them know that there will be prosecutions at the highest level.”

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, the Post reported, noting that the president had formed a commission to study the issue shortly after he took office that was disbanded without finding evidence of fraud after states refused to turn over voter data.

Voting rights advocates denounced Trump’s remarks as a blatant attempt to intimidate voters on the eve of Election Day—and part of a pattern among Republicans, they said, to curtail voting access with strict rules that disproportionately affect voters of color who tend to vote Democratic.

“I find this kind of conduct incredibly anti-patriotic,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a voting rights group that has successfully challenged several new voting restrictions across the country this year, told the Post. “At a time when we need our White House and Justice Department speaking out against the relentless campaign of voter suppression in this election cycle, it defies reason.”

Research contact: amy.gardner@washpost.com

Behind closed doors: Closing bedroom doors saves lives

October 18, 2018

You probably brush your teeth, wash up, and put on something comfortable before getting into bed—but there is another essential task that you should tack on to that nightly routine. Closing the bedroom door could save your life, in the event of a house fire, Good Houskeeping magazine warned on October 10.

Nearly 60% of people sleep with the bedroom door open, according to a recent survey conducted by the safety certification organization Underwriters Laboratories (UL). However, it turns out that leaving the door ajar is not so smart: A closed door can slow the spread of flames, reduce toxic smoke, improve oxygen levels, and decrease temperatures when a blaze breaks out…

UL says that 30 years ago, you had up to 17 minutes to escape from a house fire, but today’s homes burn more quickly. Why? Open floor plans provide oxygen and don’t provide barriers. And synthetic building materials and furnishings burn at a much faster rate than the natural products used decades ago.

In fact, today, UL says, the average time to escape a home fire has dwindled to just three minutes or less . And during a fire, a closed door can mean the difference between 1,000 degrees and 100 degrees.

“You want to have an escape plan and practice it regularly because there is a limited time window to act,” said Stephen Kerber, director of UL’s Firefighter Safety Research Institute, told The Washington Post last year. “We can’t emphasize enough: If you can get out, get out.”

The Institute is promoting an effort, called CloseYourDoor.org, to spread the word about fire safety. Kerber hopes that ‘the campaign finds the same cultural ubiquity for fire safety awareness as “Stop, Drop & Roll” has for years.

 “What we need is a modern message,” says Kerber. “If ‘Stop, Drop & Roll’ is for when your clothes are on fire, ‘Close Your Door’ is for when your house is on fire and you cannot get out. It’s the modern version of what needs to be done.”

Research contact: @carolinepicard_

‘Swipe right to sue’: Now you can file lawsuits using a smartphone app

October 18, 2018

A new legal-services app enables users to sue just about anyone with their smartphones and to claim awards from class-action lawsuits, much in the same way they would select a match on Tinder —with a quick “swipe right to sue,” the Washington Post reported on October 16.

The app, dubbed DoNotPay, launched this week and already has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, according to creator and founder Joshua Browder—a 21-year-old senior at Stanford University who has been labeled the “Robin Hood of the Internet” by the BBC.

As an 18-year-old, Browder first created a chatbot— a computer program that conducts a conversation via auditory or textual method—that helped drivers to challenge parking tickets in New York, London, and Seattle.

Following that successful trial, he developed another bot to help people sue consumer credit reporting agency Equifax last year, after a data breach left 143 million American consumers vulnerable to identity theft.

He told the Post this week that he came up with the idea for his latest project—available and working in all 50 states —after a number of people used DoNotPay to recoup as much as $11,000 from Equifax, even after the credit reporting agency appealed the suit.

The updates to the “robot lawyer app’ introduced this week allow users to sue a defendant for up to $25,000, the Post reports.

“I think people are really upset with how the legal system works,” Browder said in an interview with the news outlet “Lawyers say this app isn’t necessary, but if your issue is below $10,000, no lawyer is going to help, and if they do they’re going to take 50 percent of what you make.”

“The most popular claims so far involve a merchant breaching a contract, such as United Airlines kicking someone off a flight,” Browder noted. “There [are] a large number of negligence suits, which is very interesting.”

How exactly does the app work?

Once opened, the app tells users they can sue anyone by pressing a button. The app then asks several questions about the nature of the filing, as well as users’ name and location, before asking the user to fill in the amount for which they plan to sue.

After directing the claim into one of 15 separate legal lanes —from automobile accident to recovering personal property—DoNotPay provides the documents necessary to file the suit—among them, a demand letter, county filing documents, and even a strategic script to read in court. Users print out the documents and mail them to the relevant courthouse, setting the lawsuit in motion.

The app can also analyze a user’s receipts and email, and display all the class-action lawsuit settlements they’re eligible for, Browder told the Post.

“In true millennial fashion, the user can then swipe right on lawsuits that interest them (or left if not) and DoNotPay will instantly claim the funds,” he added.

The app is free, and users are allowed to keep any money they recoup. However, if the app offers more specialized services in the future, Browder said, it is possible that they will come with a price tag.

Research contact: Browder@stanford.edu

Democrats hold narrow edge in battleground states

October 9, 2018

Following a standoff on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that only widened the fissure between America’s two major political parties, likely voters who live in 69 battleground House districts nationwide narrowly prefer Democratic candidates, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School survey. That’s bad news for Republicans, given that the overwhelming percentage of these districts currently are in GOP hands, the Washington Post reported on October 8.

The survey of 3,407 registered voters—including 2,672 likely voters—by the Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University found that, 50% of voters in these districts favor Democrats and 46% prefer Republicans. By way of comparison, in 2016 the same districts favored Republican candidates over Democrats by 15 percentage points—56% to 41 %.

With just a month to go before the mid-term elections and with early voting set to begin in many states, the new poll highlights the challenge for Republicans as they seek to maintain their House majority at a time when President Trump’s approval rating remains below 50%.

Women are driving Democratic support in the battleground districts, the Post reported—favoring the party’s candidates by 54% to 40%. Men in these districts favor Republicans by 51% to 46%. That gender difference continues a pattern that has been seen throughout the year in other polls and in special elections.

Democrats need to pick up a net of 23 seats to gain control of the House in November, which means they must win fewer than half of the battleground districts included in the new survey. The fact that, overall, voters in these districts are relatively evenly divided in territory that has been favorable for Republican House candidates in the past underscores why many GOP strategists are pessimistic about their prospects for holding the House.

The survey also highlights the growing split between white voters with college educations and those without a college degree—something that is especially acute among women, the Post noted. This educational divide has been growing since Trump was elected.

White voters overall, regardless of educational level, are divided almost evenly in the battleground districts, with 49% saying they support the Republican and 47 % saying they favor the Democrat. Among nonwhites, Democrats hold a big advantage—64% to 29%. In these battleground districts, nonwhites make up a smaller portion of the population than they do nationally.

Looked at on the basis of educational achievement, 55% of white college graduates say they favor the Democratic candidate in their district, compared with 42%t who say they back the GOP nominee. Among whites without college degrees, the numbers are almost the opposite, with 53% backing the Republican candidate and 42% supporting the Democrat.

The poll also asked respondents to rate eight issues—from “extremely important” to “very important” to “somewhat important” to “not so important.” The issue that drew the most “extremely important” rating, at 64%, was the Supreme Court and judicial nominations, the issue that dominated the news during the time the survey was conducted. Second in the “extremely important” ranking was President Trump himself, at 60%.

A 57% majority rated healthcare as extremely important, with 55% rating the economy as extremely important and 52% saying the same for immigration.

When pushed as to the single most important issue influencing their vote, a different order of significance emerged. In that case, Trump led the list, with 26% saying he was the most important of all the issues or factors, followed by the economy at 19% and the Supreme Court and other judicial nominations at 16%, the news outlet reported.

Research contact: @sfcpoll ‏

By next year, nearly half of your phone calls will be from scammers

September 20, 2018

When your phone rings nowadays, do you approach it with caution—always checking caller ID before you say hello—only to find that it’s a con artist, anyway, with a local area code?

Unfortunately, things are about to get worse, not better: Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will come from scammers, according to First Orion, an Arkansas-based company “ that empowers people to trust their phones again” by providing phone carriers and their customers with caller ID and call blocking technology.

After analyzing over 50 billion calls made to customers over the past 18 months, the ten-year-old firm projects an explosion of incoming spam calls, marking a massive leap from 3.7% of total calls in 2017 to more than 29% this year, to a projected 45% by early 2019.

“Year after year, the scam call epidemic bombards consumers at record-breaking levels, surpassing the previous year and scammers increasingly invade our privacy at new extremes,” Charles Morgan, the chief executive and head data scientist of First Orion, said in a blog post on September 12.

There are a number of techniques that scammers use to get people to pick up the phone, but the most popular method is known as “Neighborhood Spoofing,” which happens when a scammer disguises his or her phone number and displays it as a local number on a user’s caller ID. For example, a scammer may spoof their phone number to match the area code and 3-digit prefix of the person he or she is targeting and, ultimately, increase the likelihood of someone answering.

According to a September 19 report by the Washington Post, more than half of all complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission are about unwanted calls, totaling more than 200,000. The FCC says that according to 2016 estimates, Americans received about 2.4 billion unwanted, automated calls every month.

Call blocking apps can prevent known scammers from getting their calls in, but First Orion noted that these tools can be ineffective if fraudulent callers use numbers that aren’t already blacklisted.

To combat robo-calls and malicious caller ID spoofing, the FCC has allowed phone carriers to block calls that may be illegal, and has pursued enforcement action against scammers, issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.

And sometimes, they are victorious: Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported, the FCC issued a $120 million fine against a man from Florida who allegedly made nearly 100 million robo-calls offering people exclusive vacation deals.

Research contact: hamza.shaban@washpost.com

SCOTUS rules states can tax Internet sales

June 22, 2018

Shares of Amazon and other online retailers fell on June 21, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual states may require them to collect sales taxes, Business Insider reported.

The news outlet detailed that shares of the following Internet retailers were in free fall Thursday morning :

The high court’s decision in the case of South Dakota vs. Wayfair (Docket No. 17-494) overturned a 1992 ruling that limited tax collection by retailers for online sales—regardless of the state in which a shopper lives or if the company has a physical presence in that state.

The findings support a 2016 bill passed in South Dakota “to provide for the collection of sales taxes from certain remote sellers.” The legislation requires any seller “that does not have a physical presence in the state” to collect and remit sales tax if, during the previous or current calendar year:

  1. The seller’s gross revenue from the sales of tangible personal property, any products transferred electronically, or services delivered into South Dakota exceed $100,000; or
  2. The seller sold tangible personal property, any product transferred electronically, or services for delivery into South Dakota in 200 or more separate transactions.

Only five states do not have a statewide sales tax: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. However, Alaska and Montana allow individual individual cities to collect local sales taxes, according to the Tax Foundation.

Wayfair had argued in its brief that, if the 1992 ruling were overturned, “the burdens will fall primarily on small- and medium-size [online] companies whose access to a national market will be stifled.”

However, Business Insider reports, the ruling is widely seen as a victory for another part of the retail sector: brick-and-mortar stores, which previously said that online retailers’ ability to skirt sales tax collection gave them an advantage.

States also had argued against the previous statute, saying that it reduced their potential revenue from sales taxes as more consumers turn to digital shopping options.

What’s more, President Donald Trump had criticized Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, claiming that it does not collect any sales tax. The company maintains that it has been collecting tax in all 45 states that require it.

Wayfair, itself commented on the decision on June 21, saying “We welcome the additional clarity provided by the Court’s decision today. Wayfair already collects and remits sales tax on approximately 80% of our orders in the United States, a number that continues to grow as we expand our logistics footprint. As a result, we do not expect today’s decision to have any noticeable impact on our business, as it may on other retailers who do not currently collect and remit sales tax.

“Wayfair has long supported a legislative solution that would establish a level playing field for brick-and-mortar and online retailers by permitting states to collect sales tax on online sales. While we believe the Court was not the ideal venue for creating this level playing field, we expect that today’s decision will bring clarity and certainty to this issue.”

Research contact: @g_rapier