[syndicated profile] eff_feed

Posted by jmalcolm

Today EFF and Public Knowledge are releasing a whitepaper titled Which Internet registries offer the best protection for domain owners?  Top-level domains are the letters after the dot, like .com, .uk, .biz, or .mobi. Since 2003, hundreds of new top-level domains have come onto the market, and there has never been more choice for domain name registrants. But apart from choosing a name that sounds right and is easy to remember, a domain name registrant should also consider the policies of the registry that operates the domain, and those of the registrar that sells it to them.

Trademarks

To draw one example of out of our whitepaper, if you're running a website to criticize an established brand and you use that brand as part of your domain name, it may be wise to avoid registering it in a top-level domain that offers special rights and procedures to brand owners, that could result in your domain name being wrongly taken away or could embroil you in dispute settlement proceedings.

This probably means you'll want to think twice about registering in any of the newer global top-level domains (gTLDs), which provide brand owners access to a privately-run Trademark Clearinghouse that gives them veto powers that go far beyond those they would receive under the trademark law of the United States or those of most other countries.

For example, under U.S. trademark law, if a trademark applicant sought to register an ordinary word such as smart, forex, hotel, one, love, cloud, nyc, london, abc, or luxury, they would have to specify the category of goods or services they provide, and protection for the mark might only be extended to its use in a logo, rather than as a plain word. Yet each of the plain words above has been registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse, to prevent them being used in any of the new gTLDs without triggering a warning to prospective registrants about possible infringement.

This applies regardless of whether the planned usage covers the same category of goods or services as the original trademark—indeed there isn't even any way for the registrant to find out what that category was, or even which country accepted the mark for registration, because the contents of the Trademark Clearinghouse database are secret. And since 94% of prospective registrants abandon their attempted registration of a domain after receiving a trademark warning, this has a drastic chilling effect on speech. 

EFF is currently participating in an ICANN working group fighting to ensure that brand owners' veto rights aren't extended even further (for example to catch domains that include typos of brand names), and to prevent these outrageous rules being applied to older gTLDs such as .com, .net, and .org. But for now, you can minimize your exposure to trademark bullying by avoiding registering your website in one of the new domains that is subject to these unfair policies. Our whitepaper explains what to look for.

Copyright

The same considerations apply if you're setting up a website that could fall subject to bullying from copyright holders. In this category, we draw attention to the policies of registries Donuts and Radix that have established private deals with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) appointing it as a "trusted notifier" to initiate a registry-level take down of websites that it claims are engaged in extensive copyright infringement.

Our whitepaper illustrates why remedies for copyright infringement on the Internet should not come from the domain name system, and in particular should not be wielded by commercial actors in an unaccountable process. Organizations such as the MPAA are not known for advancing a balanced approach to copyright enforcement.

To avoid having your website taken down by your domain registry in response to a copyright complaint, our whitepaper sets out a number of options, including registering in a domain whose registry requires a court order before it will take down a domain, or at the very least one that doesn't have a special arrangement with the MPAA or another special interest for the streamlined takedown of domains. For example, it was recently reported that the registry for Costa Rica's .cr domain has been resisting extralegal demands from the U.S. Embassy to delete the domain "ThePirateBay.cr" without a court order.

Overseas Regulations

Copyright and trademark disputes aren't the only grounds on which domain name registries can be asked to suspend or cancel your domain name. They are also frequently asked to do this because the website associated with the domain is hosting content or selling products that are unlawful or against their acceptable use policies. That's why it's important to know what those policies are, how and by whom a breach of those policies is decided, and what national law or laws are taken into consideration. An appendix to our whitepaper breaks this down.

EFF's default position, drawn from the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability, is that the only way that a registry should be forced to take down a domain because of illegal content on a website is if that determination is made by a court. And if the takedown is for a terms of service violation rather than for a violation of law, the registrant ought to be entitled to due process, including in most cases a right to be heard before any action is taken.

Online pharmacies are an example of a type of website that attracts a lot of pressure upon registries to remove domains without a court order. (LegitScript, a contractor to major U.S. drug companies, regularly boasts about the thousands of websites it has caused to be suspended through its shadowy partnerships with domain registries and registrars.) In cases of the worst of these websites, those that openly sell drugs such as opioids without prescription, their readiness to proactively enforce their acceptable use policies is understandable.

Unfortunately however, just as it is a mistake to partner with the MPAA over copyright enforcement, it is a mistake to partner with Big Pharma in enforcing pharmaceutical licensing regulations. This results in overreaching enforcement that blocks even legitimate, locally-regulated online pharmacies throughout the world, principally based of the laws of just one country (the USA) that prohibits overseas online pharmacies from selling to U.S. citizens. (Access to medicines activists have proposed a more nuanced set of principles on medicine sales online.)

Extending this example, we would never accept Internet registries being pressured to apply Russia's anti-LGBT laws, nor the Turkish or Thai laws against criticism of those countries' leaders, to take domains down globally. And there a whole host of such laws that might apply to a domain that a registrant might innocently register, in full compliance with the laws of their own country. Our whitepaper explains how they can minimize the risk of their domain being taken down globally because it may infringe some other country's national law.

Registrant Privacy

Finally, our whitepaper explains how some registries and registrars do a better job at protecting the privacy of domain name registrants than others. For example, there are country-code domains that don't provide public access to registrants' information at all, and some registrars that offer registrants a free privacy proxy registration service. For those that don't offer such a service for free, such proxy registration services are also commercially available to increase the privacy of your registration in any top-level domain.

No matter whether your priority is to protect your domain against trademark or copyright bullies or overseas speech regulators, or to protect the privacy of your personal information, our whitepaper also outlines an often-overlooked option: to host your website as a Tor hidden service. A Tor hidden service is a website with a special pseudo-domain .onion, which makes it more much resilient to censorship than an ordinary website, and if the website operator chooses, also more anonymous. The downside of this is that it can only be accessed by users using the Tor browser, so it may not be the best choice for a domain that is meant to be accessible to a large audience.

The domain names we use to connect to websites and Internet services are one of the weak links for free speech online: a potential point of control for governments and businesses to regulate others' online speech and activity. Choosing top-level domains carefully is one step you can take to protect your rights.

[syndicated profile] consumerist_feed

Posted by Chris Morran

With politicians — most notably our current President — using social media to communicate directly to the world, the question is now being asked whether a lawmaker is violating the First Amendment when they actively block people from following them online. One federal court has chimed in, finding that a politician in Virginia crossed the line when she temporarily banned a constituent from commenting on her Facebook page.

The case at hand involves the government of Loudon County, VA, just northwest of D.C., where Phyllis Randall, Chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors barred the plaintiff, a local man named Brian Davison, from commenting on her Facebook page because his statements were critical of her actions while in office.

Davison sued Randall and the Board in federal court, arguing that his ban from the Facebook page was an illegal prior restraint based solely on his point of view.

A bench trial was held in May, and this week the judge in the case ruled against Randall, finding that even though she set up her “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” page herself and outside of the county’s existing social media accounts, Randall was indeed acting in in a governmental capacity while operating that page. That means the page is a forum for protected, free speech under both federal and Virginia state law, notes the judge in his opinion [PDF].

The judge points out that the “about” section of Randall’s page describes her as a “Government official,” that it links to the county website, and provides only her official government contact information.

Additionally, though the page does contain some personal posts, it is largely mostly used to communicate county business or other matters directly related to her position as Chair of the county board. Randall keeps both a personal Facebook account and a separate “Friends of…” page.

“The impetus for Defendant’s creation of the ‘Chair Phyllis J. Randall’ Facebook page was, self-evidently, Defendant’s election to public office,” notes the judge. “She created the page in collaboration with her Chief of Staff the day before she took office, and did so for the purpose of addressing her new constituents.”

The judge also pointed out that, by using her Chief of Staff to set up and maintain the page, Randall is effectively using county resources. Randall tried to argue that her Chief of Staff did this Facebook work separately from her job and out of her personal friendship with Randall, but that argument didn’t win over the court.

At a public meeting in 2016, Davison submitted a question which, when read aloud by Randall, she referred to it as a “set-up” question that she did not appreciate. When Randall later posted about this meeting on her Facebook page, Davison included a comment raising questions of possible corruption and familial conflicts on interest at the county School Board.

Randall said the comment was “probably not something” she wanted to have on her page, but rather than challenge Davison by offering a rebuttal, she simply deleted the entire post, taking Davison’s comment with it.

She then banned him from her page, after deciding that Davison “was the type of person that would make comments about people’s family members,” and she didn’t want such people on her page.

Randall removed the ban after about 12 hours, so the damage done was minimal, but the court said the removal of Davison’s comment and the brief ban still had the effect of being a prior restraint.

“Plaintiff’s comment regarding alleged misconduct by County officials was obviously related to a question Defendant had fielded at a town hall earlier that evening,” explains the judge. “Defendant banned Plaintiff from her Facebook page due to this criticism of her ‘colleagues’ in the County government.”

Some have argued that government officials blocking accounts on social media does not amount to censorship because there are multiple other ways for blocked individuals to express their opinions. However, the judge in this case says the court can’t treat the “vital, developing forum” of social media any differently “simply because technology has made it easier to find alternative channels through which to disseminate one’s message.”

The judge said his ruling is not to be interpreted as a prohibition on moderation of social media comments, and that there may be justifiable reasons for an elected official to ban an account on social media. But such moderation policies must be “neutral” and “comprehensive.”

The issue of government officials blocking and banning social media accounts has been pushed to the forefront by President Trump, who has blocked a number of Twitter users from accessing his @realDonaldTrump account, including author Stephen King and model/TV host Chrissy Teigen.

The President had this Twitter popular account long before he was voted into the White House, but he’s continued to use it as his primary way of communicating directly with the public, often about political matters.

The Knight First Amendment Institute sued Trump earlier this month [PDF] on behalf of a handful of blocked Twitter users, arguing that the President is not only violating everyone’s rights by cherry-picking what sort of responses to his Tweets are or aren’t acceptable.

“The White House is transforming a public forum into an echo chamber,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute at the time of the filing. “Its actions violate the rights of the people who’ve been blocked and the rights of those who haven’t been blocked but who now participate in a forum that’s being sanitized of dissent.”

[syndicated profile] the_mary_sue_feed

Posted by Vivian Kane

Star Trek: Discovery has given us a lot to keep an eye on. Despite an overly explode-y latest trailer (and seeing Bryan Fuller walk was a major blow), it feels like there’s a lot to look forward to, not the least of which is the show’s commitment to inclusive representation. In addition to a racially diverse cast and a female captain, we knew the show would also feature Anthony Rapp playing the first openly gay character in TV Star Trek history. (Sulu was retroactively revealed to be gay in Star Trek Beyond.)

But then to take things a step further, at Comic-Con this weekend, Rapp revealed that he won’t be the show’s only openly gay character. He’ll be joined by Wilson Cruz, playing his love interest, medical officer Dr. Hugh Culber.

That means there will be (at least) two gay characters, both played by gay actors, which SHOULD NOT BE A RARE THING. But we all know it very much is.

Rapp told the Comic-Con crowd, “Wilson Cruz will be playing my love interest, my partner. My man love―and we’re both officers on the ship.”

He gave EW more details on the relationship, which he says will be fully fleshed out and portrayed in a “complex and human and non-stereotypical” way. Rapp makes it clear that their sexuality will not be the only thing that defines them, as we see so often with LGBTQ+ characters. Instead, Rapp says we’ll “get to see his [character’s] relationship. There was a little glimpse in Sulu in Beyond, and it was a nice nod. But in this case, we actually get to see me with my partner in conversation, in our living quarters, you get to see our relationship over time, treated as any other relationship would be treated.”

The showrunners, Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg, said they “wanted to roll out that character’s sexuality the way people would roll out their sexuality in life.”

In addition to this being a huge, historic milestone for representation, can we also take a moment to appreciate the amazing 90s nostalgia happening here?

We have Mark from Rent

And My So-Called Life’s Ricky–

Who was also in Rent on Broadway!

This diverse, feminist, queer, musical theatre reunion 90s space party comes to CBS All Access on September 24th.

(via EW, image: screengrab, CBS)

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The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Yep, Answers in Genesis has folded, but not without whining.

The Ark Encounter has agreed to pay the 50-cent per ticket Williamstown safety assessment fee after a lengthy debate with the city council that has spanned weeks.

Answers in Genesis Co-Founder Ken Ham offered a statement to the Grant County News, in which he explained that Ark Encounter officials never said they would not pay into the fee. He added that the Ark Encounter has been paying into the fee since the city began collecting from businesses on July 1, and offered to pay the city a capped amount of $350,000, later increasing the offer to $500,000.

“Now, we do believe there were, and still are, some issues with the way the ordinance is worded, and we do have concerns about the fairness of such a tax,” Ham said. “The city ordinance makes the Ark Encounter bear almost the entire load for the increased funding for Williamstown’s police, fire and EMS budget.”

Ham said that the organization is still concerned over the fact that there is no cap, and what that might mean for the Ark Encounter’s future.

Ham also notes that despite the large numbers of guests the Ark Encounter serves on a regular basis, calls for emergency services have been relatively small. On average for the year, it’s been about two calls per week, with the majority being in the busiest six months of operation, according to Ham.

Aww, they never said they wouldn’t pay it, they just wanted to control how much they paid. I’m going to try this with the IRS: sure, you guys can tax me at the same rate as anyone else in my bracket, but I’m unilaterally putting a cap of $500 on how much I’ll pay. See, I’m not saying I won’t pay my taxes. I’m also worried that if I make a few million dollars this year, you might demand that I pay more than I do with my middling 5 figure income.

As for his argument than there haven’t been very many calls on emergency services yet, does he even understand what “emergency” means? Why should I pay for homeowner’s insurance, for example? It costs me more than I get back each year! Usually. Except for that time the water main broke and turned my basement into a nicely carpeted lake with floating furniture. But that’ll never happen again!

[syndicated profile] consumerist_feed

Posted by Laura Northrup

Sure, big-box hardware store Lowe’s has a customer service robot that still won’t keep you from hating your partner, but supermarket chain Schnucks, based in St. Louis, is about to put robots to work in a different job. In three stores, it will send a robot down the aisles three times a day to check shelves and find out which products need to be restocked.

A robot that actually restocks the shelves would be an interesting use of technology, and maybe that’s next. For now, though, Schnucks will be deploying Tally, a robot that looks unnervingly like a tower fan and will scan store aisles for stock levels and maybe even pricing errors.

Want to see it in action? Here’s a video from the company that created the robots, Simbe Robotics.

The robots have been deployed in a few retailers, including a trial at Target. (There’s no word on whether they’re able to flag instances of Target Math, or items that cost more when you buy larger quantities.)

The chain will bring in students from Washington University to learn from the robot, too, holding a hackathon to find new uses for the data that the robot gathers from store shelves.

“We’re starting Tally’s pilot with a focus on in-stock position, but we’re hopeful that Tally may open up a world of other possibilities with the shelf data it collects,” the grocery chain’s VP of information technology for infrastructure said in a statement.

Information from the shelves could be shared with suppliers and vendors, or other uses that no one has thought of yet, since the idea of having an autonomous shelf-scanning robot patrolling a store is a relatively new one.

(via St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

[syndicated profile] the_mary_sue_feed

Posted by Jessica Lachenal

There’s nothing quite like a Muppet-ized Sesame Street mashup of 80s music, am I right? Right? Yeah, I’m right. I know I am. (via Laughing Squid)

  • You know that “He’s a friend from work!” line that Thor says in the Thor: Ragnarok trailer? Aside from being a brilliant line, there’s actually a super sweet story about how it ended up in the film! (via Comicbook.com)

Bo Yeon Kim, writer for Star Trek: Discovery, revealed just what happens when you play disco music on set: adorableness. Adorableness happens.

Estelle recently performed “Stronger Than You” for a lucky crowd of Steven Universe fans. You can check out her performance in the video above. It’s fantastic.

  • Wait, THERE’S A Sweet Valley High MOVIE COMING OUT?! (via Deadline)
  • Writing about that It trailer earlier today spawned a long conversation about scary things and horror movies. Mostly we wondered about the whys and wherefores of people who enjoy being scared. If you’re one of those people, though, you should go ahead and think about purchasing this replica of the house from Halloween. (via Inside The Magic)

What’d you see today, pals?

(featured image: screengrab)

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The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

[syndicated profile] feministing_feed

Posted by Juliana Britto Schwartz

For the first time in decades, El Salvador’s cruel blanket ban on abortion is under threat. The country has become a symbol in the global fight for reproductive justice, very publicly denying young women life-saving abortions and incarcerating people who experience miscarriages. The El Salvador government has gone so far as to stop chemotherapy for pregnant women with cancer, and delay care to women with diagnosed ectopic pregnancies until their fallopian tubes burst. Last month, a teenager who became pregnant after repeated sexual assaults was sentenced to 30 years in prison for delivering a stillborn baby.

Now, after years of feminist organizing, El Salvador’s parliament is considering a bill that would legalize abortion in cases of rape, threat to the pregnant person’s life or when the fetus is unviable. After a series of public hearings and debates, the bill has notable support, but is still facing significant opposition from an organization called Sí a la Vida – which is funded by U.S. anti-abortion advocates.

The Guardian reports that Virginia-based non-profit Human Life International has been financing Sí a la Vida since 2000, just a few years after they successfully pushed for the full criminalization of abortion in El Salvador. Human Life International’s mission is to “provide training and tools needed to combat the Culture of Death and build a Culture of Life” – aka spreading the horrific criminalization of pregnant people. In a 2001 article titled “How to Export Pro-Life Activism” the real life inspiration for the Handmaid’s Tale then-president of Human Life International talks about the pharmaceutical industry’s supposed attack on fertility, why contraception is the same as abortion, and details HLI’s work to get El Salvador’s ban on abortion written into the country’s constitution.

This is misogyny and imperialism wrapped up into one organization. In case you’re feeling as mad as I am, here is a link you can use to tweet at them and here is the phone number HLI provides on its website: 800-549-5433. I wonder what would happen if hundreds of Feministing readers gave them a call and demanded that they immediately stop funding a movement which is denying women access to life-saving healthcare?

Header image via Al Jazeera

[syndicated profile] torrentfreak_feed

Posted by Ernesto

In recent years copyright holders have tried many things to dissuade the public from visiting pirate websites.

They often claim that piracy costs the entertainment industry thousands of jobs, for example. Another strategy to is to scare the public at large directly, by pointing out all the ills people may encounter on pirate sites.

The Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), which has deep ties to the content industries, is a proponent of the latter strategy. The group has released a variety of reports pointing out that pirate sites are a hotbed for malware, identity theft, hacking and other evils.

To add some political weight to this message, the DCA recently helped to launch a new series of public service announcements where a group of 15 State Attorneys General warn the public about these threats.

The participating Attorneys General include Arizona’s Mark Brnovich, Kentucky’s Andy Bashear, Washington DC’s Karl Racine, and Wisconsin’s Brad Schimel, who all repeat the exact same words in their PSAs.

“Nowadays we all have to worry about cybersecurity. Hackers are always looking for new ways to break into our computers. Something as simple as visiting pirate websites can put your computer at risk.”

“Hackers use pirate websites to infect your computer and steal your ID and financial information, or even take over your computer’s camera without you knowing it,” the Attorneys General add.

Organized by the Digital Citizens Alliance, the campaign in question runs on TV and radio in several states and also appears on social media during the summer.

The warnings, while over dramatized, do raise a real concern. There are a lot of pirate sites that have lower-tier advertising, where malware regularly slips through. And some ads lead users to fake websites where people should probably not leave their credit card information.

Variety points out that the Attorneys General are tasked with the goal to keep their citizens safe, so the PSA’s message is certainly fitting.

Still, one has to wonder whether the main driver of these ads is online safety. Could perhaps the interests of the entertainment industry play a role too? It certainly won’t be the first time that State Attorneys General have helped out Hollywood.

Just a few years ago the MPAA secretly pushed Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood to revive SOPA-like anti-piracy efforts in the United States. That was part of the MPAA’s “Project Goliath,” which was aimed at “convincing state prosecutors to take up the fight” against Google, under an anti-piracy umbrella.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

[syndicated profile] consumerist_feed

Posted by consumerist.com

Would you consider getting a cable-replacement TV service from a cable company? If so, Comcast has a proposal for you.

The company says it is rolling out an internet-based streaming video service, called Instant TV, this fall. The service will join other streaming video services from pay TV providers, including Dish’s Sling TV and DirecTV Now from AT&T. These services aim to deliver conventional cable TV channels, unlike services such as Netflix that offer individual movies and series.

The new Comcast service has already been tested in two markets, Boston and Chicago, where it was called Stream TV. The service will only be available in locations where Comcast already has a footprint. One target is the millennial audience, which may be looking for alternatives to conventional pay TV, according to the company.

Consumer Choice Is Growing

Comcast released the news about Instant TV during a conference call on second-quarter earnings earlier today. The company didn’t offer a lot of details about the service. However, it won’t require a set-top box. Instead, you’ll be able to get Instant TV directly on mobile devices, some streaming players, and maybe some smart TVs, though specific models and supported platforms weren’t announced. The service will provide access to a cloud DVR for recording shows.

Pricing, which earlier reports suggested would be in the $15- to $40-per-month range, hasn’t been finalized. The company “is still testing different price points,” Dave Watson, Comcast Cable’s president and CEO, said during the call. He stated that the service was well-received in its test markets, where it’s priced at $15 per month, plus taxes.

Watson said that while Instant TV is “ideal for certain segments and millennials,” the company’s main focus will continue to be its traditional cable TV service, X1.

“This is not something we’ll do that’s broad based in terms of our approach to the market. It’s going to be very targeted, ” Watson said. “Instant TV gives us one more part of the portfolio to go after different segments.”

Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and executive vice president at StreamingMedia.com, says that in its current form, the new service will probably have limited impact.

“But that’s not to say that the company couldn’t expand beyond its existing footprint at some time in the future,” he says. “As it is, though, it’s not really a competitive threat to nationally available services such as DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, and Sling TV, although its likely some of the media will portray it that way.”

We’ll follow up on Instant TV when Comcast reveals more details about the service. In addition to competition from other internet-delivered TV services—including new entrants such as Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV — the new service has another obstacle to overcome: Comcast’s poor reputation.

In Consumer Reports’ latest telecom survey, almost all the bigger companies, including Comcast and Spectrum (Charter, Time Warner Cable), earned low scores in multiple categories, including value and customer service.

Party Parrot

Jul. 27th, 2017 09:11 pm
[syndicated profile] csstricks_feed

Posted by Chris Coyier

Just a bit of forking fun, kicked off by Tim Van Damme and the inimitable Party Parrot.

See the Pen :party: by Tim Van Damme (@maxvoltar) on CodePen.

See the Pen :party: by Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier) on CodePen.

See the Pen :party: by Steve Gardner (@steveg3003) on CodePen.

See the Pen :party: by Louis Hoebregts (@Mamboleoo) on CodePen.

See the Pen :party: by Martin Pitt (@nexii) on CodePen.


Party Parrot is a post from CSS-Tricks

[syndicated profile] the_mary_sue_feed

Posted by Casey Cipriani

(Possible spoilers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows.)

For every elaborate world visited in a Luc Besson film, there’s usually a typical “strong female character” present whose physical abilities, intellectual prowess, and emotional growth demand the audience’s attention. There’s the titular “La Femme Nikita,” criminal turned assassin whose status as a sexy, teenage killer launched a thousand fantasies of (straight) boys who loved her and girls who wanted to be her.  Natalie Portman got her start in Leon: The Professional as another would be girl killer. With the help of a wonder drug, Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy evolves beyond physical human understanding into a form of pure instinct, intelligence, and power, kicking ass and punching a few bad dudes along the way. And in Besson’s previous trip into far outer space, the 1997 cult hit The Fifth Element, Milla Jovovich was Leeloo, a supreme being, literally perfect, who saves the universe by simply existing. Some annoying tropes abound; aside from Portman’s Mathilda, nearly all of them are presented as sexy.

But they’re all also smart, funny, and enjoyable to watch, which is why it’s so curious that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Besson’s latest foray into an eye-dazzling future of space stations, alien encounters, and intergalactic espionage traffics in the practical erasure of its female characters.

First, there’s the supposed lead woman Laureline, played here by model-turned-actor Cara Delevingne. Despite the fact that Valerian is based on a French comic series from the 1960s titled Valerian and Laureline, Laureline herself doesn’t get title bidding here in this big budget American adaptation. Valerian himself is made out as the ultimate hero here. A cocky, supposed-to-be-charming but really just a tool, kind of ladies man-turned-romantic lead savior whose mistakes as a soldier are repeatedly fixed by his savvier female counterpart, Laureline. It’s curious why, with Besson’s track record for lifting up women in sci-fi worlds, he chose instead to take a comic with an equally competent duo and focus this film’s title on the male half of the team, stamping him with the definite status of hero. But even Laureline’s status as a smarter, more empathetic, and more competent soldier doesn’t free her from sexism as she remarks that a dangerous mission ruined her dress or exclaims her intense desire for shopping.

But nearly forgetting about Laureline isn’t Valerian‘s only issue with supposedly 50% of the population of the universe; the whole film suffers from a significant lack of female representation. The opening sequence, the film’s most lovely moments, begins in 1975 with American and Soviet astro/cosmonauts meeting and shaking hands for the first time in space. Through a montage set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” varying nations of Earth meet and work together in orbit, until one day, another species appears on the other side of the door. One by one, decade by decade, more species interact with humans. Yet every time a hand is extended from the human representative of Earth, it’s always attached to the male of our species.  This is supposed to be the 28th century, yet we’re supposed to believe that no woman was given the role of alien ambassador once in hundreds of years.

This lack of ladies continues throughout “Valerian’s” universe and throughout space station Alpha wherein all of the action takes place. Again, despite being the 28th century, seemingly 90% of military and government personnel are male. There’s a scene in which delegates from every species gather to address the major issue facing the station. All human representatives are male, and when it comes to the aliens, well who can tell what’s what? The Boulin Bathor who kidnap Laureline to dress her up in a wedding gown and feed her brains to the king—are any of them the women of the species? Come to think of it, is that king really a queen? Hard to say! Who knows! But ambiguity does not equal representation.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets could have used a serious examination by the so-called “Geena Davis Test.” Similar to the Bechdel Test in its purpose, Geena Davis’ simple instruction for making a film less sexist goes as follows: “When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, ‘A crowd gathers, which is half female.'” That would have significantly altered the makeup of the human characters of the film alone. Furthermore, Davis’ instruction to “Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names” would have yielded a more realistic future. How easy would it have been to make Clive Owen’s gruff villain a woman, or Sam Spruell’s second-in-command? I don’t know about Besson, but come the 28th century, I expect this problem to be solved.

(image: STX Entertainment Motion Pictures)

Casey Cipriani is a New York-based arts and entertainment journalist with a passion for watching sci-fi and fairy tales and addressing women’s issues in the industry. She has written for Indiewire, Vulture, Slate, Refinery29, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Women and Hollywood, and Bustle. She earned her Master’s Degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism where she concentrated in arts and culture reporting and criticism.  

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Posted by Charline Jao

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator or DDADDS for short, has absolutely taken the internet by storm. The dating sim has captured the hearts of its users as they try and navigate a diverse dad-dating scene while also making sure to take care of their daughter. Whether you’re frantically making red-string wall collages to try to figure out how to get Christian-Youth-Group Dad’s ending or just scrolling through Tumblr, you’ve probably heard about the popularity of Dream Daddy and the huge fanbase it’s built since the game’s release last week.

I spoke with Amanda Brennan, Senior Content Insights Manager at Tumblr, who gave me a breakdown of the surge of engagement and content around Dream Daddy. From the day the Game Grumps dropped the trailer, a huge wave of fan-art and buzz immediately started pouring out. The total number of engagements for #dream daddy in the past month was 4.88 million, the total number of searches for #dream daddy in the past month 1.55 million, and it’s been the most searched item on Tumblr this month. Dream Daddy itself has a Tumblr account, Brennan points out, which actively engages with its fan base, re-blogging content and even offering bits of info on the characters.

Dream Daddy feels like a game that’s perfect for Tumblr, Brennan says, “[Dream Daddy] speaks Tumblr’s language.” Like many dating sims, she notes, “Each Dad has his thing” and the passion that each has for their “thing” whether it be sports, music, Victorian clothing, or knives mirrors the way that Tumblr users are distinctly passionate about their “thing.” Whether it’s a TV show, a dating game, or literally anything else, “Tumblr is where you go” for finding people that share your interest.

We also talked briefly about the Dream Daddy discourse, where fans have taken issue with certain elements of representation, such as a secret cult ending. The creator have stepped in to talk about the importance of these conversations and asked that people stay civil, but most internet fandoms recognize discussions can also sometimes be overwhelming. They are somewhat inevitable, but Brennan believes that Tumblr functions productively as a host to these moments. She emphasizes that the format is one that allows the conversation to evolve, rather than “a comment left somewhere.” She adds that being able to see similar posts involving fan art and fan creation means you can choose for yourself whether to avoid the discourse, or to enjoy both the fandom and the critical conversation. There’s little doubt that your daughter Amanda is on Tumblr closely following these conversations, while you’re still trying to figure what being left “on read” means.

There are few things more pure than the passionate earnestness of Dream Daddy. Characters share their feelings or grief with vulnerability, your interactions with your daughter are wholesome and touching, and no one’s treated as lesser for engaging with what they love. Amanda’s conversations with her dad are adorable and heartfelt, and her teenage troubles at school are treated as both valid and important. Brennan says the thoughtful language, along with the way “the caring you see in your chosen family is present throughout this game” makes this a perfect game for the Tumblr community. The occasionally frustrating but adorable side games, she adds, also make it “more in-depth than a visual novel.”

She also points to Damien, the Goth Dad character you first encounter in a store called Dead, Goth, & Beyond. As a former Hot Topic retail employee, Brennan is a fan of him (though Hugo eventually won her over with his cheese plates) and points out that he’s a canonically trans character though “being trans is another piece of his puzzle” rather than a whole gigantic storyline. She also points out that the game has binder options in the beginning for those who want to play as trans and another option that allows you to decide whether your daughter was adopted or brought home from the hospital. You get to choose the gender of your former spouse, pushing past the heteronormative, nuclear family that dominates media.

There’s a definitely tendency within female fandoms to fetishize relationships between men, and another troubling pattern within society to find them inherently funny or ridiculous somehow. While I can’t speak for an entire fandom, Dream Daddy, which had a number of queer people on their team, treats all these relationships with emotional depth whether it’s about grief, fear, or balancing priorities between self-care and family obligations.

While shipping and handsome dads are fun for the whole family, the emotional core of Dream Daddy (yes, this is a very emotional game), really does shine and resonate with Tumblr’s community. Brennan cites the interesting sense of humor (dad puns for days) and the awkwardness of the Dadsona as very Tumblr-like, “but they’re brave and get on that Dad-Book.” (Dad-book is a social networking site for dads where you can set up dates and learn about the dads.) That combination of persevering, emotional honesty, and earnest adoration clearly hit a note with the Tumblr community and it doesn’t look like the outpour of memes and fan-art are going to slow down anytime soon.

Tumblr is hosting Answer Time with game creators Vernon Shaw and Leighton Gray this Friday! Check out the info here. And if you haven’t yet embarked on your Dad Journey, you can find the game on Steam.

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Posted by Holly Christine Brown

The idealist in me has long wanted to believe that labels don’t matter, but if you address me in the wrong way too many times? It becomes clear to me that labels are important. Labels help define us and our role in the world. This helps us connect to others—it gives us a sense of purpose and belonging. But labels aren’t static. How we identify changes over time. Children become adults; students become teachers; daughters become mothers; etc. But does that change who we are?

In many ways, we are ever evolving. While we only have a single lifetime, the events of our lives sometimes make portions seem wholly separate. That often leaves us feeling like the Doctor from Doctor Who. Where we would say something seemed like it happened a lifetime ago, that may be true for the Doctor. The Doctor’s longevity and ability to regenerate has given them the chance to live many lifetimes. Each time, they are a different person and live a different life than the one before, carrying with them all the memories and many of the attributes of their previous incarnations.

“But wait…” you must be thinking, “they? Isn’t the Doctor a ‘he?’”

On Sunday, July 16th, 2017, the BBC announced that the Doctor’s next regeneration will be female. Jodie Whittaker, best known for her role as Beth Latimer in Broadchurch, will take up the role and regenerate into the Doctor when Peter Capaldi departs the show in the upcoming Christmas special, Twice Upon a Time. This will be the first time in the show’s 54-year history that the Doctor will be a woman.

We’ve seen the Doctor speak as a woman in the past. In “New Earth,” the first episode of series two, the Lady Cassandra jumped into the Doctor’s body. However, that didn’t make her the Doctor. She was simply a woman trapped in a man’s body. So what does it mean now that the Doctor will be played by a woman? Does this change her?

In today’s society, we recognize that the labels that have been assigned to us are not always correct. Thankfully, increasing awareness of this has more and more people asking each other how to they prefer to be addressed and how they identify. Now as we move from a male to a female Doctor, we must consider the implications of what it means to be a Time Lord. Or a Time Lady. Is there a difference? Which is correct?

I was recently a guest on BBC’s Newshour, discussing the Doctor being played by a woman. At the end of the segment, I was asked if the Doctor, as played by Jodie Whittaker, will be a Time Lord or a Time Lady. I didn’t think twice—I said that Time Lord is a race, and thus she would still be a Time Lord.

Well, in reviewing references from both the Classic Who and New Who, the results are mixed. Time Lord and Time Lady have both been used to refer to women. Romana was called a Time Lady in “City of Death” from the 17th season of the classic series, and Missy specially requests to be referred to as a Time Lady in Dark Water in the 8th season of the new series. However, the Academy on Gallifrey is referred to as the Time Lord Academy in several instances, and Rassilon addresses the Senate (men and women) as “Time Lords of Gallifrey” in The Day of the Doctor in New Who. There does not appear to be a clear answer.

We’ve already run into a language issue. Is Time Lord a race? A species? A title in a caste system? In my incorrect estimation, I had previously considered being a Time Lord vs. being a Gallifreyan like whether you would call yourself a human or a Terran. Humans are a Terran humanoid species. However, not all Gallifreyans become Time Lords. Gallifreyans who become Time Lords are from ruling houses called The Chapters of Gallifrey. This sort of caste system determines who rules by bloodline, but being a Time Lord is more than who you’re related to.

Ten seems to reference this in “The Doctor’s Doctor” in series four. In this episode, the Doctor is cloned. The clone, Jenny, is a young woman, and Donna asks, “Does that mean she’s a … what do you call a female Time Lord?” Jenny asks what a Time Lord is and if she is one. The Doctor responds, “You’re an echo, that’s all. A Time Lord is so much more. A sum of knowledge, a code, shared history, shared suffering.” While the Doctor was likely speaking out over his hurt about the past, his point is made. There is a sum of knowledge gained through the Academy.

How important is the Academy? Children were taken from their families at the age of eight to look into the Untempered Schism of Time, according to the Doctor in “The Sound of Drums.” This did not always end well. Neither does it seem to be a strict necessity, as humans were admitted to the academy for some time. It is unclear if they would ever finish, though. According to the comics, individuals spent centuries at the Academy. Does this mean looking into the Untempered Schism makes this possible? Does it change your genes?

We know there is a genetic component. In Doctor Who Confidential, it’s stated that Jenny, who was cloned from the Doctor, is “another member of that race, or something closely akin to it.” We also look to River Song. In series six, River’s genetics is explained in “A Good Man Goes to War.” Being conceived in the time vortex gifted River with Time Lord DNA in addition to her human DNA. There are few that would not consider River a female Time Lord, given her ability to regenerate.

So as a species or a race, being a Time Lord is like being a Trill from Star Trek. The Trill are a joined species–a host and a symbiont. While Trill have the potential to join with a symbiont, not all do, and you must take part in extensive training. Much like the Trill and joining, it is only after going to the academy that one becomes a Time Lord. There are both genetic and learned components of each group.

Each Doctor is a new person, carrying on bits of their former selves much like the symbiont carrying the memories of the past to the new Trill they join with. We cannot simply say that the way they thought of and referred themselves previously is the same way they will in the future. Even in people, we understand that we grow and change. Our labels change.

Jodie Whittaker comes to the role of the Doctor at a disadvantage not applicable previously. She is fighting against the notion that the Doctor is necessarily a man. Even actors who previously played the Doctor have stated they are unsure of a woman playing the role. “If I feel any doubts, it’s the loss of a role model for boys, who I think Doctor Who is vitally important for. So, I feel a bit sad about that, but I understand the argument that you need to open it up,” Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor, told The Guardian.

Not everyone agrees. Colin Baker, otherwise known as the sixth Doctor, stated on Twitter, “Change my dears and not a moment too soon–she IS the Doctor, whether you like it or not!” And as Merriam Webster so kindly reminded us, the word ‘doctor’ has no gender in English. There is nothing inherent in the character or even in the name the Doctor chose for themself. That’s a big part of where the Doctor differs from the Missy/the Master. Missy has been a female and a male. Missy changed her name and requested that she be referred to as a Time Lady.

Frankly, the phrase Time Lady makes my skin crawl. Perhaps it’s the association with Missy that does it, or maybe it’s the history Doctor Who has with female characters. It comes across being demeaning and diminutive, as if the Doctor will be subservient to men. The character should in no way be diminished or appear subservient because they will now be a woman.

I informally polled my friends through Facebook and Twitter; it seems I’m not alone in preferring Time Lord continue to be used (we ran about 80/20, Time Lord to Time Lady). While more gender-neutral options where suggested, including Time Being and Time Folk, most preferred to use Time Lord as a gender-neutral option. Some even argued that “lord” is a gender-neutral word. Rather than using the definition that a lord is “a man of rank or high position–a feudal tenant whose right or title comes directly from the king,” they argued that a lord is “one who has power and authority over others, and is a ruler by hereditary right or preeminence to whom service and obedience are due.”

There is a difference in usage in how we use lord and lady in regular conversation. While you think of a lord as someone powerful, a lady can merely be the polite way to refer to any woman. Lady can also bring up less savory feelings. It can be used to indicate a particular code of conduct—acting ladylike, which again brings up the idea of being subservient to men. It also brings up thoughts Jerry Lewis shouting, “Hey lady,” or any trilby-wearing bro calling you, “milady,” their voice dripping with condescension.

In the end, how we refer to the Doctor should be the Doctor’s choice. There is power in claiming an identity. There is power in her name. There is power in her history as a Time Lord. Let’s hope the writers recognize that and craft a scene where the Doctor is definitive in embracing her identity and remembering that she is who she has always been—a Time Lord.

(image: BBC)

Holly Christine is a geek girl with a sick love of Wonder Woman, Harry Potter, and all things sci-fi. She helps head up @NerdVice and @CirclePlus_ where you can listen to her on the podcast, “Late Night with Bisexuals.” Listen to her gush about her nerdy pursuits, adventure games, and everything cute on Twitter @gookygox.

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Posted by Kaila Hale-Stern

This is the best idea in the history of time.

Over on Moviepilot, Tom Chapman makes a compelling case that the Russo brothers may add Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter to the ever-expanding Infinity War lineup. For those of you just joining us, Peggy was the badass, take-no-prisoners, feminist trailblazing WWII agent and one-time sweetheart of Steve Rogers’ Captain America who went on to co-found S.H.I.E.L.D. The elderly Peggy passed away in Captain America: Civil War, with a tearful Steve serving as pallbearer.

Shut up, I’m not still crying about it.

I SAID I WAS FINE. OH MY GOD WHYYYYYYY?

Chapman has several theories on how Peggy’s return could come about, grounded most convincingly in a moment from the Infinity Wars footage shown at Comic Con:

…an interesting detail from the leaked Infinity War footage could point to Peggy’s presence in the third #Avengers movie. The clip goes through the various Infinity Stones that Thanos has been collecting for his golden gauntlet, but it is the Time Stone segment that alludes to Peggy. As the voiceover proclaims, “Time can fix anything,” we then cut to the elderly Atwell lying on her deathbed in The Winter Soldier. It may just be some inconspicuous editing, or it could herald Carter’s return.

I still haven’t seen all of the SDCC footage (DAMN YOU MARVEL), but this seems like a pretty significant moment to include in a limited amount of time if it wasn’t meant to hint at Peggy playing a part in the Avengers‘ two-parter. Why would they?

Over at Uproxx, Donna Dickens has even more info:

During the montage, the voiceover says “Time can fix anything,” while the camera lingers on the Time Stone. The scene then cuts to Captain America taking to old Peggy on her deathbed before she morphs back into young Peggy Carter from the first Captain America movie. None of it is new footage, but the implications are pretty clear. Someone is going to phutz with time to bring Peggy Carter back. Or at least attempt to.

OK, PEGGY MORPHS BACK INTO YOUNG PEGGY. YOU GUYS. C’MON, YOU GUYS. THIS IS NOT SUBTLE AND I LOVE IT.

I freaking adore Atwell’s Peggy Carter and her vivacious presence is much missed in the MCU. The short-lived Agent Carter TV show was excellent and was never given enough space to grow or the promotion it deserved, but it cemented Peggy as a fan favorite and vastly expanded awareness of her character.

So it’s easy to believe that there may be a role for her in Infinity War, considering that Thanos’ gauntlet (with all six Infinity gems in place) gives him control over Time, Space, Mind, Soul, Reality, and Power. Even if a de-aged Peggy isn’t brought to the modern day, it’s a snap of the fingers for Thanos to make Steve—or anyone—think that he’s seeing and interacting with her.

Even just the Time Gem alone would provide endless opportunities for Peggy’s return. Per the Marvel wikia:

The time gem allows the user total control over the past, present and future. Its most basic ability grants its user visions of possible futures. It allows time travel, control over the age of beings and also be used as a weapon by trapping enemies or entire worlds in unending loops of time. At its peak, when used with the other gems, it allows its user to exist at all points in time simultaneously.

We last saw the Time Gem (held inside the Eye of Agamotto) in the possession of Dr. Stephen Strange. Who knows what events could unfurl that might necessitate Peggy’s appearance even prior to Thanos assembling the gauntlet? Not to mention, it seems as though the lines between life and death are going to be thin indeed in Infinity War, and that might mean any (or all) characters who have passed in the Marvel universe may be fair game for a resurrection or reappearance.

Of course, a truly tragic part of any Peggy come-back is that we’re likely going to witness Chris Evans’ last bow as Steve Rogers. He was already tortured with unattainable visions of Peggy in Age of Ultron, and we could see something similar play out here—Peggy-as-hurtful-hallucination. Or she could be brought into the present day somehow, only to be once again separated from Steve.

Or maybe they get to fly off into the sunset together and finally get that dance. Yeah, I’m really expecting Infinity War to end on a cheery happy note. I’m not going to be curled up in a fetal position in the theater at all!

LET ME DREAM, OK?

In all seriousness, it would make a lot of sense for Atwell’s popular Peggy to join the modern-day MCU restored to youth. She’d fare better in the present without the pernicious ’40s-era sexism she faced on Agent Carter, and with Hydra running amock throughout S.H.I.E.L.D., who better than S.H.I.E.L.D.’s co-founder to help set things straight? My fingers are crossed.

There’s a potential complication in the form of Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter, who is Peggy’s niece and was last seen smooching Steve in Civil War. The Captain America movies have been trying to position Sharon as a potential love interest since Winter Soldier (in the comics, she and Steve are together), and it seems unfair—not to mention awkward—to abandon the Sharon-as-romantic-interest ploy in favor of Sharon’s aunt. (Leave Steve alone, he just really loves women called Agent Carter. And men named James Buchanan Barnes.)

So if Peggy really does make a return, it’s likely it will be in a transitory or temporary form, to hurt Steve—or help him. Of course, Peggy went on to have a long and eventful life and other relationships after Steve’s disappearance—but a Peggy brought from the past or as manifested in his mind would still have feelings for Steve. Maybe she’ll be there for him, at the end of everything.

While I know this would destroy my capacity to handle emotions, I am really hoping we’ll have Atwell and Peggy back. One of the best things about comic book movies is their ability to bend reality, and considering we’re getting two whole movies starring a supervillain whose entire deal is messing with reality, anything seems possible. I think Infinity War is going to be such a relentlessly trippy experience that it’s impossible to predict what direction it’s going to go, but please, dear Russo brothers, please let us cross paths with Peggy Carter once more.

(via Moviepilot, images: Marvel Studios)

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Posted by Dan Van Winkle

Modern 3D movies are pretty impressive, with the equipment moving beyond tinted lenses to technology that made it a more seamless experience—including completely glasses-free tech like Nintendo’s 3DS—but it’s still struggled to find a purpose in the movie industry beyond a neat gimmick. Now that the novelty has worn off, it seems like moviegoers are fine with plain old 3D, and IMAX is following suit.

Screenings of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, an epic war movie that you might expect to be able to find in 3D, were available in two formats (IMAX and 70mm), but IMAX wasn’t offering any in 3D. /Film reports that IMAX CEO Greg Foster said, “It’s worth noting Dunkirk was showing exclusively in 2-D, which consumers have shown a strong preference for… The demand for 2D films is starting to exceed 3D in North America.”

That lines up with changes outside just the theater industry, as TV manufacturers have noticed the same trend in consumer preference and adjusted things accordingly. Even in gaming, where the technology is arguably more functional in giving players a better sense of space, things are moving more away from 3D than towards it, outside of virtual reality.

Even the aforementioned 3DS eventually got a “2DS” version without the original’s touted 3D capabilities. Although that edition of Nintendo’s portable gaming hardware was originally intended to target children—for reasons including 3D not being good for their eyes—there’s now a “2DS XL” that mimics the 3D-ready hardware in all ways except for dropping the 3D gimmick in favor of a lower price. That price vs. benefit calculation is likely what’s driving the decisions of consumers, and in turn driving the movie and TV industries.

It was fun for a while to see 3D technology that didn’t distort colors with red and blue lenses, but now that everyone’s seen it—perhaps many times by now—and it hasn’t done much to improve actual viewing experiences, people are opting for the lower cost option. Virtual reality might be able to convince more people to part with some extra money, although it hasn’t really taken off yet the way 3D did after James Cameron’s Avatar made it a big feature.

Right now, it looks unlikely that people want their movies in anything more than 2 dimensions. Although it remains to be seen whether VR can create its own, unique form of entertainment rather than go the way 3D is going now and becoming another passing fad tacked onto something that doesn’t need it.

(via /Film, image: BBC)

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Posted by Ashlee Kieler

For the better part of a year, airlines have experimented with different programs aimed at easing travelers’ frustrations when it comes to their checked luggage; from Alaska’s electronic baggage tags to Delta’s checked bag map. Now, its American Airlines turn, as the carrier launched an app update allowing passengers to receive notification when their bags are delayed. 

American announced today that it was putting an end to the timeless tradition of waiting at the baggage carousel for bags that never show up.

The airline launched Customer Baggage Notification (CBN) system that notifies customers of the status their checked baggage if the bag is not on the same plane when they land at their destination.

The system provides three types of baggage notifications.

Early Baggage Arrival notices will be sent when a bag is delivered before the customer; Late Baggage Arrival – Go to the Baggage Service Office informs travelers that the bag hasn’t arrived and that they should see an agent; Late Baggage Arrival — Mobile Baggage Order notifies the customer to fill out a MBO, including the customer’s delivery details and a bag description to help expedite reuniting the customer with their items.

This isn’t the first time American has attempted to simplify the checked baggage process. Back in 2015, the airline launched real-time baggage tracking that allows customers to see just where their bag is — from the time it’s handed off at the check-in counter to its arrival on the carousel at the destination airport.

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Posted by Kate Cox

After a chaotic and tumultuous week, the Senate appears to be slowly, painfully congealing around a plan it can agree on to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). But that plan itself is still something that nobody, including the Senators who will probably vote on it, has seen the text for. And even if the Senate does vote to pass it, is that really the bill we’re going to get?

If you’re confused by all this, you’re not alone. The entire internet at this point is full of experienced healthcare experts and Congressional reporters who have no clue what’s going on behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. But as support for the “skinny repeal” seems to be solidifying, watchers are starting to ask if repeal is actually the plan — or if the end goal is to create a backdoor to pass the House version of repeal, that the Senate basically already rejected.

A busy couple of days

On July 25, the Senate voted 51-50 to open debate on a healthcare bill.

That bill was the House’s American Health Care Act, but it was used effectively as a placeholder text while the Senate crafted its own plan to repeal and/or replace the ACA.

The rules the Senate is moving to pass a repeal under grant 20 legislative hours of debate, so Tuesday’s vote set the clock ticking.

The first Senate alternative to come to a vote was basically the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — the bill that was basically deemed too dead to vote on merely a week earlier. It did indeed fail, 57-43.

On Wednesday, the Senate then moved on to its next option, which was essentially the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) — a straight “repeal” plan. That, too, failed to advance, only securing 45 of the necessary 51 votes.

However, that 20-hour clock is now, two days later, starting to run down. And so the Senate is moving to come up with something that can garner 51 votes before time runs out. Sources report that support is beginning to coalesce around a last-ditch option that’s being called the “skinny repeal.”

What’s in the “skinny repeal” option?

The proposal has been given the nickname “skinny repeal” because it’s not a full repeal of the entire ACA. Instead, it proposes to roll back a few key provisions that Republicans in Congress have objected to.

Most notable among these is the individual mandate. That’s the rule that requires everyone to have insurance or pay a penalty. Without it, the thinking goes, the individual insurance market would become overburdened with high-cost patients as more-or-less healthy individuals dropped out. That would cause premiums and policy costs to rise, which would in turn cause fewer people to be able to purchase insurance, so fewer insurers would sell policies, and the market would basically nosedive into a death spiral.

(As NPR reports, several states tried extremely similar legal maneuvers in the late 1990s and it did indeed drive insurers out of the market, leaving fewer and less-affordable plans for consumers.)

As Vox notes, although the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t given the proposal a formal score yet (as no actual bill text yet exists), it estimates that enacting it would still cause 15-16 million Americans to lose insurance they currently have, while also driving premiums up by 20%.

Other provisions, like letting states waive Essential Health Benefits, have come up as features of the skinny repeal. However, some of those don’t meet the standard for things that can be included in a budget resolution and would need 60 votes in order to pass. That means they won’t, so they’ll have to be dropped if McConnell wants the plan to advance.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, slammed the plan.

“Senate leaders are using smoke and mirrors to make it seem as if this latest proposal is somehow different or better than the ones just voted down in the Senate,” Betsy Imholz, special projects director, said in a statement. “This so-called ‘skinny repeal’ would not only still leave millions uninsured, destabilize the insurance markets further, and trigger skyrocketing premiums, but is also an attempt to try to breathe new life into the harmful ideas in both the American Health Care Act and the Better Care Reconciliation Act — both hugely unpopular proposals that have been rejected by Senators repeatedly.”

Read More: Insurance companies, actuaries, and physicians warn against repeal of the individual mandate

Is the Senate actually going to vote for it? When?

This is where it starts to get complicated. Or just gets even more complicated, really.

The Senate is pretty close to running out its 20-hour debate clock. When it does, they will move on to something called the vote-a-rama. That’s a marathon session — most Hill-watchers expect it to start Thursday evening and stretch until the wee small dawn hours of Friday morning — in which Senators offer and vote on amendments rapid-fire.

At the end of that process, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) is expected to basically ignore all of those and instead offer the final bill, the skinny repeal, for a vote. But how likely the Senate is to go for that depends on which source you ask, at this point.

Republican Senators have been divided all along on a repeal and replace plan. Basically, they’re in two rough camps: The “this goes too far” group and the “this doesn’t go far enough” one. As a result, the skinny repeal is as minimalist and bare-bones as McConnell feels is possible, in order to shepherd all the Republicans together.

Even so, a number of Senators have said that they aren’t terribly keen on the planned bill. Right now, Politico describes the situation as, “Senate Republicans hope their own Obamacare repeal won’t become law” — but that headline has changed a half-dozen times in recent hours, as many of them are likely to vote for it anyway, on the basis that it’s the only way to keep moving forward.

Who’s planning to vote which way isn’t exactly in line with the two camps we got used to from earlier stages of the process. The Republican Senators are, basically, all over the map, with some voicing full-throated support of just doing anything and others voicing indecision since there’s no actual bill.

But what process is McConnell trying to get them to move forward to, you may ask?

Conference

At this exact moment in time, the goal for McConnell is not to craft and pass a final bill. It’s to pass something — anything — to make the process survive to the next stage.

In this case, the next stage is “conference.”

Although this entire process has been a confusing, chaotic mess, entirely unlike the way Schoolhouse Rock taught us it would be, one old-school fact still holds: The House and Senate both have to agree on a final draft of something before the President can sign it.

That’s where the conference committee comes in. A group of Representatives and Senators come together and hammer out something they can agree on — a final, unified draft that can come before a final vote in both chambers.

But if the Senate votes this week on what is effectively a placeholder that nobody wants, that just kicks the can of fundamental disagreement down the road into conference, where the same cracks will surface yet again.

That brings us back to the House, which last voted on its own repeal plan back in May.

Politico reports that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) has just instructed Representatives not to leave town for their planned August recess, anticipating the need for the House to take action on a Senate bill of some kind.

Does the House want “skinny repeal” too?

It is, at this point, anyone’s guess what the House and Senate would do together in conference.

Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis Tweeted earlier today that Republican members of the House said it’s a “definite possibility” that the skinny repeal could pass the House intact, as-is (whatever it is) if the House freedom caucus (i.e. the most conservative, “tea party” wing) rallies around it.

Sen. John Cornyn (TX) likewise told reporters recently that it’s entirely possible that the House could just take whatever the Senate passes and send it right on up to the White House without conference.

But again, not everyone agrees.

Sen. John McCain (AZ), who flew back from his home state days after brain surgery for a dramatic entrance to vote on Tuesday’s motion, told reporters that he was “very worried about it, and I would be worried about the product” of the House adopting the skinny repeal — if, indeed, that is even what the Senate votes to do tonight.

Alternatively, however, the situation could go the other way: the Senate could adopt the House’s version, instead of the House adopting the Senate’s.

That would likely go over well with the Representatives at the conference, because the House has already passed that bill. But that could be a harder sell in the Senate: The House bill’s language is nearly the same as the BCRA that failed to garner support or to advance in the Senate twice already.

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Posted by Chris Morran

The various “repeal and replace” factions have targeted different aspects of the Affordable Care Act: Some want to slash Medicaid; some want to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood; some say they must repeal taxes on tanning salons. One goal they all have in common is to get rid of the law’s “individual mandate,” the requirement that most people must have some sort of health insurance or pay a penalty. Now the insurance industry, along with physicians, and risk-assessing actuaries, are warning the Senate that gutting this mandate could cause big problems down the road.

All versions of the GOP repeal legislation — including the mysterious, as yet unseen “skinny” repeal bill — nullify the individual mandate by reducing the penalty for non-compliance to $0. So technically, the mandate would still exist but there would be no repercussions to anyone who fails to obtain qualifying health insurance.

There would, however, be repercussions for the insurance industry and healthcare in general, at least according to letters sent this week to Senate leadership.

Industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents a large number of insurers, sent a letter [PDF] this morning to Senate leadership, acknowledging that “important improvements are needed to ensure the individual market
delivers lower costs and more choices,” but that getting rid of the individual mandate “will not solve the problems in the individual market, and in fact will result in higher premiums, fewer choices for consumers, and fewer people covered next year.”

“We would oppose an approach that eliminates the individual coverage requirement, does not offer continuous coverage solutions, and does not include measures to immediately stabilize the individual market,” writes AHIP, which also raises concerns about the future of federal subsidies to insurers.

The subsidies are provided by the government to insurers in an effort to keep rates from spiraling out of control. President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off these payments, totaling billions of dollars, and some insurers say they are pulling out of the individual marketplace because of this uncertainty. Without these cost-sharing payments, AHIP says premiums will increase by about 20%.

Insurers who plan to sell individual plans through the public health exchanges must set their rates for 2018 in the coming weeks, and some companies say they will have no choice but to raise their premiums or drop out of the exchanges if there isn’t any concrete news on these subsidies.

“If we aren’t able to gain certainty on some of these items quickly, we do expect that we will need to revise our rate filings to further narrow our level of participation,” said Joseph Swedish, CEO of Anthem, one of the nation’s largest providers, earlier this week.

The AHIP letter comes on the heels of a similar message [PDF] from the Health Practice Council of the American Academy of Actuaries, which told senators that eliminating the individual mandate “would likely have significant implications for health insurance coverage and costs both to consumers and the federal government.”

The purpose of the individual mandate is to make sure that as many people as possible are paying into the risk pool. If the mandate goes away, it’s largely believed that healthier people, particularly young adults, will elect to not be covered. Those who retain their coverage would be more likely to need coverage, meaning higher payouts with fewer premiums coming in from people who don’t have costly medical bills.

“Eliminating the mandate would likely result in lower coverage rates in the individual market and a deterioration of the risk pool,” writes the Academy. “Premiums would increase as a result.”

To keep younger, healthier people from dumping their insurance after repeal, the GOP has proposed allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums to people who have gone without coverage. The idea is that people wouldn’t only be able to hop back onto an insurance plan when they suddenly find out they have a kidney stone, or are having a child.

The actuaries argue that this continuous coverage requirement would likely be inadequate for keeping low-cost policy holders in the risk pool.

There is also the suggestion of mandating a waiting period for people without continuous coverage. During that time period, a new policy holder couldn’t make insurance claims. The Academy concludes that while this might work to keep claim costs down, since you wouldn’t have people buying policies on Monday and showing up at the hospital for a liver transplant on Wednesday — it probably won’t help to bolster insurance enrollment numbers.

Finally, the American Medical Association, which has already come out against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, specifically spoke out against reports that the “skinny” repeal will include elimination of the individual mandate.

“Eliminating the mandate to obtain coverage only exacerbates the affordability problem that critics say they want to address,” says AMA President David O. Barbe, MD. “Instead, it leads to adverse selection that would increase premiums and destabilize the individual market.”

Last night, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also chimed in once again with revised projections based on reports of what is included in the “skinny” repeal. As before, the CBO concluded [PDF] that eliminating the individual mandate would result in an additional 16 million Americans going without insurance, with nearly all of that happening in the first year of repeal.

August 2016

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